The Byzantine Empire had a complex system of aristocracy and bureaucracy. Most of the offices and titles were honorifics only, as the emperor was the sole ruler. Over the more than 1000 years of the empire's existence, different titles were adopted and discarded, and many lost or gained prestige. At first the various titles of the empire were the same as those in the late Roman Empire, as the Byzantine Empire was not yet distinguished from Rome. By the time of Heraclius in the 7th century many of the titles had become obsolete; by the time of Alexius I, many of the positions were either new or drastically changed, but they remained basically the same from Alexius' reign to the fall of the Empire in 1453.

Table of contents
1 Aristocratic titles
2 Military titles
3 Administrative titles
4 Sources

Aristocratic titles

Higher aristocratic titles

  • Basileos – the Greek word for "king," which originally referred to any king in the Greek-speaking areas of the Roman Empire, such as Herod in Judea. It also referred to the emperors of Persia. Heraclius adopted it to replace the old Latin title of Augustus (Augoustos) in 629, and it became the Greek word for "emperor." Heraclius also used the titles autokrator ("autocrat," "self-ruler") and kyrios ("lord"). Later emperors used the title porphyrogenitos ("purple-born," meaning they were born in the imperial palace to a reigning emperor, and were therefore legitimate). The feminine form basilissa referred to an empress. Empresses were also called kyria or despoina. Basilopator was a honorific to describe the "father" of an emperor, although a basilopator was not necessarily the emperor's actual father. The first basilopator was Zautzes, a nobleman under Leo VI; Romanus I Lecapenus also used the term when he was regent for Constantine VII.
  • Despotes – This title ("despot") was created by Manuel I Comnenus in the 12th century, as the highest title after the emperor. A despot could be the holder of a despotate; for example, the Despotate of Morea, centred at Mistra, was held by the heir to the Byzantine throne after 1261. The feminine form, despoina, referred to a female despot or the wife of a despot.
  • Sebastokrator – "Majestic ruler," a title created by Alexius I as a combination of autokrator and sebastos. The first sebastokrator was Alexius' brother Isaac; it was essentially a meaningless title, which signified only a close relationship with the emperor. The feminine form was sebastokratorissa.
  • Kaisar – Caesar (title),originally as in the late Roman Empire it was used for a subordinate co-emperor or the heir apparent. When Alexius I created sebastokrator, kaisar became third in importance, and fourth after Manuel I created despotes. The feminine form was kaisarissa.
  • Panhypersebastos, and Protosebatos – developed from sebastos ("majesty"). Alexius and later emperors could create a large number of titles by adding pan ("all"), hyper ("above"), proto ("first"), and other prefixes to basic titles, such as sebastos in these cases.

Despotes, sebastokrator, kaisar, panhypersebastos, and protosebastos were normally reserved for members of the royal family, and were distinguished by different clothes and different crowns. However, they could also be given to foreigners. The first despotes was actually a foreigner, Bela III of Hungary, signifying that Hungary was considered a Byzantine tributary state. The first foreigner to be called sebastokrator was Stefan Nemanja of Serbia, who was given the title in 1191. Kaloyan of Bulgaria also used the title. Justinian II named Tervel, khan of the Bulgars, kaisar in 705; the title then developed into the Slavic term tsar or czar (from Latin through Russian). Andronicus II also named Roger de Flor, leader of the Catalan Grand Company, kaisar in 1304. Protosebastos was also given to Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice, before his involvement in the Fourth Crusade.

Especially in the later centuries of the empire, Byzantine emperors were also reffered to as khronokrator and kosmokrator - literally, "ruler of time" and "ruler of the world."

Lower aristocratic titles

The Byzantines also had aristocratic titles for lesser members of the royal family and lesser nobles, adopted from Latin terms and somewhat equivalent to the similar terms in Western Europe (derived from the same Latin terms). These were prinkeps (prince), doux (duke), and komes (count). They also had kleisourarka, apokomes, and akrita, equivalent to lower nobles such as marquesses, viscounts, earls, and barons.

Various lesser nobles also held titles in the imperial residence, such as parakoimomenos (a bodyguard) and pankernes (a cupbearer), and megas konostaulos ("grand constable," in charge of the emperor’s stables).

Military titles



Other military titles

Administrative titles

The vast Byzantine bureaucracy had many titles, and varied more than aristocratic and military titles. In Constantinople there were normally hundreds, if not thousands, of bureaucrats at any time. These are some of the more common ones, including non-nobles who also directly served the emperor.

  • Protoasecretis - an earlier title for the head of the chancery, responsible for keeping official government records. The secretisa was a subordinate. Other subordinates included the chartoularios (in charge of imperial documents), the kastrisios (a chamberlain in the palace), the mystikos (a private secretary), and the eidikos (a treasury official).
  • Logothetes - a secretary in the extensive bureaucracy, who did various jobs depending on the exact position. Logothetes were some of the most important bureaucrats. They included:
    • Megas logothetes (Grand Logothete) – the head of the logothetes, personally responsible for the legal system and treasury, somewhat like a chancellor in western Europe.
    • Logothetes tou dromou (Postal Logothete) – the head of diplomacy and the postal service.
    • Logothetes ton oikeiakon (Domestic Logothete) – head of domestic affairs, such as the security of Constantinople and the local economy.
    • Logothetes tou genikou (General Logothete) – responsible for taxation.
    • Logothetes tou stratiotikou (Military Logothete) – a civilian, in charge of distributing pay to the army.

Logothetes originally had some influence on the emperor, but they eventually became honorary posts. In the later empire the Grand Logothete became the mesazon ("manager")

Other administrators included:

  • Prefect – a lower official in Constantinople, involved in local government.
  • Quaestor – originally a legal and financial official, which lost power after the development of the logothetes.
  • Tribounos – equivalent to the Roman tribune; responsible for maintenance of roads, monuments, and buildings in Constantinople.
  • Magister (magister officiorum, magister militum) – an old Roman term, master of offices and master of the army; by the time of Heraclius, these had become honorary and were eventually discarded.
  • Sacellarios – under Heraclius, an honorary supervisor of the other palace administrators, logothetes, etc.
  • Praetor – originally an administrator of Constantinople, in charge of taxation; after Alexius, a civil governor of a theme.
  • Kephale - "head," the civil governor of a Byzantine town. (“Head”)
  • Dragoman – a Turkish title, which was applied to interpreters and ambassadors.
  • Horeiarios – in charge of distributing food from the state granaries.

The protoasecretis, logothetes, prefect, praetor, quaestor, magister, and sacellarios, among others, were members of the senate, until this became an increasingly unused aspect of the Empire after Heraclius.