- This page is about the European nobility; for the baseball term, see count (baseball).
A count is a nobleman in most European countries, equivalent in rank to a British earl, whose wife is still a "countess". Originally the title comes denoted the rank of a high official in the late Roman Empire: before Anthemius was made emperor in the West in 467, he was military comes strengthening defenses on the Danube frontier . Military counts in the Late Empire and the Germanic successor kingdoms were often appointed by a dux and later by a king. From the start the count was in military charge of a locality, a county, his main rival for power being the bishop, whose diocese was often coterminous. In many Germanic and Frankish kingdoms in the early Middle Ages, the count might also be a count palatine, whose authority derived directly from the royal household, the "palace".
The position of comes was not originally a hereditary one, but by developing a local power base, a count was often able to make it a hereditary title—though not always. For instance, in Piast Poland, the position of komes was not hereditary, resembling the early Merovingian institution. The title had disappeared by the era of the Polish-Lithuanian_Commonwealth, and the office replaced with other institutions. Only after the Partitions_of_Poland did the title of "count" resurface in the German-derived title hrabia.
The title was was often conferred by the monarch as an honorific title for special services rendered. A count or earl is often a courtesy title for the eldest son of a duke. In Italy, all the sons of a count are counts (contini); in the United Kingdom stringent rules apply.
In German kingdoms the title was combined with the word for the jurisdiction or domain the nobleman was responsible for, such as "Landgraf" - landgrave, "Burggraf" - burgrave (burg = castle).
List of counts
Territory of today's France
In other continental European countries
Last updated: 06-01-2005 22:02:45