A governor is, in most cases, a public official with the power to govern the executive branch of a non-sovereign or sub-national level of government, ranking under the head of state. In federations, governor may be the title of a politician who governs a constituent state and may be either appointed or elected. The power of the individual governor can vary dramatically between political systems, with some governors having only nominal or largely ceremonial power, while others having a complete control over the entire government.

Historically, the title can also apply to the executive officials acting as representatives of a chartered company which has been granted exercise of sovereignty in a colonial area, such as the British East India Company or the Dutch East India Company. These companies operate as a major state within a state with its own armed forces.

There can also be non-political governors: high-ranking officials in private or similar governance such as commercial and non-profit management, styled governor(s), who simply govern an institution, such as a corporation or a bank. For example, in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, there are prison governors ("wardens" in the United States), school governors and bank governors.

The adjective pertaining to a governor is gubernatorial, from the Latin root gubernare.[1] The historical female form is governess, though female officials are referred to by the gender-neutral form governor (without the gender specific suffix) of the noun to avoid confusion with other meanings of the term.

Pre-Roman empires

Though the legal and administrative framework of provinces, each administrated by a governor, was created by the Romans, the term governor has been a convenient term for historians to describe similar systems in antiquity. Indeed, many regions of the pre-Roman antiquity were ultimately replaced by Roman 'standardized' provincial governments after their conquest by Rome.


  • In Pharaonic times, the governors of each of the various provinces in the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt (called "nomes" by the Greeks, and whose names often alluded to local patterns of religious worship) are usually known by the Greek word.

Pre- and Hellenistic satraps

  • Media and Achaemenid Persia introduced the satrapy, probably inspired by the Assyrian / Babylonian examples
  • Alexander the Great and equally Hellenistic diadoch kingdoms, mainly Seleucids (greater Syria) and Lagids ('Ptolemies' in Hellenistic Egypt)
  • in later Persia, again under Iranian dynasties:
    • Parthia
    • the Sassanid dynasty dispensed with the office after Shapur I (who had still 7 of them), replacing them with petty vassal rulers, known as shahdars

In ancient Rome

From the creation of the earliest Roman subject provinces, a governor was appointed each year to administer each of them. The core function of a Roman governor was as a magistrate or judge, and the management of taxation and the public spending in their area.

Under the Republic and the early Empire, however, a governor also commanded military forces in his province. Republican governors were all men who had served in senior magistracies (the consulate or praetorship) in Rome in the previous year, and carried related titles as governor (proconsul or propraetor). The first Emperor, Octavianus Augustus (who acquired or settled a number of new territories; officially his style was republican: Princeps civitatis), divided the provinces into two categories; the traditionally prestigious governorships remained as before (in what have become known as "senatorial" provinces), while in a range of others, he retained the formal governorship himself, delegating the actual task of administration to appointees (usually with the title legatus Augusti). The legatus sometimes would appoint a prefect (later procurator), usually a man of equestrian rank, to act as his deputy in a subregion of the larger province: the infamous character of Pontius Pilate in the Christian Gospels was a governor of this sort.

A special case was Egypt, a rich 'private' domain and vital granary, where the Emperor almost inherited the theocratic status of a Pharaoh. The Emperor was represented there by a governor sui generis styled praefectus augustalis, a title evoking the religious cult of the Emperor.

Emperors Diocletian (see Tetrarchy) and Constantine in the third and fourth centuries AD carried out a root and branch reorganisation of the administration with two main features:

  • Provinces were divided up and became much more numerous (Italy itself, before the 'colonizing homeland', was brought into the system for the first time); they were then grouped into dioceses, and the dioceses in turn into four praetorian prefectures (originally each under a residing co-emperor);
  • Military responsibilities were removed from governors and given to new officials called comes rei militaris (the comital title was also granted to many court and civilian administrative positions) or dux, later also magister militum.

The prestigious governorships of Africa and Asia remained with the title proconsul, and the special right to refer matters directly to the Emperor; the praefectus augustalis in Alexandria and the comes Orientis in Antioch also retained special titles. Otherwise, the governors of provinces had various titles, some known as consularis, some as corrector, while others as praeses. Apart from Egypt and the East (Oriensviz greater Syria), each diocese was directed by a governor known as a vicarius. The prefectures were directed by praefecti praetorio (greatly transformed in their functions from their role in the early Empire).


This system survived with few significant changes until the collapse of the empire in the West, and in the East, the breakdown of order with the Persian and Arab invasions of the seventh century. At that stage, a new kind of governor emerged, the Strategos. It was a role leading the themes which replaced provinces at this point, involving a return to the amalgamation of civil and military office which had been the practice under the Republic and the early Empire.


While the Roman administration in the West was largely destroyed in the barbarian invasions, its model was remembered, and would again be very influential through two particular vehicles: Roman law and the Christian Church.

Other Languages
العربية: حاكم الدولة
asturianu: Gobernador
azərbaycanca: Qubernator
Bahasa Banjar: Hobnor
Bân-lâm-gú: Ti-sū
Basa Banyumasan: Gubernur
беларуская: Губернатар
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Губэрнатар
भोजपुरी: राज्यपाल
български: Губернатор
bosanski: Guverner
буряад: Амбан
català: Governador
čeština: Guvernér
dansk: Guvernør
Deutsch: Gouverneur
eesti: Kuberner
Ελληνικά: Κυβερνήτης
español: Gobernador
Esperanto: Guberniestro
euskara: Gobernadore
فارسی: فرماندار
français: Gouverneur
Frysk: Gûverneur
Gaeilge: Gobharnóir
galego: Gobernador
한국어: 도지사
हिन्दी: राज्यपाल
hrvatski: Guverner
Ilokano: Gobernador
Bahasa Indonesia: Gubernur
íslenska: Landstjóri
italiano: Governatore
עברית: מושל
Basa Jawa: Gubernur
ಕನ್ನಡ: ರಾಜ್ಯಪಾಲ
ქართული: გუბერნატორი
қазақша: Губернатор
Kiswahili: Gavana
Кыргызча: Губернатор
Latina: Gubernator
latviešu: Gubernators
lietuvių: Gubernatorius
македонски: Губернатор
മലയാളം: ഗവർണ്ണർ
मराठी: राज्यपाल
მარგალური: გუბერნატორი
Bahasa Melayu: Gabenor
Baso Minangkabau: Gubernur
Nederlands: Gouverneur
Nedersaksies: Gouverneur
नेपाली: राज्यपाल
日本語: 知事
norsk: Guvernør
norsk nynorsk: Guvernør
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਰਾਜਪਾਲ
پنجابی: گورنر
Papiamentu: Gobernador
پښتو: والي
polski: Gubernator
português: Governador
română: Guvernator
русский: Губернатор
Scots: Govrenor
Simple English: Governor
سنڌي: گورنر
slovenščina: Guverner
српски / srpski: Губернатор
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Guverner
Basa Sunda: Gubernur
svenska: Guvernör
Tagalog: Gobernador
தமிழ்: ஆளுநர்
татарча/tatarça: Губернатор
తెలుగు: గవర్నరు
Türkçe: Vali
тыва дыл: Губернатор
українська: Губернатор
اردو: گورنر
Tiếng Việt: Thống đốc
West-Vlams: Gouverneur
中文: 省长