The organizational system of the Roman Empire that first shaped Byzantium was introduced by the Emperor Diocletian (284–304 ce). Key to his strategy was the division of the empire into large areas that he called “dioceses,” which were themselves subdivided into provinces. Each of these regions possessed a host of civil administrative positions. Perhaps most significantly, Diocletian separated civilian and military leadership, permitting provincial governors no military troops of their own, while military commanders got jurisdictions larger than provincial borders. When Christianity was legalized under the Emperor Constantine, the Church appropriated the concept of geographical boundaries for its administrative leaders and mapped the borders of a bishop’s diocese precisely to the borders of the Roman government’s civil provincial network.
During the sixth century, the administrative structure of the empire was reorganized. Civilian and military leadership was consolidated such that the empire was now divided according to military districts called themata. Military generals served as provincial governors of the themata and they were directly accountable to the emperor. Civilian officers continued to play an important role in both the central administration and the provinces, but military interests transformed the nature of Byzantine administration.
During the ninth century, there was a deliberate effort to distinguish between holders of titles with actual administrative duties and those whose titles were purely honorary. To help distinguish between the two, true ranks were bestowed by a formal appointment, whereas honorary titles were bestowed only with a diploma or certificate.
Offices – Ὀφφίκια
The word ὀφφίκια is derived from the Latin officium, which meant a person with a specific duty or someone who attains absolute respect. Initially, the term ὀφφίκια (office-holder) referred only to those working in a specific administrative department within the imperial government; it did not refer to the cabinet officer in charge. With the militarization of the empire in the sixth century, ὀφφίκια were bestowed upon military men as well as civilian officials. By the tenth century, ὀφφίκια referred to both the officer in charge of a specific department and to all those under his jurisdiction as well, whether they had administrative duties or simply minor duties. There was a hierarchal order with varying degrees of authority but all were called officials.
In the early Church, the Latin term “divine office” (officium divinum) signified the daily services of the Church. There is a great similarity in the officium divinum between the Eastern and Western Christian traditions in the early Middle Ages, testifying that the idea of the divine services originated from a common source, and indicating that the eventual differences developed according to the flexibility of Greco-Roman culture.
The term officium appears in the Scriptures and signifies various civilian and military officers as well as their servants. The term can denote the scribes (in Hebrew, shōter) who were attached to the higher military, civil, and judicial officers of the state who had secretarial duties; the supervisor for the registration of the labors of Hebrews during their enslavement in Egypt; a public servant in the cities and towns of Palestine; a military leader; and those authorized to collect taxes. In the New Testament, the term is found in the person of the servant of the official in charge of the prison. And the Apostle Paul considers that he has the same relationship with God “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
Secretum and Secreti
The term secretum is derived from the Latin verb secerno, which means separating or dividing. Figuratively, it has the meaning of distinguishing or setting aside, but, in a narrower sense, the word secretum denotes a withdrawal, isolation, or something secret, like a private council. The secretum in the fourth century was the Imperial Council (the consistory or private advisory group of the emperor). It was also the place set aside where the council held their meetings. The same term is used in the Theodosian Code 6.35.7 to designate those who took part in the meetings of the imperial councils. The word consistorium was used to mean the private council of Emperor Diocletian and is derived from the verb consistere, because the members of the council stood in the presence of the emperor. The council functioned as both the general Council of the empire and also the highest court of the empire. The meetings of the Council were called silentia and its members silentiarii. After the fifth century, they were called secreticians, secretici.
In the sixth and seventh centuries, the term secretum was a special term applied to every service of the empire. The term secretum was appropriated by the Church as well and came to refer to the secretarial staff of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. From this originated the title of “the one in charge of the secretum.” The secretarius was in charge of the secretarial staff. In the tenth century, the word secretum was expanded to include almost all the various offices where the tasks involved were mostly secretarial and office work. During the reign of Michael VIII Paleologos (1259-1282), the highest imperial court was reinstituted after the recapture of Constantinople from the Crusaders and was called the imperial secretum, or simply, secretum. The judges were called the katholiki, judges of the Romans.
The Titles and their Organization
The pages that follow provide a list of the Ὀφφίκια still in use by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which are awarded to Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarch at the time of their installation. Where possible, attention is given to the Hellenic or Roman origins of the title as well as the ways in which the rank was employed during the Byzantine period.
The Ὀφφίκια are organized according to the lists provided in the modern printing of the Great Euchologion, or prayer book, of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The list in that book is not exhaustive (it contains only 21 titles). The remaining titles are presented in alphabetical order following the conclusion of the fourth grouping from the Great Euchologion.