Count (Fr. comte; Ital. conte; Span, conde), a title of nobility in continental Europe, corresponding with that of earl in Great Britain. It is derived from the Latin comes, meaning companion, which under the republic designated young Romans of family accompanying a proconsul or propraetor in order to acquire a practical knowledge of political and military affairs. Under the empire a number of persons belonging to the imperial household or retinue received the title of comes, with some addition designating their function or office. Comites as well as jurisconsulti surrounded the emperor when sitting as judge, to assist him in the hearing of causes, which were thus judged with the same authority as in full senate. This mark of office became a title of dignity under Con-stantine the Great. As such it was soon conferred not only on persons of the palace, or companions of the prince, but also on most kinds of higher officers. These dignitaries, according to Eusebius, were divided into three classes, called respectively illustrious, most renowned, and most perfect. The senate was composed of the first two.

Among the multitude of officers who at this period of the Roman empire were dignified by the title of comes, serving in a civil, legal, or religious capacity, we find comites of the treasury, of sacred expenditures, of the sacred council, of the palace, of the chief physicians, of commerce, of grain, of the domestics, of the horses of the prince or of the stable (comes stabuli, the origin of the modern constable), of the houses, of the notaries, of the laws, of the boundaries, marches, or marks (Lat. margo, Ger. Mark, whence the later margrave and marquis), of the harbor of Rome, of heritages, etc. Most of these titles were imitated, with slight modifications, in the feudal kingdoms which arose on the ruins of the Roman empire. Thus we can easily trace the origin of the modern grand almoner, grand master of ceremonies, grand master of the royal household, grand equerry, etc, in which the word grand is used as a substitute for the ancient comes. Under the Franks counts appear as governors of cities or districts, next in rank to the dukes, commanding in time of war, and administering justice in time of peace. Charlemagne divided his empire into small districts (pagi, Ger. Gaue), governed by counts, whose duties are minutely described in the capitularies of the monarch.

The Frankish counts had also their deputies or vicars (missi or vicarii, whence our viscount or vice-comes). Under the last of the Carlovin-gian kings of France the dignity of the counts became hereditary; they even usurped the sovereignty over their districts, and their encroachments remained unchecked even after the accession of Hugh Capet, who was himself the son of the count of Paris; and not for several centuries did their territories become by degrees reunited with the crown. The German term for count, Graf (which is variously derived from grau, gray or venerable; fromCount 0500175 to write, whence the mediaeval Latin word graffare, and the French greffier; or from the ancient German Gefera, companion, and Gerefa, bailiff or steward, whence the English sheriff), first appears in the Salic law in the form of grafio. With the development of the feudal system, as well as that of imperial dignitaries in Germany, we find there counts palatine (comes palatii, palatimis, Pfalzgraf), presiding over the supreme tribunal; constables (Ger. Stallgraf); marshals (from old Ger. Marah, horse, and Schalk, servant); district counts (Gaugraf); counts deputy (Sendgraf), controllers of the preceding; margraves (MarTc-graf), intrusted with the defence of the frontiers; landgraves (Landgraf), counts of large possessions; burggraves (Burggraf), commanders and afterward owners of a fortified town (Burg), etc. With the decline of the imperial power most of these titles became hereditary, as well as the estates or territories with which they were connected, the dignity and possessions of the counts ranking next to those of the dukes in the empire.

But there were also counts whose title depended solely on their office, as counts of the wood, of the salt, of the water, of mills, etc. - The dignity of count is now merely a hereditary title, mostly attached to the possession of certain estates, and bestowed by the monarch, but including neither sovereignty nor jurisdiction, though connected in some states with the peerage. In England, where the wife of an earl is still termed countess, the dignity of count was attached by William the Conqueror to the provinces or counties of the realm, and given in fee to his nobles. The German term has been adopted by several nations of Europe, as for instance by the Poles (hrabia), Russians (graf), and Hungarians (grof).