previous next


DECA´NUS (Fr. doyen, Eng. dean), the head of ten men. The word does not seem to occur before the time of Constantine, and then, except in its ecclesiastical use, only in the Eastern empire. It perhaps took the place of the classical decurio at a time when the latter word had acquired its special meaning in the colonies and municipia. We may distinguish three senses.

1. A petty officer commanding a contubernium of ten men (Modestus, § 9; Veget. de Re Mil. 2.8 and 13). The latter says that in his time (the end of the 4th century) the name caput contubernii had superseded decanus.

2. Officials at the court of Constantinople, but of no higher than menial rank (Cod. Theod. 6.12; “principis famulationibus adhaerentes,” Cod. Just. 12.27, 2). St. Chrysostom instances the ὕπαρχος (= praefectus praetorio) and δεκανὸς as at opposite ends of the social scale (Hom. xiii. in Ep. ad Hebr.) Like other officiales, they were under the orders of the MAGISTER OFFICIORUM.

3. The members of a guild or confraternity at Constantinople, charged with the burial of the dead (Cod. Just. 1.2, 4 and 9; Just. Novell. xliii. praef.). The institution appears to be a distinctly Christian one, and to have organised what had been previously a matter of casual charity, the decent burial of the poor. These decani are probably identical with the κοπιᾶται, so called from their pious labours. (Cf. Dict Chr. Ant. s. vv. Copiatae, Decanus.) (Daremberg and Saglio, s.v. Ducange, s. v.)


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: