From Academic Kids

A governor is also a device that regulates the speed of a machine. See Governor (device).

A governor is an official who heads the government of a colony, state or other sub-national state unit. Most countries in the world have some sort of official known as a governor, though in some countries, the heads of the states, provinces and regions may have a different title. This is particularly common in Europe, with titles such as President of the Regional council in France and minister-president in Germany. Other countries using different titles for sub-national units include Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium.

There can also be non-political governors: governors 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 ("warden" in the United States), school governors and bank governors.



The English word "governor" derives from the Latin word "gubernātor" (from which the adjective "gubernatorial" is taken; itself derived from the Greek kybernetes helmsman).

Pre-Roman empires

Although a strictly legal organization of provinces (See also that article), administrated by governors, would be the work of the Romans, the term governor is a convenient generic description for its precursors in Antiquity. Nearly all would ultimately be replaced by Roman 'standardized' provicnial government.


  • In Pharaonic times, the governors (of each of dozens of provinces in the Upper- and Lower - kingdoms, named nomos, by their very names often stating a cultic particularity) are usually known by the greek word Nomarch, though the (semitic) authentical word was ...
  • The whole (or most) of Egypt was repeatedly reduced to the status of province of a larger empire under foreign conquerors, notably under an Achaemenid satrap (see below).

Mesopotamia and beyond

Assyria, a ruthless conqueror of a large empire, ...

  • shaknu
  • bel pihati

Pre- & hellenistic satraps

  • Media and Achaemenid Persia introduced the satrapy, probably inspired by the Assyrian / Babylonian examples
  • Alexander the Great and equally Greco-Macedonian diadoch kingdoms, mainly Seleucids (greater Syria) and Lagids ('Ptolemees' 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

Roman empires and legacy

In ancient Rome

In Rome there was no title gubernator; the closest equivalent was the late latin Praeses Provinciae- was any official charged with the administration of a Roman province.

The main functions of a Roman governor were to collect taxes, supervise government expenditure, command the local military forces, and administer Roman law. However, there have been various models, e.g. combining general civilian administration with military authority (to support defense) or rather separating the two (facilitating imperial control and preventing insubordination).

Often, a governor would have served as a consul or a praetor (top magistrate in Rome) before being dispatched with the corresponding title Proconsul or Propraetor, but this was not always the case – less important provinces might be governed by a prefect (a title predating the emergence of Rome as a mediterranean power beyond its Italic pensinula).

Since the principate (there never was a legal end of the Republic) alongside the above-mentioned type of 'senatorial' provinces, the (often new, generally neighbouring ennemies) 'imperial' provinces were governed by a legate nominated by and under direct control of the Emperor.

A special case was Egypt, a rich 'private' domain and politically crucial granery, were the princeps almost inherited the theocratic status of a Pharao when Octavian militarily crushed Cleopatra and his triumvirate-rival Marc Anthony - the crown was represented there, more autocratically, by a governor sui generis, styled Praefectus Augustalis (the very word evokes a religious cult of the Emperor).

Under the dominate, provinces were more numerous (sme new, most resultying from splits or even more complex reorgnizations) there was a panoplia of new gubernatorial titles, such as Moderator provinciae and Procurator provincae (in minor priovinces, such as Palestine). Much autority was diverted to two nex types of imperial representatives : the Comes and the Dux.

Since Emperor Diocletian tried to establish his tetrarchy (a model with two senior emperors, in East and West, Augustus, each assisted by a junior, styled Caesar; the number of emperors would soon be reduced to one or two again) there were two administrative levels above the governors, of which there were ever more as provinces got split :

  • the vicarius in charge of a so-called diocese (about a dozen)
  • the praefectus praetorio (no longer commander of the imperial guard, but continuing the bureaus of the four tetrarchs), two per empire after the final split into eastern (later Byzantine) and western empire.

split and Byzantium

As the Roman legions no longer remained the invincible military champions, indeed were largely replaced by less disciplined mercenaries, the whole regime changed its geer from adminustration under the pax Romana to a struggle for self-preservation, fighting off the now often stronger challengers on the borders. New types of governors were introduced

  • Exarch
  • in the theme ?Strategos


While the Roman administration itself was generally wiped out by barbarian heirs, its model was preserved and would again be very influential trough two main channels : Roman law (or rarther the Byzantine version in amended collections, long partially confused with the original legislation of (western) Rome proper) and the (catholic and later orthodox) church, having modelled its organisation on the imperium romanum.

