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British Viscount Coronet

A count is a nobleman in European countries; his wife is a countess. 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 British equivalent is an earl (whose wife is also a "countess", for lack of an Anglo-Saxon term). Alternative names for the "Count" rank in the nobility structure are used in other countries, such as Hakushaku during the Japanese Imperial eramarker.


In the late Roman Empire, the Latin title comes meaning (imperial) 'companion' denoted the high rank of various courtiers and provincial officials, either military or administrative: before Anthemius was made emperor in the West in 467, he was military comes charged with strengthening defenses on the Danube frontier.

In the Western Roman Empire count came to generically indicate a military commander, but was not a specific rank. In the Eastern Roman Empire, from about the seventh century, a count was a specific rank indicating the commander of two centuries (i.e. 200 men).

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 charge, not of a roving warband, but settled in a locality, a countship, 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" in its original sense of the seat of power and administration. This other kind of count had vague antecedents in Late Antiquity too: the father of Cassiodorus held positions of trust with Theodoric, as comes rerum privatarum, in charge of the imperial lands, then of comes sacrarum largitionum (concerned with the strictly monetary fiscal matters of the realm) [28484],

The position of comes was originally not hereditary. By holding large estates, many counts were 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" re-surface in the German-derived title hrabia.

  • The title of Count was also often conferred by the monarch as an honorific title for special services rendered, without an actual feudal estate (countship, county), just a title, with or without a domain name attached to it. In the UK, the equivalent Earl is often a courtesy title for the eldest son of a duke. In the United Kingdommarker stringent rules apply, often a future heir has a lower ranking courtesy title; in Italymarker, by contrast, all the sons of certain counts are counts (contini). In Swedenmarker there is a distinction between counts (Swedish: greve) introduced before 1809 and after. All children in countship families introduced before 1809 are called count/countess. In families introduced after 1809 only the head of the family is called count, the rest had a status similar to barons and was called Mr. and Ms./Mrs. (before the use of titles was abolished).

Comital titles in different European languages

The following lists are originally based on a Glossary on by Alexander Krischnig. The male form is followed by the female, and when available, by the territorial circonscription

Etymological derivations from the Latin comes

Language Male title Female title / Spouse Territory
Albanian Kont Konteshë
Armenian Կոմս (Koms) Կոմսուհի (Komsuhi)
Bulgarian Кмет (Kmet), present meaning: mayor; medieval (9th-century) Комит (Komit): hereditary provincial ruler Кметица (Kmetitsa), woman mayor / Кметша (Kmetsha), mayor's wife Кметство (Kmetstvo); medieval Комитат (Komitat)
Catalan Comte Comtessa Comtat
English Count (applies to title granted by monarchies other than UK) Countess (even where Earl applies) Earldom for an Earl; Countship or county for a count, but the last is also, and indeed rather, in Anglo-Saxon countries an administrative district
French Comte — cfr. the variation ?Comtor Comtesse Comté
Hungarian Vikomt Vikomtessz These forms are now archaic and/or literary; Gróf is used instead.
Irish Cunta; Iarla Cuntaois, Baniarla Honorary title only; iarla does not derive from Latin comes but rather from English "earl".
Italian Conte Contessa Contea, Contado, Comitato
Greek Κόμης (Kómēs) Κόμησσα (Kómēssa) Κομητεία (Komēteía); in the Ionian Islandsmarker the respective Italian terms Kóntes, Kontéssa were used instead
Hebrew Rozen (רוזן) Rozenet (רוזנת) Roznoot (רוזנות); these do not derive from Latin comes.
Latin (feudal jargon, not classical) Comes Comitissa Comitatus
Maltese Konti Kontessa
Monegasque Conte Contessa
Old English Hlaford Hlǣfdiġe These do not derive from Latin comes.
Portuguese Conde Condessa Condado
Polish Komes Komesa Comitates
Romanian Conte Contesă Comitat
Romansh Cont Contessa
Scottish Gaelic Iarla Ban-iarla Honorary title only; iarla does not derive from Latin comes, but rather Nordic "yarl".
Spanish Conde Condesa Condado
Turkish Kont Kontes Kontluk
Welsh Iarll Iarlles Iarllaeth; iarll does not derive from Latin comes but rather English "earl".

