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p330 Comes

Article by Benjamin Jowett, M.A., Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford
on p330 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

COMES, first signified a mere attendant or companion, distinguished from socius, which always implied some bond of union between the persons mentioned. Hence arose several technical senses of the word, the connection of which may be easily traced.

It was applied to the attendants on magistrates, in which sense it is used by Suetonius (Jul. Caes. 42). In Horace's time (Epist. 1.8.2) it was customary for young men of family to go out as contubernales to governors of provinces and commanders-in‑chief, under whose eye they learnt the arts of war and peace. This seems to have led the way for the introduction of the comites at home, the maintenance of whom was, in Horace's opinion (Sat. 1.6.101), one of the miseries of wealth. Hence a person in the suite of the emperor was termed comes. As all power was supposed to flow from the imperial will, the term was easily transferred to the various offices in the palace and in the provinces (comites palatini, provinciales). About the time of Constantine it became a regular honorary title, including various grades, answering to the comites ordinis primi, secundi, tertii. the power of these officers, especially the provincial, varied with time and place; some presided over a particular department, with a limited authority, as we should term them, commissioners; others were invested with all the powers of the ancient proconsuls and prisoners.

The names of the following officers explain themselves:— Comes Orientis (of whom there seem to have been two, one the superior of the other), comes Aegyptii, comes Britanniae, comes Africae, comes rei militaris, comes portuum, comes stabuli, comes domesticorum equitum, comes clibanarius, comes linteae vestis or vestiarii (master of the robes). In fact the emperor had as many comites as he had duties: thus, comes consistorii, the emperor's privy-councillor; comes largitionum privatarum, an officer who managed the emperor's private revenue, as the comes largitionum sacrarum did the public exchequer. The latter office united in a great measure the functions of the aedile and quaestor. The four comites commerciorum, to whom the government granted the exclusive privilege of trading in silk with barbarians, were under his control. An account, however, of the duties and functions of the comites of the later empire does not fall within the scope of the present work.a

Thayer's Note:

a For a more detailed overview of the bureaucracy in the later empire (and an assortment of comites) see Chapter 2 of Bury's History of the Later Roman Empire.

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Page updated: 27 Apr 06