Carolingian and other christian European heirs

British Empire and Commonwealth

In the British Empire a governor was originally an official appointed by the British monarch to oversee one of his colonies. Generally of the gubernatorial offices established under the British, the structure comprised three levels:—

  • Governor-General (usually in charge of a group of colonies and now also independent, sovereign Commonwealth Realms);
  • Governor (in charge of a colony); and
  • Lieutenant-Governor (in charge of a sub-colonial unit, usually styled a "province").
  • (Note: colony in this sense means any separate jurisdiction inside the British Empire)

In the first two cases the Governor (or Governor-General) represents the authority of the Monarch. Lieutenant-Governors represent the authority of his superior (a Governor or Governor-General).

There existed, and still currently exist Administrators, Commissioners and High Commissioners who exercised similar powers.

A Governor would usually have an Executive Council to help with the colony's administration. Governors could also, in addition, have Legislative Councils and/or Assemblies underneath them.

Today crown colonies of the United Kingdom continue to be administered by a governor, who holds varying degrees of power. Worldwide, there are 16 Governors-General who represent the authority of the British Monarch in the (sovereign) Commonwealth Realms.

Because of the different constitutional histories of the various former colonies of the United Kingdom, the name now refers to officials with differing amounts of power. Especially after Commonwealth nations became independent of the United Kingdom, the presence of the word "Governor" does not guarantee that the said Governor is the "typical British–style" Governor; examples include:

  • Sri Lanka, once a colony governed by a single British Governor before independence, now has many "governors" controlling sub-national units
  • Nigeria, also a colony once governed by a single British Governor before independence, now has many "governors" controlling sub-national provinces

Governors (of all ranks) are usually housed in a building called 'Government House'. Governors used to also have a standard flag pattern (a Union Flag with the colonial seal or coat of arms in the centre). Governors-General still have a standard pattern flag, a blue flag with the royal crest (lion and crown) with the name of the jurisdiction on a scroll underneath.

See also:


Main article: Governors of the Australian states

In Australia, each state has a Governor as its formal representative of the Queen and Premier as head of the state government. State Governors are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Premier and play a largely ceremonial role. State Governors have emergency reserve powers but these are rarely used. The Territories of Australia have Administrators instead of governors, who are appointed formally by the Governor-General. The Commonwealth Governor-General is Australia's de facto head of state representing the Queen in Canberra appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, the head of the Federal Government.

The difference in terminology between the Australian state Governors and the Canadian provincial Lieutenant Governors is significant. In the Australian case, the Governor nominally derives power directly from the monarch and is in practice nominated by the Premier of a state. In the Canadian case, the Lieutenant Governor nominally is appointed by the Governor-General and in practice is named by the federal Prime Minister.

See also:


In India each state has a ceremonial Governor appointed by the President of India. These Governors are different to the Governors which controlled the British-controlled portions of the Indian Empire (as opposed to the princely states) prior to 1949.


In Malaysia the states of Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak each have a ceremonial Governor Yang di-Pertua Negeri appointed by the King Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia. These states have a separate head of government which is the Chief Minister or Menteri Besar.

Other states have royalty such as the state of Selangor, Pahang, Johore, Perak, Kelantan and Kedah.


