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For provinces within Christian churches, see Ecclesiastical province. For other uses, see Province (disambiguation).

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


The English word "province" is attested since about 1330 and derives from the 13th-century Old French "province", which itself comes from the Latin word "provincia", which referred to the sphere of authority of a magistrate; in particular, to a foreign territory.

A possible Latin etymology is from "pro-" ("on behalf of") and "vincere" ("to triumph" or "to take control of"). Thus a "province" was a territory or function that a Roman magistrate held control of on behalf of his government. This agrees with the Latin term's earlier usage as a generic term for a jurisdiction under Roman law.

History and culture[edit]

In France, the expression "en province" still tends to mean "outside the Paris region." Equivalent expressions are used in Peru ("en provincias", "outside the city of Lima"), Mexico ("la provincia", "lands outside Mexico City"), Romania ("în provincie", "outside the Bucharest region"), Poland ("prowincjonalny", "provincial"), Bulgaria ("в провинцията", "v provintsiyata", "in the provinces"; "провинциален", "provintsialen", "provincial") and the Philippines (taga-probinsiya, "from outside Metro Manila", sa probinsiya, "in the provinces"). Similarly, in Australia "provincial" refers to parts of a state outside of the state capital.

Before the French Revolution, France comprised a variety of jurisdictions (e.g., Île-de-France, built around the early Capetian royal demesne), some being considered "provinces", though the term was also used colloquially for territories as small as a manor (châtellenie). Most commonly referred to as "provinces", however, were the Grands Gouvernements, generally former medieval feudal principalities, or agglomerations of such. Today the expression "province" is sometimes replaced by "en région", "région" now being the term officially used for the secondary level of government.

In Italy, "in provincia" generally means "outside the biggest regional capitals" (like Rome, Milan, Naples, etc.).

The historic European provinces—built up of many small regions, called "pays" by the French and "cantons" by the Swiss, each with a local cultural identity and focused upon a market town—have been depicted by Fernand Braudel as the optimum-size political unit in pre-industrial Early Modern Europe. He asks, "Was the province not its inhabitants' true 'fatherland'?"[1] Even centrally-organized France, an early nation-state, could collapse into autonomous provincial worlds under pressure, as during the sustained crisis of the French Wars of Religion (1562—98).

To 19th- and 20th-century historians, in Europe, centralized government was a sign of modernity and political maturity. In the late 20th century, as the European Union drew nation-states closer together, centripetal forces seemed simultaneously to move countries toward more flexible systems of more localized, provincial governing entities under the overall European Union umbrella. Spain after Francisco Franco has been a "State of Autonomies", formally unitary but in fact functioning as a federation of Autonomous Communities, each exercising different powers.[2] (See Politics of Spain.)

While Serbia, the rump of former Yugoslavia, fought the separatists in the province of Kosovo, the United Kingdom, under the political principle of "devolution", produced (1998) local parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Strong local nationalisms have surfaced or developed in Britain's Cornwall, France's Brittany, Languedoc and Corsica, Spain's Catalonia and the Basque Country, Italy's Lombardy, Belgium's Flanders; and, east of Europe, in Abkhazia, Chechnya and Kurdistan. In ancient India, unlike the Mauryas, the Gupta Empire gave local areas a great deal of independence and divided the empire into 26 large provinces, styled as Bhukti, Pradesha and Bhoga.

Legal aspects[edit]

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-government functions, or areas of jurisdiction, are identified in a constitution. Those that are not specifically identified are called "residual powers." In a decentralized federal system (such as the United States and Australia) these residual powers lie at the provincial or state level, whereas in a centralized federal system (such as Canada) they are retained at the federal level. Some of the enumerated powers can be quite important. 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' & provinces' 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 alter the balance of powers.

Though foreign affairs do not usually fall under a province’s or a federal state’s competency, some states allow them to legally conduct international relations on their own in matters of their constitutional prerogative and essential interest. Sub-national authorities have a growing interest in paradiplomacy, be it performed under a legal framework or as a trend informally admitted as legitimate by the central authorities.

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

Current provinces[edit]

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."

In Poland, the equivalent of "province" is "województwo," sometimes rendered in English as "voivodeship."[3]

In Peru, provinces are tertiary units of government, as the country is divided into twenty-five regions, subdivided into 194 provinces. Chile follows a similar pattern, being divided into 15 regions, subdivided into 53 provinces, each 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"—Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and Dunedin.

Modern provinces[edit]

In many countries, a province is a relatively small non-constituent level of sub-national government, varying in size from that of a UK county to that of a U.S. state – an autonomous level of government and a constituent element of a federation or confederation, often with a large territory. In China, a province is a sub-national region within a unitary state; this means that a province can be created or abolished by the central government.

A province is a distinct unit of government in the Philippines, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain 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 are mainly named after their principal town and comprise several administrative sub-divisions called comuni (communes). In Chile, they are referred to as comunas.

Five Canadian provinces – Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – have "counties" as administrative sub-divisions. The Canadian province of British Columbia has "regional districts" which function as equivalents of the aforesaid counties.

The island of Ireland is divided into four historic provinces (see Provinces of Ireland), each of which is sub-divided into counties. These provinces are Connacht (in the west), Leinster (in the east), Munster (in the south) and, Ulster (in the north). Nowadays these provinces have little or no administrative function, though do have sporting significance.

Some overseas parts of the British Empire bore 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). Similarly, Mozambique was a "province" as a Portuguese colony.


The term "province" is sometimes used to refer to the historic governorates (guberniyas) of Russia. This terms also refers to the provinces (провинции), which were introduced as the subdivisions of the governorates in 1719 and existed until 1775. In modern parlance, the term is commonly used to refer to the oblasts and krais of Russia.

Polities translated "province"[edit]

CountryLocal name(s)LanguageNumber of entities
Provinces of AfghanistanwilayatPashto, Dari34
Provinces of AlgeriawilayaArabic48
Provinces of AngolaprovínciaPortuguese18
Provinces of ArgentinaprovinciaSpanish23
Provinces of ArmeniamarzArmenian11
Provinces of BelarusvoblastBelarusian7
Provinces of Belgium (Flemish Region)provincieDutch5
Provinces of Belgium (Walloon Region)provinceFrench5
Provinces of BoliviaprovinciaSpanish100
Provinces of BulgariaoblastBulgarian28
Provinces of Burkina FasoprovinceFrench45
Provinces of BurundiprovinceFrench17
Provinces of CambodiakhaetKhmer20
Provinces of CanadaprovinceEnglish, French10
Provinces of ChileprovinciaSpanish54
Provinces of Chinashěng (省)Mandarin Chinese22 + 1[4]
Provinces of Costa RicaprovinciaSpanish7
Provinces of ColombiaprovinciaSpanish
Provinces of CubaprovinciaSpanish15
Provinces of the Democratic Republic of the CongoprovinceFrench26
Provinces of the Dominican RepublicprovinciaSpanish33
Provinces of Equatorial GuineaprovinciaSpanish7
Provinces of FijiyasanaFijian14
Provinces of Finlandläänit or länFinnish, Swedish6
Provinces of GabonprovinceFrench9
Provinces of Greeceεπαρχία (eparchia)Greek73
Provinces of Indonesiaprovinsi or propinsiIndonesian34
Provinces of IranostanPersian31
Provinces of IrelandcúigeGaelic4
Provinces of ItalyprovinciaItalian110
Provinces of KazakhstanoblasyKazakh14
Provinces of KenyaprovinceEnglish8
Provinces of KyrgyzstanoblastyKyrgyzian7
Provinces of LaoskhouengLao16
Provinces of MadagascarfaritanyMalagasy6
Provinces of Mongoliaaimag or aymag (Аймаг)Mongolian21
Provinces of MozambiqueprovínciaPortuguese10
Provinces of the NetherlandsprovincieDutch12
Provinces of North Koreado or to (도)Korean10
Provinces of OmanwilayaArabic62
Provinces of Pakistansûba(صوبہ); plural: sûbé (صوبے)Urdu5
Provinces of PanamaprovinciaSpanish9
Provinces of Papua New GuineaprovinceEnglish19
Provinces of PeruprovinciaSpanish195
Provinces of the Philippineslalawigan or probinsya, provincia, provinceTagalog, Spanish, English81
Provinces of RwandaintaraFrench5
Provinces of São Tomé and PríncipeprovínciaPortuguese2
Provinces of Saudi ArabiamintaqahArabic13
Provinces of Sierra LeoneprovinceEnglish3
Provinces of the Solomon Islands9
Provinces of South AfricaprovinceEnglish9
Provinces of South Koreado or to (도/道)Korean10
Provinces of SpainprovinciaSpanish50
Provinces of Sri Lankaපළාත/palaatha,மாகாணம்/maahaanam & provinceSinhala, Tamil, English9
Provinces of Tajikistanveloyati, from Arabic wilayaTajik3
Provinces of Thailandchangwat (จังหวัด)Thai76 + 1[5]
Provinces of TurkeyilTurkish81
Provinces of Turkmenistanwelayat (plural: welayatlar) from wilayaTurkmeni5
Provinces of UkraineoblastUkrainian24 + 3[6]
Provinces of Uzbekistanviloyat (plural: viloyatlar)from Arabic wilaya12
Provinces of Vanuatu6
Provinces of VietnamtỉnhVietnamese58
Provinces of ZambiaprovinceEnglish9
Provinces of ZimbabweprovinceEnglish8

Historic provinces[edit]

Ancient, medieval and feudal[edit]

Colonial and Early Modern[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Perspective of the World, 1984, p. 284.
  2. ^ Mughal, Muhammad Aurang Zeb. 2012. Spain. Steven L. Denver (ed.), Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues, Vol. 3. Armonk, NY: M .E. Sharpe, pp. 674-675.
  3. ^ Also spelled "voivodship," "voievodship," "voievodeship".
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 76 provinces + 1 special governed district (Bangkok). However, Thai people usually presume Bangkok as another province for convenience.
  6. ^ 24 oblasts, one autonomous republic, and two "cities with special status".

External links[edit]