"Comes" (/ˈkoʊmiːz/ KOH-meez), plural "comites" (/ˈkɒmɪtiːz/
KOM-i-teez), is the
Latin word for "companion", either individually or
as a member of a collective denominated a "comitatus", especially
the suite of a magnate, being in some instances sufficiently large
and/or formal to justify specific denomination, e. g. a "cohors
amicorum". "Comes" derives from "com-" ("with") and "ire" ("go").
1 Ancient Roman religion
2 Imperial Roman curial titles and offices styled "Comites"
2.1 At court or in the Imperial domains
2.2 comes rei militaris
2.3 Horse guards corps of comites
3 Medieval adaptations of comital offices
3.1 Gothic Comites
3.2 Frankish Gaugraf
4 See also
Ancient Roman religion
Constantine I SOLI INVICTO COMITI (
Comes to Sol Invictus)
"Comes" was a common epithet or title that was added to the name of a
hero or god in order to denote relation with another god.
The coinage of
Roman Emperor Constantine I declared him "comes" to Sol
Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") qua god.
Imperial Roman curial titles and offices styled "Comites"
Historically more significant, "Comes" became a secular title granted
to trusted officials of the Imperial Curia ("Court"), present or
former, and others as sign of Imperial confidence. It developed into a
formal, dignitary title, derived from the "Companions" of Alexander
the Great and rather equivalent to the
Hellenistic title of "philos
basilikos" or the paladin title of a knight of the Holy Roman Empire
and a Papal Palatinus. Thus the title was retained when the titulary
was appointed, often promoted, to an office away from court,
frequently in the field or a provincial administration. Subsequently,
it was thought logical to connect the title to specific offices that
demanded an incumbent official of high dignity, and even to include it
as part of the official title.
As the Imperial Roman Curia increased in number and assimilated all
political power, the Roman Emperors instituted a casual practice of
appointing faithful servants to offices. This had been done elsewhere,
e. g. regarding the
Prefect of the Praetorian Guard
Prefect of the Praetorian Guard and the amici
principis. As Imperial administration expanded, however, new offices
became necessary and decentralization demanded modifications. The
result was the institution of the rank of "comes".
The "comites", often translated "counts", though they were neither
feudal nor hereditary, became principal officials of the later Roman
Empire. They held offices of all kinds from the army to the civil
service, while retaining their direct accesses to the Emperor. Emperor
Constantine I finalized them as the governmental echelon of "comites
provinciarum" ("Counts of the Provinces"); the comites of the new
echelon were assigned alongside the vicarii in the civil dioceses of
the latter so that the comites became permanent fixtures of Imperial
government. The comites were fully enumerated as early as the
beginning of the AD 5th century in the Notitia Dignitatum, but as
offices were later added, it is not historically exhaustive.
The following sections describe examples of the kinds of comites.
At court or in the Imperial domains
See also: praepositus sacri cubiculi
Several of the major departments of the Imperial Curia ("Court") and
household had a principal official who was styled "comes" and assisted
by an "officium" ("staff") very similar to that of a Roman governor.
comes dispositonum: A deputy to the very powerful magister officiorum
(Master of Offices) responsible for organizing the Imperial calendar
and preparing the correspondence for distribution to the proper
offices for transcription.
comes domesticorum: A vir illustris who was principal of the
domestici, a corps of bodyguards of the Emperor who were stationed in
the Imperial Palace. There were two of these comital commanders, the
comes domesticorum equitum for the equestrian knights and the comes
domesticorum peditum for the foot soldiers.
comes privatae largitionis: The custodian of the privy purse, who
answered and was subordinate to the comes rerum privatarum (see next
comes rerum privatarum: A powerful Imperial official responsible for
the private estates and holdings of the Emperor and his family ("res
privata"). He maintained the properties and collected the rents, of
which most were deposited in the Aerarium, i. e., the treasury of the
public funds of the State, and some in the Fiscus, i. e., the treasury
of privy funds of the Emperor that the comes privatae largitionis
comes sacrarum largitionum: A vir illustris who was custodian of the
sacrae largitiones ("Sacred Largesses") of the Emperor and manager of
the Imperial finances. He controlled all of the mints, each managed by
a procurator; was the principal of numerous officials, including more
procuratores, rationales, and praepositi, who collected senatorial
taxes, custom duties, and some land taxes; was responsible for the
yields of the mines; provided budgets for the civil service and
armies; supplied all uniforms; and was competent for the minor offices
comes auri: The official responsible for gold.
comes sacrae vestis: The master of the wardrobe of the Emperor.
The 3 comites largitionum: The regional financial administrators of
Italy, Africa, and Illyricum.
comes commerciorum for Illyricum.
comes metallorum per Illyricum: The official responsible for that
region's gold mines.
