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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 Latin 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 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 Philippinesmarker, Belgiummarker, Spainmarker, and Italymarker, and a large constituent autonomous area in Canadamarker, Congomarker and Argentinamarker.

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

Five Canadian provinces of Ontariomarker, Quebecmarker, New Brunswickmarker, Nova Scotiamarker and Prince Edward Islandmarker have counties to act as administrative sub-divisions of each province. The province of British Columbiamarker has regional districts which provide a level of administration similar to counties.

Irelandmarker 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 Australiamarker (the latter to distinguish it from the penal 'colonies' elsewhere in Australia). Equally, for instance, Mozambiquemarker was a "province" as a Portuguesemarker colony.

Historical and cultural aspects

In Francemarker, the expression en province still tends to mean "outside of the region of Parismarker". The same expression is used in Perumarker (where en provincias means "outside of the city of Limamarker"), in Romaniamarker (where în provincie means "outside the region of Bucharestmarker"), Polandmarker (prowincjonalny denotes coming from small city, countryfied ) and Bulgariamarker (в провинцията, v provintsiyata; провинциален, provintsialen). 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. Spainmarker 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 Serbiamarker, the rump of the former Yugoslavia, fought the separatists in the province of Kosovomarker, at the same time the UKmarker, under the political principle of "devolution", local parliaments in Scotlandmarker, Walesmarker and Northern Irelandmarker (1998). Strong local nationalisms surfaced or developed in Brittany, the Basque Country, Cornwallmarker, Languedoc, Cataloniamarker, Lombardy, Corsicamarker and Flanders, and east of Europe in Abkhasiamarker, Chechnyamarker and Kurdistanmarker.


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.

Although 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 its 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 Francemarker and Chinamarker, 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.

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

In Perumarker, 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 Zealandmarker 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 Aucklandmarker, Wellingtonmarker, Christchurchmarker, Hamiltonmarker and Dunedinmarker.

Russia and "provinces"

(further text forthcoming)This term is also used for the historic Russianmarker guberniyas (sing. губе́рния, pl. губе́рнии), compare to modern-day oblast область). Though the only types of federal polities ever called "provinces" in Russia are oblasts and krais, Russia has a variety of federal subject polities that elsewhere would be termed "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)

The most populous province is Henanmarker, Chinamarker, pop. 93,000,000.

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

Current provinces and polities translated "province"

Country local name(s) language Number of entities
Provinces of Afghanistan wilaya from Arabic 34
Provinces of Algeria wilaya Arabic 48
Provinces of Argentina provincia Spanish 23
Provinces of Armenia marz 11
Provinces of Belarus voblast Belarusian 7
Provinces of Belgium (Flemish Region) provincie Dutch 5
Provinces of Belgium (Walloon Region) province French 5
Provinces of Bolivia provincia Spanish 100
Provinces of Bulgaria oblast Bulgarian 28
Provinces of Cambodia khaet 20
Provinces of Canada province English, French 10
Provinces of Chile provincia Spanish 53
Provinces of China sheng (省) Mandarin Chinese 22 + 1
Provinces of Costa Rica provincia Spanish 7
Provinces of Colombia provincia Spanish
Provinces of Cuba provincia Spanish 15
Provinces of the Dominican Republic provincia Spanish 33
Provinces of Ecuador provincia Spanish 24
Provinces of Equatorial Guinea provincia Spanish 7
Provinces of Fiji yasana Fijian 14
Provinces of Finland läänit or län Finnish, Swedish 6
Provinces of Gabon province French 9
Provinces of Greece επαρχία ("eparchia") Greek 73
Provinces of Indonesia provinsi or propinsi Bahasa Indonesia 33
Provinces of Iran ostan Farsi 30
Provinces of Ireland cúige Gaelic 4
Provinces of Italy provincia Italian 110
Provinces of Kazakhstan oblasy Kazakh 14
Provinces of Kenya province English 8
Provinces of Kyrgyzstan oblasty Kyrgyzian 7
Provinces of Laos khoueng Lao 16
Provinces of Madagascar faritany 6
Provinces of Mongolia aimag or aymag Mongolian 6
Provinces of the Netherlands provincie Dutch 12
Provinces of North Korea do or to Korean 10
Provinces of Oman wilaya Arabic appr. 60
Provinces of Pakistan suba; plural: subai ? 4
Provinces of Panama provincia Spanish 9
Provinces of Papua New Guinea province English 19
Provinces of Peru provincia Spanish 195
Provinces of the Philippines lalawigan or probinsya Filipino 81
Provinces of Rwanda intara ? 12
Provinces of São Tomé and Príncipe província Portuguese 2
Provinces of Saudi Arabia mintaqah Arabic 13
Provinces of the Solomon Islands 9
Provinces of South Africa province English 9
Provinces of South Korea do or to Korean 10
Provinces of Spain provincia Spanish 50
Provinces of Sri Lanka 9
Provinces of Tajikistan veloyati, from Arabic wilaya Tajik 3
Provinces of Thailand changwat Thai 76
Provinces of Turkey il Turkish 81
Provinces of Turkmenistan welayat (plural: welayatlar) from wilaya Turkmeni 5
Provinces of Ukraine oblast Ukrainian 24
Provinces of Uzbekistan viloyat (plural: viloyatlar) from Arabic wilaya 12
Provinces of Vanuatu 6
Provinces of Vietnam tỉnh Vietnamese 58
Provinces of Zambia province English 9
Provinces of Zimbabwe province English 8

Historical provinces

Ancient, medieval and feudal provinces

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.

External links

Sources and references

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