The title Patricius was made a high honorary title in the late Roman Empire by Constantine the Great, bestowed only on the emperor’s closest confidants. These were thus symbolically placed on an equal footing with the emperor’s relatives. The title was later often given to high military officers such as the magister militum; however, the circle of people to whom the title was given changed. In western Rome, at least since Constantius III, the title patricius denoted the most powerful magister militum in each case, who generally determined the fate of the west in the 5th century. Against this background it becomes understandable that even after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, army masters such as Odoacer and Theoderic the Great sought the title, which in the West, in combination with the title of army master, conferred de facto power almost equal to that of an emperor: the magister militum et patricius was de facto head of government. In addition, high civil officials could also be patricii.
In Eastern Rome, the title had no corresponding meaning, but was nevertheless very exclusive: in the fifth and sixth centuries, a patricius here had to be (had been) consul, magister militum, magister officiorum, praefectus praetorio or city prefect of Rome or Constantinople – the title was thus only considered for a very small circle of incumbent or former dignitaries. The title was intended as a reminder of the patrician senatorial dynasties of the Republic and the early imperial period, which had enjoyed enormous social prestige. However, this did not imply membership of a particular noble class, for the title was not hereditary; it was thus also conferred on “barbarians” who had proved themselves as military men, for example. After the end of the Western Empire, even barbarian rulers were awarded this title by the Eastern Emperor, among others, as mentioned, Theoderic the Great as well as possibly also the Frankish rex Clovis I in 508. Thanks to this title, they were able to act like vice-emperors in their territories. Patricius was a common title in the Eastern Roman Empire until the end of Late Antiquity, and then remained so (as Patrikios) in Middle Byzantine times until the 12th century. In post-antique Byzantium, the title was thereby also conferred on the commanders of certain subjects and soon also often on senators, and lost its exclusivity
In 754, Pope Stephen II also bestowed the title Patricius Romanus on the Frankish king Pippin and his sons Charles and Charlesman on the occasion of their anointing as kings. In the Holy Roman Empire (there until Henry V), patricius – in imitation of Byzantium – was for a time a high honorific title.
- Wilhelm Heil: Der konstantinische Patriziat (= Basler Studien zur Rechtswissenschaft. H. 78, Helbing & Lichtenhahn, Basel u. a. 1966, (Zugleich: Basel, Universität, Dissertation, 1964).
- Patricius. In: Lexikon des Mittelalters (LexMA). Artemis& Winkler, Munich/Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-7608-8906-9, sp. 1789-1791 .