PRIMATE, a title applied during the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. to both secular and ecclesiastical officials. The Theodosian Code mentions primates of towns, districts and fortified places (Primates erbium, vicorum, castellorum). The Pragmatic Sanc tion of Justinian also mentions primates governing a district, primates regionis; and in this sense the title survived, under Turkish rule, in Greece until the 19th century. An official called "primate of the palace" is mentioned in the laws of the Visigoths. Primas also seems to have been used loosely during the middle ages for "head" or "chief." Du Cange cites primas castri. The title, however, has been more generally used to denote a bishop with special privileges and powers. It was first employed almost synonymously with metropolitan to denote the chief bishop of a province having his see in the capital and certain rights of superintendence over the whole province. At the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) the metropolitan constitution was assumed as universal, and after this the terms "metropolitan," and "primate," to denote the chief bishop of a province, came into general use.
The title of primate was used more generally in Africa, while elsewhere metropolitan was more generally employed.
At a later date "primate" became the official title of certain metropolitans who obtained from the pope a position of episcopal authority over several other metropolitans and who were, at the same time, appointed vicars of the Holy See. This was done in the case of the bishops of Arles and Thessalonica as early as the 5th century. The archbishop of Reims received the title of primas inter primates. By the False Decretals an attempt was made to establish such a primacy as a permanent institution, but the attempt was not successful and the dignity of primate became more or less honorary. The overlapping of the title is illustrated by the case of England, where the archbishop of York still bears the title of primate of England and the archbishop of Canterbury that of primate of all England.