Comes plural comites (icon ), is the Latin word for companion, either individually or as a member of a collective known as comitatus
Comitatus (Classical meaning)
Comitatus was a Germanic friendship structure that compelled kings to rule in consultation with their warriors. The comitatus, as described in the Roman historian Tacitus's treatise Germania , is the bond existing between a Germanic warrior and his Lord, ensuring that neither leaves the field of...

, especially the suite of a magnate, in some cases large and/or formal enough to have a specific name, such as a cohors amicorum
Cohors amicorum
Cohors amicorum is a Latin term, literally meaning "cohort of friends". The notion cohort is to be taken not in the strict, military sense , but indicated a fairly large number; accordingly, friend is to be taken in a loose sense, rather as in amicus curiae, compare the Hellenistic Aulic title philos...

The word comes derives from com- "with" + ire "go."

Ancient Roman religion

Comes was a common epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

 or 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
A hero , in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion...

 or a divinity, as a way to mark a relationship with another divinity.

On Constantine I's coinage, the emperor is declared comes to Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus
Sol Invictus was the official sun god of the later Roman empire. In 274 Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Scholars disagree whether the new deity was a refoundation of the ancient Latin cult of Sol, a revival of the cult of Elagabalus or completely new...

, the "Unconquered Sun" conceived of as a god.

Imperially bestowed court titles and various offices of Comites

Historically more significant, Comes became a secular title given to trusted (ex-)courtiers and others, as a mark of imperial confidence, developing into a formal rank, deriving from the "Companions" of Alexander the Great and rather equivalent to the Hellenistic Philos (Basilikos) or the paladin
The paladins, sometimes known as the Twelve Peers, were the foremost warriors of Charlemagne's court, according to the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. They first appear in the early chansons de geste such as The Song of Roland, where they represent Christian martial valor against the...

 title of a Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

 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 imperial court grew in size and assimilated to itself all 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
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

 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 later 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, as comites provinciarum, "counts of the provinces", who were sent out alongside vicars in their dioceses 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
Notitia Dignitatum
The Notitia Dignitatum is a unique document of the Roman imperial chanceries. One of the very few surviving documents of Roman government, it details the administrative organisation of the eastern and western empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial...

, 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
Style (manner of address)
A style of office, or honorific, is a legal, official, or recognized title. A style, by tradition or law, precedes a reference to a person who holds a post or political office, and is sometimes used to refer to the office itself. An honorific can also be awarded to an individual in a personal...

 comes, with an officium
Officium is a Latin word with various meanings in Ancient Rome, including "service", " duty", "courtesy", "ceremony" and the like...

(staff) quite similar to that of a governor.

These included:
  • Comes dispositonum -- A deputy to the very powerful magister officiorum
    Magister officiorum
    The magister officiorum was one of the most senior administrative officials in the late Roman Empire and the early centuries of the Byzantine Empire...

    ("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
    Vir illustris
    The title vir illustris is used as a formal indication of standing in late antiquity to describe the highest ranks within the senates of Rome and Constantinople...

    - 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 domesticorum Equitum vs. Comes domesticorum Peditum).
  • 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
    Comes sacrarum largitionum
    The comes sacrarum largitionum was one of the senior fiscal officials of the late Roman Empire and the early Byzantine Empire....

    -a Vir illustris
    Vir illustris
    The title vir illustris is used as a formal indication of standing in late antiquity to describe the highest ranks within the senates of Rome and Constantinople...

    - Master of the 'Sacred Largess', who operated the imperial finances. He controlled all of the mints (each led 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 competence also included several minor Comites:
    • Comes Auri 'gold count'
    • Comes sacrae vestis -- Master of the wardrobe of the emperor.
    • three regional comites largitionum: for Italy, Africa, Illyricum
    • a comes commerciorum for Illyricum.
    • a comes metallorum per Illyricum, responsible for the region's gold mines

Exceptionally, a gubernatorial position was styled comes:
  • Comes Orientis -- Actually one of the vicarii, this count had control over the large and strategically important imperial diocese of the East
    Diocese of the East
    The Diocese of the East was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the western Middle East, between the Mediterranean Sea and Mesopotamia...

    , supervising the governors of this major group of provinces, but was himself under supervision of the praefectus praetorio Orientis
    Praetorian prefecture of the East
    The praetorian prefecture of the East or of Oriens was one of four large praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided...


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 ("count of the coast of the Tiber and the canalisation") and a comes portus ("count of the port").

The title comes consistorianus indicated the comites who advised the Emperor in his council (the consistorium) for official (mainly legal) matters, 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
Dux is Latin for leader and later for Duke and its variant forms ....

, 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
Notitia Dignitatum
The Notitia Dignitatum is a unique document of the Roman imperial chanceries. One of the very few surviving documents of Roman government, it details the administrative organisation of the eastern and western empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial...

 (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 Britanniam) and two in the eastern empire: Comes (limitis) Aegypti, Comes Isauriae = - per Isauria).
  • Comes Africae -- Count in charge of the defense of Roman Africa.
  • Comes Argentoratensis -- Count in charge of the defense of part of Gaul (Gallia
    Gallia may refer to:*Gaul , the region of Western Europe occupied by present-day France, Belgium and other neighbouring countries...

  • Comes Avernorum -- Count in charge of the defense of part of Gaul (Gallia
    Gallia may refer to:*Gaul , the region of Western Europe occupied by present-day France, Belgium and other neighbouring countries...

  • Comes Britanniarum
    Comes Britanniarum
    Comes Britanniarum was a military post in Roman Britain, with command of the mobile field army from the mid 4th century onwards.It is listed in the Notitia Dignitatum as being one of the three commands in Britain, along with the Dux Britanniarum and Comes litoris Saxonici...

