Philippa (2003–2009) says about the Dutch word graaf, "count", that it came from Greek grapheus "writer/scribe", through Mediaeval Latin -gravius, "royal administrative official, overseer".

Now I wonder why people in Western Europe adopted this Greek word into Latin: where did it come from, where was it used, and when was it used? The following sub-questions might be relevant:

  • From which Greek tradition was it adopted? Byzantium?

  • Did this adoption happen in Italy?

  • When was the word adopted into Latin?

  • When and where was it used in Latin?

  • Didn't this word compete with comes "count" in Latin?

  • Why does Philippa use a hyphen in -gravius: was it a suffix?

By no means does an answer have to answer all of these questions: any information about the adoption or use of grapheus/-gravius in Latin and its legacy would be appreciated.

N.B. Philippa says the word is not closely related to English reeve/gerēfa; although the English word probably did come from Greek graphein "to write", it did so by another way.

Here is part of Philippa's account:

Wrsch. is dit woord in het Frankische gebied ontleend aan middeleeuws Latijn -grāvius ‘koninklijk bestuursambtenaar, toezichthouder’ < Grieks grapheús ‘schrijver’, zie verder → -grafie.

Een Frankische graaf was oorspronkelijk een beambte met alleen uitvoerende macht, maar sinds de 6e eeuw tevens voorzitter van de mallus ‘volksvergadering, rechtsbank’ (Lex Salica).

De betekenis ‘toezichthouder, bestuurder’ leeft voort in samenstellingen als → dijkgraaf ‘voorzitter van het bestuur van een waterschap’.

Omdat een koninklijk bestuursambtenaar een hoge positie en dikwijls ook een titel had, ontwikkelde de betekenis zich naar ‘edelman van zekere rang’.


1 Answer 1


This is the most probable etymology of "Graf". It was borrowed from Byzantine Greek at about the time of Charlemagne.


also this: http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/reeve-sheriff-en-vs-graf-grebe-graaf-greve-de-nds-nl-dk-sv.3016820/

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