Etymological parallels of the German Graf (some unclear)

Language Male title Female title / Spouse Territory
Belarusian Граф (Hraf) Графiня (Hrafinia) Графствa (Hrafstva)
Bulgarian Граф (Graf) Графиня (Grafinya) Графство (Grafstvo)
Croatian Grof Grofica Grofovija
Czech Hrabě Hraběnka Hrabství
Danish Greve Grevinde Grevskab
Dutch Graaf Gravin Graafschap
English Grave Gravine Graviate
Estonian Krahv Krahvinna Krahvkond
Latvian Grāfs Grāfiene Grāfiste
German Graf Gräfin Grafschaft
Finnish Kreivi Kreivitär Kreivikunta
Hungarian Gróf Grófnő, Grófné Grófság
Icelandic Greifi Greifynja
Lithuanian Grafas Grafienė Grafystė
Luxembourgish Graf Gräfin
Macedonian Гроф (Grof) Грофина (Grofina)
Polish Hrabia Hrabina Hrabstwo
Norwegian Greve Grevinne Grevskap
Romanian Grof (also Conte, see above)
Russian Граф (Graf) Графиня (Grafinya) Графство (Grafstvo)
Serbian Grof Grofica Grofovija
Slovak Gróf Grófka Grófstvo
Slovene Grof Grofica Grofija
Swedish Greve Grevinna Grevskap
Ukrainian Граф (Hraf) Графиня (Hrafynya) Графство (Hrafstvo)

Compound and related titles

Apart from all these, a few unusual titles have been of comital rank, not necessarily to remain there.
  • Dauphin (anglicized Dolphin, possibly an etymological match; ) was a multiple (though rare) comital title in southern France before it became (informally) the courtesy title of the heir to the French royal crown, in chief of the province still known as the région Dauphiné
  • Conde-Duque 'Count-Duke' is a rare title used in Spainmarker, notably by Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel, Count-Duke of Olivares who had inherited the title of count of Olivares, but being created Duke of Sanlucar la Mayor by King Philip IV of Spain begged permission to preserve his inherited title in combination with the new honour — according to a practice almost unique in Spanish history; logically the incumbent ranks as Duke (higher than Count) just a he would when simply juxtapositioning both titles.

  • Conde-Barão 'Count-Baron' is a rare title used in Portugalmarker, notably by D. Luís Lobo da Silveira, 7th Baron of Alvito, who received the title of Count of Oriola in 1653 from King John IV of Portugal. His palace in Lisbon still exists, located in a square named after him (Largo do Conde-Barão).

  • Archcount is a very rare title, etymologically analogous to archduke, apparently never recognized officially, used by or for:
    • the count of Flanders (an original pairie of the French realm in present Belgium, very rich, once expected to be raised to the rank of kingdom); the informal, rather descriptive use on account of the countship's de facto importance is rather analogous to the unofficial epithet Grand Duc de l'Occident (before Grand duke became a formal title) for the even wealthier Duke of Burgundy
    • at least one Count of Burgundy (i.e. Freigraf of Franche-Comtémarker)
  • In German kingdoms, the title Graf was combined with the word for the jurisdiction or domain the nobleman was holding as a fief and/or as a conferred or inherited jurisdiction, such as "Markgraf" (Margrave - see also Marquess), "Landgraf" ('landgrave'), "Freigraf" ('free count'), "Burggraf" ('Burgrave', where burg signifies castle; see also Viscount), Pfalzgraf (see (Count) Palatine), "Raugraf" (Raugrave, see 'graf'. Originally a unique title) and "Waldgraf" (waldgrave (comes nemoris), where wald signifies a large forest).
  • The German Graf and Dutch graaf ( ) stems from the Byzantine-Greek grapheus meaning "he who calls a meeting [i.e. the court] together").
  • These titles are not to be confused with various minor administrative titles containing the word -graf in various offices which are not linked to nobility of feudality, such as the Dutch titles Pluimgraaf (a court sinecure, so usually held by noble courtiers, may even be rendered hereditary) and Dijkgraaf (to the present, in the Low Countries, a managing official in the local or regional administration of water household trough dykes, ditches, controls etcetera; also in German Deichgraf, synonymous with Deichhauptmann, 'dike captain').

Lists of countships

Territory of today's France

West-Francia proper

Since Louis VII (1137–80), the highest precedence amongst the vassals (Prince-bishops and secular nobility) of the French crown was enjoyed by those whose benefice or temporal fief was a pairie, i.e. carried the exclusive rank of pair; within the first (i.e. clerical) and second (noble) estates, the first three of the original twelve anciennes pairies were ducal, the next three comital comté-pairies: Later other countships (and duchies, even baronies) have been raised to this French peerage, but mostly as apanages (for members of the royal house) or for foreigners; after the 16th century all new peerages were always duchies and the medieval countship-peerages had died out, or were held by royal princes

Other French countships of note included those of:

Parts of today's France long within other kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire

See also above for parts of present France

In Germany

See also Graf for various comital and related titles; especially those actually reigning over a principality that can be rendered as countship: Gefürsteter Graf, Landgraf, Reichsgraf; compare Markgraf, Pfalzgraf