    -- Count in charge of defense of Roman Britain (Britannia
    Britannia is an ancient term for Great Britain, and also a female personification of the island. The name is Latin, and derives from the Greek form Prettanike or Brettaniai, which originally designated a collection of islands with individual names, including Albion or Great Britain. However, by the...

    ). This post presumably expired circa AD 410, when the last Roman troops left the isles forever.
    • Comes Littoris Saxonici per Britanniam
      Count of the Saxon Shore
      The Count of the Saxon Shore for Britain was the head of the "Saxon Shore" military command of the later Roman Empire.The post was possibly created during the reign of Constantine I and was probably existent by AD 367 when Nectaridus is elliptically referred to as one by Ammianus...

  • Comes Hispaniarum -- Count in charge of the defense of Roman Iberia (Hispania
    Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....


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 term Tetrarchy describes any system of government where power is divided among four individuals, but usually refers to the tetrarchy instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293, marking the end of the Crisis of the Third Century and the recovery of the Roman Empire...

 (c. 300).

Gothic Comites

The Goths that ruled Spain and Italy followed the tradition of the Romans in giving the title of count to the diverse heads of the departments of the royal household.
  • Comes Cubiculariorum -- Count in charge of the chamberlains (L. cubicularii).
  • Comes Scanciorum -- Count in charge of the cup-bearers
  • Comes Stabulorum -- Count in charge of the equerries and stables
  • Comes Notariorum -- Count in charge of the chancery
  • Comes Thesaurorum -- Count in charge of the officers of the treasury
  • etc.

Frankish Gaugraf

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 king's person and executed his orders. Others filled the highest offices, e.g. the comes palatii and comes stabuli (survives in the title Constable
A constable is a person holding a particular office, most commonly in law enforcement. The office of constable can vary significantly in different jurisdictions.-Etymology:...

). The kingdom was divided for administrative purposes into small areas called pagi
In the later Western Roman Empire, following the reorganization of Diocletian, a pagus became the smallest administrative district of a province....

(hence French pays; German Gaue), corresponding generally to the Roman civitas
In the history of Rome, the Latin term civitas , according to Cicero in the time of the late Roman Republic, was the social body of the cives, or citizens, united by law . It is the law that binds them together, giving them responsibilities on the one hand and rights of citizenship on the other...

. At the head of the pagus was the comes, corresponding to the German Graf
Graf is a historical German noble title equal in rank to a count or a British earl...

 (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 Anglo-Saxon gerefa, however, meaning illustrious, chief, has apparently, according to philologists, no connection with the German Graf, which originally meant servant (compare the origins of the words "knight" or "valet"). 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.
Thus, comes has been used as the Latin equivalent (or part of it) of all titles of comital rank, whether containing Count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

 (or some other word etymologically derived from Comes, or in many other languages from Graf
Graf is a historical German noble title equal in rank to a count or a British earl...

  • 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.


  • 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 I
    Pope Damasus I
    Pope Saint Damasus I was the bishop of Rome from 366 to 384.He was born around 305, probably near the city of Idanha-a-Velha , in what is present-day Portugal, then part of the Western Roman Empire...

    , 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


  • An appearance of a fugue
    In music, a fugue is a compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition....

     subject, the first appearance being dux, the second comes
  • Comes, the following melody in a canon
    Canon (music)
    In music, a canon is a contrapuntal composition that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a given duration . The initial melody is called the leader , while the imitative melody, which is played in a different voice, is called the follower...


See also

  • Abbacomes
  • Aerarium
    Aerarium was the name given in Ancient Rome to the public treasury, and in a secondary sense to the public finances....

  • Agentes in rebus
    Agentes in rebus
    The agentes in rebus , were the late Roman imperial courier service and general agents of the central government from the 4th to the 7th centuries.- History :...

  • Comitatenses
    Comitatenses is the Latin plural of comitatensis, originally the adjective derived from comitatus , itself rooting in Comes .However, historically it became the accepted name for...

  • Congiarium
    Of Ancient Roman containers, a congiarium, or congiary, was a vessel containing one congius, a measure of volume equal to six sextarii....

  • Donativum
    Donativum was the name given to the gifts of money dispersed to the soldiers of the Roman legions or to the Praetorian Guard by the Roman Emperors....

  • Fiscus
    Fiscus, from which comes the English term fiscal, was the name of the personal treasury of the emperors of Rome. The word is literally translated as "basket" or "purse" and was used to describe those forms of revenue collected from the provinces , which were then granted to the emperor...

  • Mund (in law)
    Mund (in law)
    The mund is a principle in Germanic tradition and law that can be crudely translated as "protection" and which grew as the prerogative of a Germanic tribe king or leader. It has been Latinized in mundium.The word comes from Germanic *mundo The mund is a principle in Germanic tradition and law that...

  • Notitia Dignitatum
    Notitia Dignitatum
    The Notitia Dignitatum is a unique document of the Roman imperial chanceries. One of the very few surviving documents of Roman government, it details the administrative organisation of the eastern and western empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial...

  • Rationalis
    The rationalis was the Roman Empire's chief financial minister prior to the reforms of Emperor Diocletian and the Late Empire. Among the tasks of the rationalis were the collection of all normal taxes payable in coin and duties, the control of the currency, and the administration of mines, mints,...

  • Rationibus
    A rationibus was the Roman Empire's secretary of finance, in charge of maintaining the accounts and expenditures of the fiscus which is the imperial treasury. This official's role in the finances of the Early Empire was considerable...

  • Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft
  • Roman Finance
    Roman finance
    For centuries the monetary affairs of the Roman Republic had rested in the hands of the Senate. These elite liked to present themselves as steady and fiscally conservative, but as the 19th-century historian of Rome Wilhelm Ihne remarked:...

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