The precursor of the thegn was the gesith, the companion of the king or great lord, the member of his comitatus, and the word thegn began to be used to describe a military gesith.
The custom was for the king to get a fixed sum from the sheriff of each county, this being called the firma comitatus, and for the sheriff to collect this as best he could.
He enjoyed a triple wergeld, but had no definite salary, being remunerated by the receipt of certain revenues, a system which contained the germs of discord, on account of the confusion of his public and private 1 The changing language of this epoch speaks of civitates, subsequently of pagi, and later of comitatus (counties).
The 8th century the term comitatus begins to denote a geographical area, though there was little difference in its extent under the Merovingian kings and the early Carolings.
About the end of the 9th century Fezensac (comitatus Fedentiacus), in circumstances of which no trustworthy record remains, was erected into an hereditary countship. This latter was in its turn divided, the south-western portion becoming, about 960, the countship of Armagnac (pages Armaniacus).
The patrocinium they were made ready to understand by the existence of a somewhat similar institution among themselves, the comitatus, described by Tacitus.
The special features of the institution were the strong tie of faith and service which bound the man, the support and rewards given by the lord, and the pride of both in the relationship. The patrocinium might well seem to the German only a form of the comitatus, but it was a form which presented certain advantages in his actual situation.
Probably this fact, together with the more general fact of the absorption in most things of the German in the Roman, accounts for the substitution of the patrocinium for the comitatus which took place under the Merovingians.
This change did not occur, however, without some modification of the Roman customs. The comitatus made contributions of its own to future feudalism, to some extent to its institutional side, largely to the ideas and spirit which ruled in it.
The comitatus developed and modified, it did not originate.
The same class continued to furnish the king's men, and to form his household and body-guard whether the relation was that of the patrocinium or the comitatus, and to be made noble by entering into it.
They essentially resembled the obligations undertaken towards a Teutonic chief by the members of his "comitatus" or "gefolge," one of the institutions from which feudalism directly sprang.
This was afterwards preserved as an administrative district under the Franks with the name first of pagus, then of comitatus, or countship of Anjou.
In the 10th century the district had become a comitatus, subject to the powerful count of Verdun, who changed his style to that of count of Ardenne.
Membership of the comitatus or retinue of a prince, offered the only opening by which public life could be entered.
At the same time it traces the birth of feudalism from the germs of the Gallo-Roman personal comitatus; and shows how the bond that united the different parties was the contract of the fief; and how, after a slow growth of three centuries, feudalism was definitely organized in the 12th century.
In this the phrase "omnis comitatus in Hollandt" occurs, but without any further description of the locality indicated.
Among the possessions thus assigned to him is found comitatus omnis in Hollandt cum omnibus ad bannum regalem pertinentibus.
He was a great civil and military official, charged to watch, in the interests of the crown, over groups of several comitatus, or countships, especially in the border provinces.
Nor was the feudal system established in any sense by the settlement of the comitatus group on the conquered land.
They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc.