1875, "body of companions or attendants," Latin collective of comes, comitem "a companion, an associate" (see count (n.1)). In posse comitatus it means "of a county."
Entries linking to comitatus
title of nobility in some continental nations, corresponding to English earl, c. 1300, from Anglo-French counte "count, earl" (Old French conte), from Latin comitem (nominative comes) "companion, attendant," the Roman term for a provincial governor, from com "with" (see com-) + stem of ire "to go" (from PIE root *ei- "to go"). The term was used in Anglo-French to render Old English eorl, but the word was never truly naturalized and mainly was used with reference to foreign titles.
In ancient Rome and the Roman empire, [a comes was] a companion of or attendant upon a great person; hence, the title of an adjutant to a proconsul or the like, afterward specifically of the immediate personal counselors of the emperor, and finally of many high officers, the most important of whom were the prototypes of the medieval counts. [Century Dictionary]
1640s (in Anglo-Latin from early 14c.), shortening of posse comitatus "the force of the county" (1620s, in Anglo-Latin from late 13c.), from Medieval Latin posse "body of men; power," from Latin posse "have power, be able" (see potent) + comitatus "of the county," genitive of Late Latin word for "court palace" (see comitatus). General sense of "an armed force" is from 1640s; the modern slang meaning "small gang" probably is from Western movies.
Posse comitatus, the power of the county; in law, the body of men which the sheriff is empowered to call into service to aid and support him in the execution of the law, as in case of rescue, riot, forcible entry and occupation, etc. It includes all male persons above the age of fifteen. In Great Britain peers and clergymen are excluded by statute. The word comitatus is often omitted, and posse alone is used in the same sense. [Century Dictionary]
updated on January 28, 2018