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A province is a territorial unit, almost always an administrative division, within a country or state.


Roman provinces

The word is attested in English since c.1330, deriving from Old French province (13th c.), which comes from the Roman word provincia, which referred to the sphere of activity which a magistrate was assigned to exercise his authority; hence, in particular, a foreign territory.

A possible origin in Latin is from pro- ("on behalf of") and vincere ("to triumph/take control over"). Thus a province is a territory or function that a Roman magistrate took control of on behalf of his government. However this does not tally with the even earlier Latin usage as a generic term for a jurisdiction under Roman law.

The Roman Empire was divided into provinces (provinciae).

Provinces in modern countries

In many countries, a province is a relatively small non-constituent level of sub-national government (similar to a county in many English-speaking countries). In others it is an autonomous level of government and constituent part of a federation or confederation, often with a large area (similar to a US state). In France and China, province is a sub-national region within a unitary state. This means the province can be abolished or created by the central government.

For instance, a province is a distant unit of government in Philippines, Belgium, Spain, France and Italy, and a large constituent autonomous area in Canada, Congo and Argentina.

In Italy and Chile a province is an administrative sub-division of a region, which is the first order administrative sub-division of the state. Italian provinces consist of several administrative sub-divisions called comune (communes). In Chile they are referred to as comunas.

In the United Kingdom, a province is any county (see Counties of the United Kingdom) outside Greater London,Template:Fact and hence "the provinces" are everywhere except Greater London.

Five Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have counties to act as administrative sub-divisions of each province.

Ireland is divided up into four historic provinces (see Provinces of Ireland), each of which is sub-divided into counties (see Counties of Ireland). These are Connacht (in the west), Leinster (in the east), Munster (in the south) and, perhaps most famously (due to The Troubles), Ulster (in the north). Nowadays, these provinces have little or no administrative function.

Various overseas parts of the British Empire had the colonial title of Province (in a more Roman sense), such as the Province of Canada and the Province of South Australia (the latter to distinguish it from the penal 'colonies' elsewhere in Australia). Equally, for instance, Mozambique was a "province" as a Portuguese colony.

Historical and cultural aspects

In France, the expression en province still tends to mean "outside of the region of Paris". The same expression is used in Peru (where en provincias means "outside of the city of Lima"), in Romania (where în provincie means "outside the region of Bucharest") and Poland (prowincjonalny denotes coming from small city, countryfied ). Prior to the French Revolution, France consisted of various governments (such as Ile-de-France, built around the early Capetian royal demesne) some of which were considered as provinces, although the term would be used colloquially to describes lands as small as a manor (châtellenie). Mostly, the Grands Gouvernements, generally former medieval feudal principalities (or agglomerates of such), were the most commonly referred to as provinces. Today, the expression is sometimes replaced with en région, as that term is now officially used for the secondary level of government.

In historical terms, Fernand Braudel has depicted the European provinces—built up of numerous small regions called by the French pays or by the Swiss cantons, each with a local cultural identity and focused upon a market town—as the political unit of optimum size in pre-industrial Early Modern Europe and asks, "was the province not its inhabitants' true 'fatherland'?" (The Perspective of the World 1984, p. 284) Even centrally organized France, an early nation-state, could collapse into autonomous provincial worlds under pressure, such as the sustained crisis of the Wars of Religion, 1562—1598.

For 19th and 20th-century historians, "centralized government" had been taken as a symptom of modernity and political maturity in the rise of Europe. Then, in the late 20th century, as a European Union drew the nation-states closer together, centripetal forces seemed to be moving towards a more flexible system composed of more localized, provincial governing entities under the European umbrella. Spain after Franco is a State of Autonomies, formally unitary, but in fact functioning as a federation of Autonomous Communities, each one with different powers. (see Politics of Spain). While Serbia, the rump of the former Yugoslavia, fought the separatists in the province of Kosovo, at the same time the UK, under the political principle of "devolution", established local parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (1998). Strong local nationalisms surfaced or developed in Brittany, the Basque Country, Cornwall, Languedoc, Catalonia, Lombardy, Corsica and Flanders, and east of Europe in Abkhasia, Chechnya and Kurdistan.


In geology the term province refers to a specific physiogeographic area composed of a grouping of like bathymetric or former bathymetric elements (now sedimentary strata above water) whose features are in obvious contrast to the surrounding regions, or other provinces. The term usually refers to sections or regions of a craton recognized within a given time-stratigraphy, i.e., recognized within a major division of time within a period.

