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In medieval Germany, the Schultheiß was the head of a municipality (akin to today's office of mayor), a Vogt or an executive official of the ruler. As official (villicus) it was his duty to order his assigned village or county (villicatio) to pay the taxes and perform the services due to the ruler. The name originates from this function: Schuld ‘debt’ + heißen ‘to order’. Later, the title was also used for the head of a town (Stadtschultheiß) or village (Dorfschultheiß).
The title was originally spelled in Old High German as sculdheizo and in Middle High German as schultheize; it was latinised as scultetus or sculteus. Alternative spellings include Schultheis, Schulte or Schulze, or in Switzerland Schultheiss. It also appears in several European languages: in Italian as scoltetto and sculdascio, in Medieval Latin as sculdasius, in Polish as sołtys and Romanian as șoltuz.
Until as recently as 2007, Schultheiss was the title of the president of the government of the Canton of Lucerne, Switzerland.
Schultheiß is also the basis for one of the most common German surnames, existing in many variations such as Schulz, Schultz, Scholz, Schulze, Schulte, Schultheis, Schulthess, Schultes, Scholtes, Shults, Shultis (an Anglicized version in the USA) corresponding to the local variants of the pronunciation of the office. Another Anglicization is Shouldice or Sholdice. Schultheisz, Sultész and Soltész appear to be Hungarian spellings of the surname.
In Poland, sołtys is the name given to the elected head of a rural subdivision (usually a village, or part of a large village) known as a sołectwo.