) is the Latin word for companion
, either individually or as a member of a collective known as comitatus
), especially the suite of a magnate, in some cases large and/or formal enough to have a specific name, such as a cohors amicorum.
The word comes
derives from com-
"with" + ire
In the Roman pagan religion
Comes was a common epitheton (title, added to the name, as Catholicism still does with Jesus and much-venerated saints, such as in Our Lady of Lourdes) for a hero or a (usually minor) divinity, marking it out as linked to a (usually major or equal) divinity, or several celestials to each other, e.g. as a nuclear family.
On Constantine I's coinage, the emperor is declared comes to the Sun god.
Imperially bestowed court titles and various offices of Comites
Historically more significant, Comes
became a profane title given to trusted (ex-)courtiers and others, as a mark of imperial confidence, developing into a formal rank, rather equivalent to the Hellenistic Philos (Basilikos)
or the paladin
title of a Holy Roman Empire
knight and a papal official
, and therefore the title was retained when one was appointed—often promoted—to a post away from court, often in the field or provincial administration; next, it seemed logical to link it to specific charges calling for an incumbent of high rank, and even to make it part of the official title.
As the court grew in size and gained political influence, the emperors established a casual practice of appointing loyal servants to various posts. This process had already been utilized elsewhere, as with the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard and the Amici Principis. As the imperial system expanded, however, new offices were needed and decentralization demanded change. The result was the creation of the rank of "comes".
The comites (often translated as counts, though neither feudal nor hereditary) became leading officials of the Roman Empire. They wielded posts of every description, from the army to the civil service, while never surrendering their direct links and access to the emperors. Constantine took the final step of certifying the posts so that they were permanent fixtures of imperial government.
They are listed in full for the beginning of the fifth century in the Notitia dignitatum, and a schematic map of comital military posts in English translation is available at The Friesian project
At later dates, additional posts have been created.
The following are examples of the various types of comites
At court or in the imperial domains
Several of the major departments of an imperial court and household had a chief styled Comes, with an officium
(staff) quite similar to that of a governor
In the western empire these included:
- 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- Head of the Domestici, a corps of bodyguards of the emperor who were stationed in the imperial palace. There were two of these comital commanders, for the horse - viz. foot units.
- Comes privatae largitionis -- Keeper of the privy purse, answerable and subordinate to the comes rerum privatarum.
- Comes rerum privatarum -- Powerful imperial officer responsible for the private estates or holdings of the emperor and his family (res privata). He maintained the properties and collected all monies from rent, of which most went to the public funds and some to the privy purse administered by the comes privatae largitionis.
- Comes sacrarum largitionum -a Vir illustris- Master of the 'Sacred Largess', who operated the imperial finances. He controlled all of the mints (each lead by a Procurator), was in chief of a long list of officials (more Procurators, rationales, Praepositi) who collected senatorial taxes, custom duties and some land taxes, was also responsible for the yields of the mines, provided budgets for the civil service and armies and supplied all uniforms. His comptence also included several minor Comites:
In the western empire these department heads included :
- Comes sacrarum largitionum. as above
- Comes rerum privatarum.
- Comes domesticorum Equitum.
- Comes domesticorum Peditum.
Exceptionally, a gubernatorial position was styled Comes:
Furthermore, some less important section chiefs under the authority of otherwise styled, high-ranking territorial officials could be styled Comes, e.g. under the Praefectus Urbis of Rome (a vir illustris) were a Comes formarum, a Comes riparum et alvei Tiberis et cloacarum and a Comes portus.
The title comes consistorianus indicated Comites who advised the Emperor in his council for official (mainly legal) matters, called consistorium, whether on an occasional basis, ex officio (as main court department heads) or in the case of his adsessor ('chief counsel') as a distinct job.
Comes rei militaris
These comites held military appointments, higher than dux
, but under Magister peditum
/ Magister equitum
; they were the superiors of a series of military posts, each commanded by a praepositus limitis (border commander), and/or unit commanders, such as tribunes of cohorts, alae
(auxiliary equivalent), numeri
, in the eastern empire even legions :
The Notitia Dignitatum
(early fifth century) mentions six such positions, of the rank vir spectabilis
, in the western empire (Comes Italiae, Comes Africae, Comes Tingitaniae, Comes Tractus Argentoratensis, Comes Britanniarum and Litoris Saxonici per Britannias) and two in the eastern empire: Comes (limitis) Aegypti, Comes Isauriae = - per Isauria).
As the number of comites grew, the rank was devalued, which led to he introduction of the notion of classes of comites; first, second and third ordines
Horse guards corps of Comites
The Comites dominorom nostrorum
(plural of Comes D.N.;
literally "Companions of our Lords [Emperors]') were a mounted imperial body guard during Diocletian's tetrarchy
The Frankish kings of the Merovingian dynasty retained a good deal of the Roman system of administration, including the title comes
preserved its original meaning: a companion of the king, a royal servant of high rank. Under the early Frankish kings some comites did not exercise any definite functions; they were merely attached to the kings person and executed his orders. Others filled the highest offices, e.g. the comes palatii
and comes stabuli
(survives in the title Constable
). The kingdom was divided for administrative purposes into small areas called pagus
(hence French pays; German Gau), corresponding generally to the Roman civitas
. At the head of the pagus was the comes
, corresponding to the German Graf
(in full Gaugraf
. The Comes was appointed by the king and removable at his pleasure, and was chosen originally from all classes, sometimes from enfranchised serfs. His essential functions were judicial and executive, and in documents he is often described as the kings agent (agens publicus
) or royal judge (judex publicus/fiscalis
). As the delegate of the executive power he had the right to military command in the king's name, and to take all the measures necessary for the preservation of the peace, i.e. to exercise the royal ban (bannus regis
). He was at once public prosecutor and judge, was responsible for the execution of the sentences of the courts, and as the king's representative exercised the royal right of protection (mundium regis
) over churches, widows, orphans and the like. He enjoyed a triple wergeld, but had no definite salary, being remunerated by the receipt of certain revenues, a system which contained the germs of discord, on account of the confusion of his public and private duties. The AS. gerefa, however, meaning illustrious, chief
, has apparently, according to philologists, no connection with the German Graf, which originally meant servant (cf. knight, valet, &c). It is the more curious that the gerefa should end as a subservient reeve, the Graf as a noble count.
In the feudal tradition, Latin was often used, especially in legal documents, as (sometimes sole) official language, so the rendering in Latin was no less important than the original in the spoken vernacular.
has been used as the Latin equivalent (or part of it) of all titles of comital rank, whether containing Count
(or some other word etymologically derived from Comes, or in many other languages from Graf
- Similarly it is part of the rendering (not always exclusive) of derived lower titles containing such term, notably Vicecomes for Viscount and Burgicomes (alongside burgravio) for Burgrave.
- The fainter star in a binary (double) star system.
- an acolyth
- For special feasts and on special occasions suitable lessons were chosen, thus breaking the continuous readings; in the Middle Ages it was believed that St. Jerome (died 420), in obedience to an order of Pope Damasus, had arranged the lessons of the Roman Liturgy; a spurious letter of his to the Emperor Constantius was quoted as the first comes, or list of lessons, for each day; Victor, Bishop of Capua (541-554), may actually be the author
- name of the Latin chronicler Marcellinus Comes
- An appearance of a fugue subject, the first appearance being dux, the second comes
Sources and references