Legal aspects

In many federations and confederations, the province or state is not clearly subordinate to the national or "central" government. Rather, it is considered to be sovereign in regard to its particular set of constitutional functions. The central and provincial governmental functions, or areas of jurisdiction, are identified in a constitution. Those that are not specifically identified called "residual powers". These residual powers lie at the provincial (or state) level in a decentralised federal system (such as the United States and Australia) whereas in a centralised federal system they are retained at the federal level (as in Canada). Nevertheless, some of the enumerated powers can also be very significant. For example, Canadian provinces are sovereign in regard to such important matters as property, civil rights, education, social welfare and medical services.

The evolution of federations has created an inevitable tug-of-war between concepts of federal supremacy versus "states' rights". The historic division of responsibility in federal constitutions is inevitably subject to multiple overlaps. For example, when central governments, responsible for "foreign affairs", enter into international agreements in areas where the state or province is sovereign, such as the environment or health standards, agreements made at the national level can create jurisdictional overlap and conflicting laws. This overlap creates the potential for internal disputes that lead to constitutional amendments and judicial decisions that significantly change the balance of powers.

In unitary states such as France and China, provinces are subordinate to the national or central government. In theory, the central government can abolish or create provinces within its jurisdiction.

Current provinces

Not all "second-level" political entities are termed provinces. In Arab countries the secondary level of government, called a muhfazah, is usually translated as a governorate. This term is also used for the historic Russian guberniyas (sing. губе́рния, pl. губе́рнии), (compare to modern-day oblast область). Russia has a variety of federal subject types (provinces):

  • 21 republics (респу́блики respubliki, sing. респу́блика respublika)
  • 46 oblasts (о́бласти oblasti, sing. область o ́blastʼ)
  • 9 krais (края́ kraya, sing. край krai or kray)
  • 1 autonomous oblast (автоно́мная о́бласть avtonomnaya oblastʼ)
  • 4 autonomous okrugs (автоно́мные округа́, avtonomnyye okruga; sing. автоно́мный о́круг avtonomny okrug)
  • 2 federal cities (федера́льные города́, federalnyye goroda; федера́льный го́род federalny gorod)

In Poland, the equivalent of province is województwo, often translated as voivodeship.

In Peru, provinces are a tertiary unit of government, as the country is divided into twenty-five regions, which are then subdivided into 194 provinces. Chile follows a similar division being divided into 15 regions, which are then divided into a total of 53 provinces each being run by a governor appointed by the president.

Historically, New Zealand was divided into provinces, each with its own Superintendent and Provincial Council, and with considerable responsibilities conferred on them. However, the colony (as it then was) never developed into a federation; instead, the provinces were abolished in 1876. The old provincial boundaries continue to be used to determine the application of certain public holidays. Over the years, when the central Government has created special purpose agencies at a sub-national level, these have often tended to follow or approximate the old provincial boundaries. Current examples include the 16 Regions into which New Zealand is divided, and also the 21 District Health Boards. Sometimes the term the provinces is used to refer collectively to rural and regional parts of New Zealand, that is, those parts of the country lying outside some or all of the "main centres" of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and Dunedin.

Some provinces are as large and populous as nations. The most populous province is Henan, China, pop. 93,000,000. Also very populous are several other Chinese provinces, as well as Punjab, Pakistan, pop. 85,000,000.

The largest provinces by area are Xinjiang, China (1,600,000 km²) and Quebec, Canada (1,500,000 km²).


Current provinces and polities translated "province"

