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Voivode is a Slavic title that originally denoted the principal commander of a military force. The word gradually came to denote the governor of a province; the territory ruled or administered by a voivode is known as a voivodeship. In English, the title is often translated as "prince", "duke", or, as in Bram Stoker's Count Dracula, "count". The Polish title is sometimes rendered in English as "palatine" or "count palatine", in charge of a palatinate. In Slavic terminology, the rank of a voivode is in some cases considered equal of that of a German Herzog.

The title was used in medieval Bulgariamarker, Bohemia, Bosnia, Croatiamarker, Transylvania, Polandmarker, Moscow (later Tsardom of Russiamarker), Serbiamarker, Moldavia, Wallachia, Halychmarker, Volhynia, Novgorod Republic, Chernigov, Kiev. Later, voivode was the highest military rank in the principalities of Montenegromarker and Serbiamarker, the Kingdom of Yugoslaviamarker.

Wojewoda is today the term for the centrally-appointed governor of a Polish province or voivodeship ( ).

In the Romanianmarker medieval principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, voievode became part of the official titulature of the sovereign prince, showing his right to lead the entire army. Voivode or vajda was also the title of the Hungarian governors of Transylvania in the Middle Ages.

The leaders of Bulgariamarker's Haiduti (Хайдути) rebels under the Ottoman Empire were called "voevodes" (Bulgarian, singular: войвода, voyvoda).


The term derives from Slavic voi or voj (war-man) + vodi (to lead), and thus originally meant war leader or warlord. The word has developed to take various forms in the modern Slavic languages, such as wojewoda (Polish), воевода (voyevoda, Russian), войвода or воевода (voyvoda, voevoda), Bulgarian, воєвода (voyevoda, Ukrainian), vévoda (Czech) and војвода or vojvoda (Croatian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene and Macedonian). It has also been borrowed into some non-Slavic languages, taking such forms as voievod (Romanian) and vajda (Hungarian).

This etymology is perfectly parallel, though unrelated, to that of equivalent Germanic titles and terms like the Old English heretoga and the German Herzog, which in feudal times was equated with the Latin dux (originally a term for either a barbaric war leader or a Roman commanding officer and/or military governor, which later evolved into such feudal and modern titles of peerage rank as duke). For this reason, the Slavic terms are sometimes translated as duke. However, although in some countries and periods the rank of voivode was equivalent to a Western duke, it was not universally so.


The tradition of electing a voivode is very old and dates back to the times of the early Slavs. Each tribe gathered at a veche (congregation) to elect its own voivode. In war, he was entitled to lead the army. When the war was over, the power reverted back to the legitimate peacetime ruler — be it the veche or a prince.

By the end of 8th century, the Slavic tribes established the first organised states in Central and Eastern Europe. The new situation demanded a more flexible command over the state, especially during the conflicts with Turkic, Baltic and German peoples. At that time, the power of the voivode was in most cases extended to include civil command and, in some instances, to religious authority. The chiefs of the tribes, princes and hospodars, delegated part of their authority to lower-ranking voivodes, while retaining the title of highest voivode and the positions of high priest and supreme judge.

With the creation of permanent Slavic states in Kievan Rus, in Bohemia and Polandmarker, the highest authority was passed to dukes and princes, both terms of Germanic origin . In Kievan Rus, these came from the Varangian nobles (Rurik Dynasty), while in Bohemia (Přemyslids) and Poland (Piast Dynasty) they were of local origin. The basis of the power of a prince was his band of warriors or druzhina. Initially a small group of professional soldiers, the druzhina grew in order to control the vast areas under authority of the prince. In time, the need to split the army into several units became clear and the commander of such a unit was called prince's voivode.

The highest ranking of such voivodes formed the princes' courts, while others commanded the troops in distant towns and served as advisors to the prince's delegates. In medieval Russiamarker voyevoda was the governor of a border fortress or town. The rank was abolished by Peter the Great in the mid-18th century.


Legendary twenty voivodes of Poland
In modern Poland, a voivode (wojewoda) is the governor of a voivodeship, appointed by the central government in Warsaw. (Each voivodeship also has an elected assembly, called a sejmik, and an executive board elected by that assembly, headed by an official called the marszałek. For a summary of the respective competences of these authorities, see Voivodeships of Poland.)

The office was created in the Kingdom of Poland under the Piasts, and from the Crown of the Polish Kingdom, spread to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania after 1569 as an overseer of a voivodeship and its administration. In time, the office lost some of its importance — from "second after the ruler" to just one of several dozen important officials. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a voivode was one of the officials entitled to sit in the Senate of Poland.


The Voivode of Transylvania (woyuoda Transsiluanus or erdélyi vajda in Hungarian) was one of the barons (or chief office holders) of the Kingdom of Hungary.The vajda was, in effect, a territorial governor or viceroy appointed by the Hungarian crown. He was also the chief magistrate and military commander of Transylvania's counties, and this power inevitably drew the Székely and Saxon territories into his sphere of influence however these territories were governed by counts who were nominally independent of the voivode.The title originated with the Slavic population, prior to the Hungarian conquest of the region. The Transylvanian voivodes, who were closely affiliated with the king, were often far from Transylvania, and local administration frequently fell into the hands of the vice-voivodes. However, some voivodes, such as László Kán (1297–1315), became powerful local rulers, effectively independent of the king. The Lackovic family formed a voivodal dynasty which ruled in Transylvania from 1344-1350 and from 1356-1376. The title was in use from 1199 until the Principality of Transylvania emerged in the 16th century.