In Nigeria, the leaders of the regions, which in 1967 were divided into states, have been known as governors since 1954. Following a military coup in November 1993, President Sani Abacha suspended all the governors, and appointed administrators. When democracy was restored in 1999, the office of governor was revived and new governors were elected. The president of Nigeria can suspend state governors in a state of emergency and replace them with administrators. They are elected by popular vote.

Northern Ireland

There was a position of Governor of Northern Ireland from 1922 until the suspension of Stormont in 1973.

Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, the leaders of the provinces have been known as governors since August 1995. Previously they had been known as premiers.

Sri Lanka

The provinces of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) are led by governors.

United Kingdom overseas territories

In the United Kingdom's remaining overseas territories the governor is normally a direct appointee of the British Government and plays an active role in governing and lawmaking (though usually with the advice of elected local representatives). In some minor overseas territories there is instead of a Governor an Administrator or Commissioner.

People's Republic of China

In the People's Republic of China, the title "Governor" (省长) refers to the highest ranking executive of a Provincial Government. The Governor is usually placed second in the provincial power hierarchy, below the Provincial CPC Secretary (省委书记), who serves as the highest ranking Party official in the Province. A Governor can be also used when referring to a County Governor (县长).

United States

In the United States, the title governor refers to the chief executive of each state, not subordinate to the federal authorities but the political and ceremonial head of the 'sovereign' state. The governor may also assume additional roles, such as the Commander-in-Chief of the State National Guard forces (when not federalized) as well as the final legal judicial appellate authority for most criminal sentences involving capital punishment.

In all states, the governor is directly elected and has considerable practical powers, though this is moderated by the state legislature and in some cases by other elected executive officials. They can veto state bills, though this can be overturned by only a 3/5 vote (unlike the 2/3 vote needed for a federal bill). Also, if there is a sudden vacancy of one of the state's Congressmen, that state's governor appoints someone to replace them until a special election can be held.

In colonial America, the governor was the representative of the monarch who exercised executive power, many colonies originally elected their governors, but in the years leading up to the American Revolution, the king began to to appoint them directly. During the American Revolutionary War, the royal governors were expelled, but the name was retained to denote the new elected official.

See: List of United States Governors for past and present governors.


The elected heads of Mexico's 31 federal states are styled "governors" (gobernadores), closely following the U.S. model. See: List of Mexican state governors.

South America

Many of the South American republics (such as Chile, Brazil, Argentina) have provinces or states run by elected governors, with offices similar in nature to U.S. state governors.

Other countries

Other countries with colonies in Asia, Africa and other areas, such as Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands give some, but not always all, of the top representatives of (or rather in) their colonies the title of governor. Currently, the counties of Sweden, the provinces of China and Finland, the states of Indonesia and some of the administrative divisions of Russia are among the areas which have leaders with the title of governor. In the Netherlands, the government-appointed heads of the provinces were known as Gouverneur from 1814 until 1850, when their title was changed to King's (or Queen's) Commissioner. In Belgium, the title of Gouverneur is used, in both the French and Dutch languages. There are presently 10 provinces, each with its own governor; the national capital, Brussels, does not belong to any, constituting a region (along with Flanders and Wallonia), with its own minister-president.

See also:

Modern equivalents

As a GENERIC term, Governor is used for various 'equivalent' officers governing part of a state or empire, rendering other official titles such as :

And this also applies to non-western and/or antique cultures, such as :

  • in the Ottoman empire, various Pashas (generals) administered a province of the Great Sultan's vaste empire, with specific titles (such as Mutessaryf; Vali = Wali was often maintained or even revived in oriental successor states; cfr. Beilerbei (rendered as Governor-general, as he is appointed above several provinces under individual governors) and Dey)

Furthermore, the word has other meanings

- as an administrator and/or supervisor (individually or collectively, see Board of Governors) in the socio-economic spheres of life.

See also

de:Gouverneur fr:Gouverneur ja:知事 hu:Kormnyz nl:Gouverneur no:Guvernr pt:Governador ru:Губернатор sv:Guvernr zh:知事


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