NOBILITY (OF. nobility, nobilitml, Fr. no from Lat. nobilitax, nobility. from nobi/is, wide, from nosccrc, to know; connected with Gk. yeyvatcrKew., giy,t6skcia, Skt. jioi, to know, and ultimately with Eng. know). A class possessing by hereditary transmission social rank and priv ileges, and often political privileges as well, greater than those belonging to t he mass of the people, and aristocracy of birth or privilege. In the most. primitive societies, Mien the stronger and abler men became chiefs of tribes or clans there was frequently a body of supporters who acquired prestige from the power of their leader. The ancient empires—Egypt. Itabylonia. Assyria —which had developed out of earlier tribal con ditions, had a noble class, priests and warriors, surrounding and upholding the throne, except when the aristocracy became too strong and am bitious and overthrew the despot who trampled on its privileges. In the empires acquired by con quest the warriors who had shared success for the conqueror became through his gratitude or his necessity a special caste, above the con quered, and handed down to their descendants the privileges they had won. In more advanced stages of society wealth or political influence have often purchased rank for their possessors, and in the highest civilization intellectual ability has been rewarded by hereditary rank. There was another type of nobility in ancient Athens and lIorne, where a population early in misses shin retained privileges above all other comers, forming, at once parties and privileged orders in the State—the eupatrids and the patricians. Among the ancient Germanic tribes class dis tinctions went back to the beginnings of the race, for at- our first knowledge of them they were divided into nobles. freemen, and slaves.
The constant warfare of centuries had effaced these distinctions to a considerable extent at the time of the Germanic invasions. The nobility of rho nations of modern Europe has its origin in the feudal aristocracy. See The Frankish Kingdom in Gaul was divided into governments, each under the authority of a chieftain called a vomit or comes—a designation derived from the (stows of the Boman Empire— whose Teutonic equivalent was prof, an official of the Crown in the time of Charles the Great, but acquiring in the later confusion hereditary ' rights. (See CouNT: (11tAl...1 A higher dignity and more extensive jurisprudence was conferred on the dux or duke (q.v.), a term also of Iltatian origin, and implying the ditty of leading the armies of the country. In the Lombard Kingdom of Italy the same term was applied to the great officers who were intrusted with the military and civil administration of cities and their sur rounding provinces. The marquis (q.v.) the guardian of the frontier marches. I AI. 11c In the subinfendations of the greater nobility originated it secondary sort of nobility, under the name of vavasours. eastellans, and lesser barons; and a third order below them Clm prised vassals, whose tenure, by the military obligation known in England as a knight's ser vice, admitted them within the ranks of the aristocracy. In France the allegianee of the lesser nobles to their intermediary lord long continued a reality; in England, on the other hand. William the Conqueror obliged not only his barons, who held in fief of the Crown, hut their vassals also, to take an oath of fealty to himself: and his successors alto gether abolished subinfendation. (See BARON ;