Moldavia and Wallachia

In Moldavia and Wallachia, voievod meant the same thing as domn (lord), which was the supreme administrative leader - a term stemming from the Latin word dominus, meaning lord or master. Both titles (and the associate offices) went by default to the ruling prince, which - as a sovereign ruler - had all land in allodium and was the chief commander of the army.

The voievod title was kept in its initial form by the Wallachian (Romanian) nobility of Ţara Haţeguluimarker and Maramureş (In Transylvania), where the title of voievod, together with the princely cneaz title, had the meaning of noble or local ruler, but also leader of local armies or militias.

The last person in current-day Romania to bear the voivode title is Michael I of Romania. Between 1930 and 1940 he had the formal title of "The Grand Voivode of Alba Iuliamarker", a reference to prince Michael the Brave (1593-1601).


Voyevodas were elected administrators in Russia who were responsible on a local level only. The voyevodas filled a power vacuum left by the Time of Troubles. The early Romanovs (1613–82) gave all their judicial and police powers to the voyevodas in an attempt to reform them, but problems remained, as their powers became too broad and invited corruption. In 1621, the voyevodas were forbidden by Tsar Michael to take bribes as this had become a problem. Despite this, the administration remained chaotic until Peter the Great's reforms replaced the voyevodas with Burgmesters (Burgomasters, after the German) to collect the taxes.


During the Middle Ages, the Vojvoda was a military commander rank and a noble titule.

In 1691, the Serbs who lived in the Habsburg Monarchy (now Vojvodinamarker province in northern Serbiamarker) gained from the Habsburg emperor the right to territorial autonomy within one separate voivodeship in the Habsburg Monarchy, as well as right to be ruled by a Serb voivode - a civil and military administrator. However, the voivodeship was not formed at that time, nor was a voivode appointed, only a vice-voivode. Jovan Monasterlija was the vice-viovode of the Serbs between 1691 and 1706. After him, no other vice-voivodes were appointed.
Vojvoda military rank insignia from World War I.
At the May Assembly in Sremski Karlovcimarker (May 13-15, 1848), recalling the privilege from 1691, the Serbs proclaimed the creation of the Serbian Vojvodina and elected Stevan Šupljikac as voivode. These actions were later recognized by the Austrian emperor, and Šupljikac was recognized as a voivode. By a decision of the Austrian emperor, in November 1849, a new province was formed as the political successor of the Serbian voivodeship. It was known as the Serbian Voivodship and Tamiš Banat. The new voivodeship existed between 1849 and 1860 and the title of great voivode belonged to Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria himself, though it was ruled by an appointed governor. After the voivodeship was abolished in 1860, Franz Joseph I kept the title of great voivode of the Voivodship of Serbia until his death in 1916. His successor, Karl I of Austria, also retained the title until the end of the monarchy in 1918.

The title was often used to designate important military commanders in the Serbian Uprising against the Turks 1804-1815.

In the Balkan Wars and World War I this title was used to designate the highest military rank in Serbian Army (above the General - as equalent of Field Marshal in other armies). Only five people ever officially held that military rank: Radomir Putnik (got it in 1913), Stepa Stepanović (1914), Živojin Mišić (1914), Petar Bojović (1918) and the French General Louis Franchet d'Espérey (1918). It was only an honorary rank since in 1916–1917 General Petar Bojović held the position of Chief of Staff of the Supreme Command (the highest military position in the Serbian Army) and was a superior to two army commanders who were vojvodas (Stepa Stepanović and Živojin Mišić). In the same period the Serbian paramilitary organisation Chetniks used the title internally to designate its top commanders - Vojin Popović, Voja Tankosić and Kosta Pećanac being the prime examples. It was used in this manner again by the Chetniks in the Second World War.

Voivodes in literature

Among Russians, there are at least three significant works involving voivodes. Tchaikovsky's first opera, Voyevoda, was based on Aleksandr Ostrovsky's play. (His later orchestral work, the symphonic ballad The Voyevoda, Op.78, based on Alexander Pushkin's translation of Adam Mickiewicz's poem, has the same name as the opera but is otherwise unrelated to it). Anton Arensky later produced his own operatic adaptation of the play as A Dream on the Volga. Rimsky-Korsakov's differently-sourced opera Pan Wojewoda, while composed to a Russian text, is set in Poland.


  1. Also spelled "woiwode", "voivod", "voyvode", "vaivode", "voievod", "vojvoda", "waiwode", "weywode", or "woiwod"

  • Béla Köpeczi, ed. History of Transylvania, vol. I., 411, 457. (archived URL)
  • voivode. (n.d.). Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from

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