In Italy

The title of Conte is very prolific on the peninsula, and modern counts occupy the position in rural society comparable to an English squire, members of rural gentry. In the eleventh century however, conti like the Count of Savoia or the Norman Count of Apulia, were virtually sovereign lords of broad territories. Even apparently "lower"-sounding titles, like Viscount, could describe powerful dynasts, such as the Visconti family who ruled a major city such as Milanmarker. The essential title of a feudatory, introduced by the Normans, was signore, modelled on the French seigneur, used with the name of the fief. By the fourteenth century, conte and the Imperial title barone were virtually synonymous, but some titles of count, according to the particulars of the patent, might be inherited by the eldest son of a Count. Other younger brothers might be distinguished as "X dei conti di Y" ("X of the counts of Y"). However if there is no male to inherit the title and the count has a daughter, she can inherit the title: for example the Countess Luisa Gazelli di Rossana e di Sebastiano, mother of Queen Paola of Belgium. The Papacy and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies might appoint counts palatine with no particular territorial fief. Until 1812 in some regions, the purchaser of land designated "feudal" was ennobled by the noble seat that he held and became a conte. This practice ceased with the formal abolition of feudalism in the various principalities of early-19th century Italy, last of all in the Papal Statesmarker.

Many Italian counts left their mark on Italian history as individuals, yet only a few contadi (countships; the word contadini for its inhabitants remains the Italian word for "peasant") were politically significant principalities, notably :

Roman (Papal) count
Count is one of the nobiliary titles granted by the Pope as temporal sovereign and the title's holder is thus often known as a Roman count, confused with the hereditary Roman nobility since the restoration of the papacy in 1815. The title of Count Palatine of the Lateran Palace, which can be for life or hereditary, has been awarded by popes and Holy Roman Emperors since the Middle Ages, in frequently before the 14th century, and the pope continued to grant purely honorary title even after 1870, when the ranks of the Roman nobility were otherwise frozen. By the Lateran Accord of 1929, the Italian government recognized and confirmed the pope's power to grant titles, and the titles granted by the Pope were considered equivalent to Italian titles. However, the title has not been generously granted since Pope Pius XII, John McCormack and Rose Kennedy being among the last few to receive this honor. With Paul VI, who responded to the formal Christmas message of the patriciate by declaring that the papal nobility would no longer be a constituent body in the papal court, the custom essentially disappeared. Pope John Paul II did grant several nobiliary titles to compatriots at the beginning of his pontificate, but quietly and without their being published in the Acts of The Apostolic See.

In Austria

The principalities tended to start out as margraviate and/or (promoted to) duchy, and became nominal archduchies within the Habsburg dynasty; noteworthy are:
  • Count of Tyrol
  • Count of Cillimarker
  • Count of Schaumburg

In Poland

Numerous small ones, particularly:

In Galicia (Central Europe)

particularly see:

In the Low Countries

Apart from various small ones, significant were :

In Switzerland

In other continental European countries

In Iberia

As opposed to the plethora of hollow 'gentry' counts, only a few countships ever were important in medieval Iberiamarker; most territory was firmly within the Reconquista kingdoms before counts could become important. However, during the 19th century, the title, having lost its high rank (equivalent to that of Duke), proliferated.
Portugalmarker itself started as a countship in 868, but became a kingdom in 1139 (see:County of Portugal). Throughout the History of Portugal, especially during the Constitutional Monarchy many other countships were created (see: List of Countships in Portugal).

In Spain, no countships of wider importance exist, except in the former Spanish march .

In Bulgaria

In the First Bulgarian Empire, a komit was a hereditary provincial ruler under the tsar documented since the reign of Presian (836-852) The Cometopouli dynasty was named after its founder, the komit of Sredetsmarker.

Crusader states


Like other major Western noble titles, Count is sometimes used to render certain titles in non-western languages with their own traditions, even though they are as a rule historically unrelated and thus hard to compare, which are considered 'equivalent' in relative rank.

This is the case with:
  • the Chinesemarker (伯), hereditary title of nobility ranking below Hóu (侯) and above (子)
  • the Japanesemarker equivalent Hakushaku ( ), adapted during the Meiji restoration
  • the Koreanmarker equivalent Baekjak or Poguk
  • In India the equivalent is Chhatrapati
  • in Vietnammarker, it is rendered , one of the lower titles reserved for male members of the Imperial clan, above Tử (Viscount), Nam (Baron) and Vinh phong (lowest noble title), but lower than — in ascending order — Hầu (Marquis), Công (Prince), Quan-Cong (Duke) and Quốc-Công (Grand Duke), all under Vương (King).

See also


  1. This section depends upon Philippe Levillain, ed. John W. O'Malley, tr. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia (2002) vol. ii s.v. "Nobility, Roman".
  2. Лъв Граматик, Гръцки извори за българската история, т. V, стр. 156; Жеков, Ж. България и Византия VII-IX в. - военна администрация, Университетско издателство "Св. Климент Охридски", София, 2007, ISBN 978-954-07-2465-0, стр. 254


  • Labarre de Raillicourt: Les Comtes Romains
  • Westermann, Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (in German)

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