The starost or starosta (Cyrillic: ?/?, Latin: capitaneus, German: Starost, Hauptmann) is a Slavic term denoting a community elder whose role was to administer the assets of a clan or family estates. The Slavic root of starost translates as "senior". Since the Middle Ages, it has meant an official in a leadership position in a range of civic and social contexts throughout the Slavic world. In terms of a municipality, a starosta was historically a senior royal administrative official, equivalent to the County Sheriff or the outdated Seneschal, and analogous to a gubernator. In Poland, a starosta would administer crown territory or a delineated district called a starostwo.
In the early Middle Ages, the starosta could head a settled urban or rural community or other communities, such as a church starosta, or an artel starosta, etc. The starosta also functioned as the master of ceremonies in traditional Carpatho-Rusyn, Ukrainian, and Polish weddings, similar to the stari svat ( ?) at Serbian weddings.
In the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Starosta was from the 15th century the office of a territorial administrator, usually conferred on a local landowner and member of the nobility, Szlachta. Until the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, there were two types of Starosta:
There were also general starosts who were provincial governors. All starosts disappeared after the Kosciuszko Insurrection in 1794 and were not reinstated until after World War I when their role was altered.
Historically, the title "Starost" was also used in parts of the Holy Roman Empire but was not tied to ownership of land. The German word Starostei referred to the office or crown land district of a Starost. In German, the title starost/starosta is also translated as Hauptmann and analogous to a gubernator.