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Army leaders of the Comitatenses and Limitanei in the 5th century AD.

Comes , plural comites ( Latin for “companion”, “companion”, “entourage”, from cum “with” and ire “to go”) is originally a Roman official title that has had several meanings over time, both in the civilian field for governors and members of the imperial council as well as for the military.

In Middle Latin sources, comes mostly corresponds to the German word Graf .


Since the early Principate , the Emperor's closest friends were called comes ( comites principis ). Emperor Hadrian appointed a. a. also senators as a companion for various business trips to support him in everyday government business. These men soon became a kind of privy councilor, and Hadrian's successor entrusted the comites with the administration of justice and finance or appointed them to higher command posts in the military.


The comes developed in the 3rd and 4th centuries from a pure honorary title to one of the highest officer (commander of the Comitatenses , i.e. the field army) and administrator title of the late Roman Empire. In late antiquity , comes usually denotes the highest rank of the court ( comitatus ), while in the military, regional commanders in particular carried the comes title, the comites rei militares . They were superior to the duces , who usually commanded the border troops ( limitanei ); they themselves were in turn subject to a magister militum .

Examples of Roman comites are:

  • Comes domesticorum and Comes excubitorum for the commanders of the Imperial Guards
  • Comes rerum privatarum for the administrator of the imperial private property
  • Comes sacrarum largitionum for the administrator of the imperial finances


The comes disappeared in the east in the 7th century . In the Germanic successor states of West Rome and beyond in the Middle Ages , the title appears in different variations. The most common is initially the comes as a representative of the royal power in the administrative districts according to the Carolingian Gau constitution (see: Gau ), from which the comes developed as the hereditary owner of this district.

While the term Graf became established for the title in the German language (and similar things in other Germanic languages), the term was linguistically developed in the countries characterized by the Latin language:

  • Comte (Count) and Comté (County) in French
  • Count (Graf) and County (county) in English , the title is intended for "foreign" Count, while the "domestic" Earl called, County contrast, both domestic and foreign counties designated (the term Shire comes from the Anglo-Saxon and has only survived in the name itself)
  • Conde (count) and Condado (county) in Portuguese
  • Conde (count) and Condado (county) in Spanish
  • Conte (Graf) and Contea (Grafschaft) in Italian

In addition to the comes as a regional representative, there was also the comes as a court office, for example the

  • Comes stabuli for the stable master, from which the terms connétable (for example connétable of France as the highest leader of the French army) and constable developed.
  • Comes palatii (or Comes palatinus ) for the administrator of the (imperial) palaces and representative of the duke , which in the German translation became the count palatine .

The local representative of the comes was the vicecomes (vice count), from which the Viscount developed in France, the Viscount in Great Britain and the Visconte in Italy - the latter even including the Visconti family name . From the 10th to the 13th century the title was used in Hungary in multiple meanings. Both the county count and later the chief count as well as the heads of noble families or other groups (e.g. the Count of the Petschenegen ) were referred to as comes .

The term margrave (marquis, marquess, marques, marquis) does not go back to the comes : here the Germanic word marchio is the origin with which the holder of state authority in a border march was designated.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Burgenland Document Book, Volume 1 , Ed. Leo Santifaller, Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Successor, Graz-Cologne 1955, p. 13.