Country local name(s) Number of entities
Provinces of Afghanistan from Arab. wilaya 34
Provinces of Algeria Arab. wilaya 48
Provinces of Argentina span. provincia 23
Provinces of Armenia marz 11
Provinces of Belarus Belarusian: vobłaść 7
Provinces of Belgium:
Provinces of the Flemish Region Dutch provincie 5
Provinces of the Walloon Region French province 5
Provinces of Bolivia span. provincia 100
Provinces of Bulgaria bulg. oblast 28
Provinces of Cambodia khaet 20
Provinces of Canada engl.+ French province 10
Provinces of Chile span. provincia 53
Provinces of China chin. (mand.) 省 (sheng) 22 + 1[1]
Provinces of Costa Rica span. provincia 7
Provinces of Colombia
Provinces of Cuba span. provincia 15
Provinces of the Dominican Republic span. provincia 33
Provinces of Ecuador span. provincia 24
Provinces of Equatorial Guinea span. provincia 7
Provinces of Fiji Fijian: yasana 14
Provinces of Finland finn. läänit / swed. län 6
Provinces of Gabon fran. province 9
Provinces of Greece Greek: επαρχία, "eparchia" 73
Provinces of Indonesia Indo. provinsi or propinsi 33
Provinces of Iran Pers. ostan 30
Provinces of Ireland Irish cúige 4
Provinces of Italy ital. provincia 110
Provinces of Kazakhstan oblasy 14
Provinces of Kenya 8
Provinces of Kyrgyzstan oblasty 7
Provinces of Laos lao khoueng 16
Provinces of Madagascar faritany 6
Provinces of the Netherlands dutc. provincie 12
Provinces of North Korea kore. do, to 10
Provinces of Norway norw. fylke 19
Provinces of Oman ara. wilaya appr. 60
Provinces of Pakistan Singular: "Suba" Plural: "Subai" 4
Provinces of Panama span. provincia 9
Provinces of Papua New Guinea 19
Provinces of Peru span. provincia 195
Provinces of the Philippines fili.: lalawigan / probinsya 81
Provinces of Poland pl. województwo 16
Provinces of Rwanda intara 12
Provinces of São Tomé and Príncipe port. província 2
Provinces of Saudi Arabia Arab. mintaqah 13
Provinces of the Solomon Islands 9
Provinces of South Africa 9
Provinces of South Korea kore. do, to 10
Provinces of Spain span. provincia 50
Provinces of Sri Lanka 9
Provinces of Tajikistan veloyati, from Arab. wilaya 3
Provinces of Thailand changwat 76
Provinces of Turkey Turk. il 81
Provinces of Turkmenistan from Arab. wilaya 5
Provinces of Ukraine ukra. oblast 24
Provinces of Uzbekistan from Arab. wilaya 12
Provinces of Vanuatu 6
Provinces of Vietnam from Vietnamese tỉnh 58[2]
Provinces of Zambia 9
Provinces of Zimbabwe 8

Historical provinces

Ancient, medieval and feudal provinces

  • Pharaonic Egypt : see nome (Egypt)
  • Achaemenid Persia (and probably before in Media, again after conquest and further extension by Alexander the Great, and in the larger Hellenistic successor states : see satrapy
  • Provinces of the Roman Empire
  • Byzantine Empire : see exarchate, thema
  • Frankish (Carolingian) 're-founded' Holy Roman Empire : see gau and county
  • Caliphate and subsequent sultanates : see Emirate
  • Khanate can also mean a province as well as an independent state, as either can be headed by a Khan
  • In the Tartar Khanate of Kazan : the five daruğa ('direction')
  • Mughal Empire : subah
  • In the Habsburg territories, the traditional provinces are partly expressed in the Länder of 19th-century Austria-Hungary.
  • The provinces of the Ottoman Empire had various types of governors (generally a pasha), but mostly styled vali, hence the predominant term vilayet, generally subdivided (often in beyliks or sanjaks), sometimes grouped under a governor-general (styled beylerbey).

Modern post-feudal and colonial provinces

See also


  1. The People's Republic of China (PRC) claims it has 23 provinces, one of them being Taiwan, which the PRC does not control. The Republic of China (frequently referred to as Taiwan) controls all of Taiwan Province and several small islands of Fujian Province.
  2. Due to Hà Tây Province having been merged with Hà Nội since August 1, 2008

External links

Sources and references


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



Latin provincia, usually taken as pro (before) + vincere (win), but this doesn't fit the earliest uses of the word. [1]





province (plural provinces)

  1. A subdivision of government usually one step below the national level.
  2. A territorial area within a country.


the province

  1. (British) Northern Ireland

Related terms


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

See also


  • Notes:
  1. ^province” in the Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, 2001




province f

  1. province

Related terms



province f plural

  1. plural of provincia


Simple English

A province is a subdivision of a country.

Some countries are divided into provinces. The word "province" comes from the Latin word provincia.

Canada, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Spain, and Denmark are examples of countries that are divided into provinces.

provinces are also given other names:

Departements usually have less power than provinces. States, Bundesländer and autonomous communities have more power than provinces.

Small countries like Singapore are not divided.

Province should not be confused with Provence, which is a region in France.


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