Exceptionally, a gubernatorial position was styled "comes". For
example, the comes Orientis, actually one of the vicarii, was an
official who controlled the large and strategically important Imperial
Diocese of the East
Diocese of the East by supervising the governors of this collection of
provinces, but he was in turn supervised by the praefectus praetorio
Further, the principal officials of some less important governmental
departments who were under the authority of otherwise styled, high
ranking, territorial officials could be titled "comes", e. g. under
the praefectus urbi of Rome, himself a vir illustris, was a comes
formarum, comes riparum et alvei Tiberis et Cloacarum ("
Count of the
Coast of the Tiber and the Canalisation"), and comes Portus ("
The title "comes consistorianus" or "comes consistorialis" indicated
specially appointed members to the consistorium, the council of the
Roman emperor's closest advisors.
comes rei militaris
The comes rei militaris held martial appointments, ranking superior to
a dux but inferior to the magister peditum and magister equitum; they
were the superiors of a series of military stations, each commanded by
a praepositus limitis ("border commander") and/or unit commanders, e.
g., tribunes of cohorts, alae (auxiliary equivalents), numeri, and in
the Eastern Empire even legions.
Notitia Dignitatum of the early AD 5th century enumerates 6 such
offices, being of the dignity of vir spectabilis, in the Western
Empire: comes Italiae, comes Africae, comes Tingitaniae, comes Tractus
Argentoratensis, and comes Britanniarum ad Litoris Saxonici per
Britanniam; and 2 in the Eastern Empire: comes (limitis) Aegypti and
comes Africae: Official responsible for the defense of Roman Africa.
comes Argentoratensis: Official responsible for the defense of part of
comes Avernorum: Official responsible for the defense of the other
part of Gallia.
comes Britanniarum: Official responsible for the defense of Britannia.
This office presumably expired circa AD 410 when the last Roman troops
left that province.
comes Litoris Saxonici per Britanniam: Official responsible for the
defense of the Saxon shore of Britannia.
comes Hispaniarum: Official responsible for the defense of Hispania.
As the number of comites increased, that dignity was devalued. This
caused the introduction of classes of comites, denominated and ranked
the first, second, and third "ordines".
Horse guards corps of comites
The comites dominorum nostrorum (plural of
Comes D. N., literally
"Companions of Our Lords ([Emperors])") were a mounted Imperial
bodyguard during the tetrarchy of
Emperor Diocletian in circa AD 300.
Medieval adaptations of comital offices
Goths that ruled
Italy followed the Roman tradition of
granting the title of "Comes" to the various principals of the
departments of their royal households, including but not limited to
Count in charge of the chamberlains (L.
Comes Scanciorum: The
Count who commanded the cup bearers.
Comes Stabulorum: The
Count who commanded the equerries and stables.
Comes Notariorum: The
Count who commanded the chancery, i. e., the
Comes Thesaurorum: The
Count who commanded the officials of the
The Frankish kings of the
Merovingian dynasty retained much of Roman
administration, including the office and title of "comes", the
original meaning of which they preserved, i. e., a companion of the
king and a royal servant of high dignity. Under the early Frankish
kings some comites did not have definite functions: they were merely
attached to the person of the King and executed his orders. Others
filled the highest offices, e. g. the
Comes Palatii and Comes
Stabuli (from which the contemporary title of "constable" derives).
Yet other comites served as regional officials. For administrative
Kingdom of the Franks
Kingdom of the Franks was divided into small districts
denominated "pagi" (hence the French "pays" and the German "Gaue"),
corresponding generally to the Roman civitas ("city" qua polity).
The principal of a pagus was the Comes, corresponding to the German
Graf (in full, "Gaugraf"). The King appointed the Comites to serve
at his pleasure, and they were originally chosen from all classes,
sometimes even from enfranchised serfs.
The essential competences of the Comes' were comprehensive in his
pagus: martial, judicial, and executive; and in documents he is often
described as the "agens publicus" ("public agent") of the King or
"judex publicus/fiscalis" ("royal judge"). He was at once public
prosecutor and judge, and was responsible for the execution of the
sentences as well. As the delegate of the executive power, he had the
right to exercise the "bannis regis" ("royal ban"), which gave him the
right to command his military in the name of the King and to act as
necessary to preserve the peace. As the King's representative, he
exercised the royal right of protection ("mundium regis") of churches,
widows, orphans, and the like. He enjoyed a triple "wergeld", but
had no definite salary, being remunerated by receipt of specific
revenues, which system contained the germs of discord, on account of
the confusion of his public and private obligations.
According to philologists, the
Anglo-Saxon word "gerefa", denoting
"illustrious chief", however, is not connected to the German "Graf",
which originally meant "servant"; compare the etymologies of the words
"knight" and "valet". It is the more curious that the "gerefa" should
end as a subservient reeve while the "graf" became a noble count.
In the feudal tradition,
Latin was, especially in law, the official
language, and therefore the rendering in
Latin was equal in importance
to the vernacular title. Thus, "comes" has been used as the Latin
equivalent, or part of it, of all titles of comital office, whether
containing "count" or some other word etymologically derived from
"comes" or "graf". Similarly, it is part of the rendering, not always
exclusive, of derived inferior titles containing such words, notably
"vicecomes" for "viscount" and "burgicomes" and "burgravio" for
Agentes in rebus
Mund (in law)
Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft
^ Olivetti, Enrico. Dizionario Latino: cŏmĕs; cŏmĭtātŭs.
^ A schematic cartograph of comital martial offices translated into
English is available at the Friesian.com Friesian Project
^ a b c d e f g h One or more of the preceding
sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public
domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Count". Encyclopædia
Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.