In the year 1147, we have the bard testifying to the supereminence of the Cid among his country's heroes: "Ipse Rodericus Mio Cid semper vocatus, De quo cantatur quod ab hostibus haud superatus, Qui domuit Mauros, comites domuit quoque nostros."
In the early Roman empire the word was used to designate the companions of the emperor (comites principis) and so became a title of honour.
They formed a permanent council, and Hadrian's successors entrusted these comites with the administration of justice and finance, or placed them in military commands.
Thus in the 5th century, among the comites attached to the emperor's establishment, we find, e.g., the comes sacrarum largitionum and the comes rei privatae; while others, forming the council, were styled comites consistorii.
Others were sent into the provinces as governors, comites per provincias constituti; thus in the Notitia dignitatum we find a comes Aegypti, a conies Africae, a comes Belgicae, a comes Lugdunensis and others.
Under the early Frankish kings some comites did not exercise any definite functions; they were merely attached to the king's person and executed his orders.
Comites Palatii Lateranensis; Selden, op. cit.
This instance, indeed, remained isolated; but the personal title of "count palatine," though honorary rather than official, was conferred on officials - especially by the popes on those of the Curia - had no territorial significance, and was to the last reminiscent of those early comites palatii whose relations to the sovereign had been purely personal and official (see Palatine).
The terms used for the two classes by Bede are milites (ministri) and comites, for which the Anglo-Saxon version has Pegnas and gesi 5as respectively.
The followers (called by Tacitus comites, in England " thegns," among the Franks antrustiones, &c.) were expected to remain faithful to their lord even to death; indeed so close was the relationship between the two that it seems to have reckoned as equivalent to that of father and son.
Perhaps the most striking instance of such devotion was that displayed at the battle of Strassburg in 357, when the Alamannic king Chonodomarius was taken prisoner by the Romans, and his two hundred comites gave themselves up voluntarily to share his captivity.
As Stubbs says " the thegn seems to be primarily the warrior gesith " - the gesithas forming the chosen band of companions (comites) of the German chiefs (principes) noticed by Tacitus - " he is probably the gesith who had a particular military duty in his master's service "; and he adds that from the reign of Athelstan " the gesith is lost sight of except very occasionally, the more important class having become thegns, and the lesser sort sinking into the rank of mere servants of the king."
His charters to landowners and burghs (charters not being novel in Scotland, but now more lavishly conferred) substituted written documents for the unwritten customs of Celtic tenure, and converted the under kings of provinces into earls of the king, while vice-comites, or sheriffs, administered local justice in the king's name, though Celtic custom still prevailed, under a thin veneer of law, in the Celtic regions, as in Galloway.
It formed part of the Caroling kingdom of Austrasia, and was divided into pagi or gauen, ruled by official counts (comites-graven).