AskDefine | Define provinces

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  1. Plural of province.

Extensive Definition

A province is a territorial unit, almost always an administrative division.

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 local unit of government in Philippines,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 consist of several administrative sub-divisions called comune (communes). In Chile they are referred to as comunas
The "Province of Northern Ireland" is the only British territory called "province" today. In this case, the title province suggests separateness along the lines of Canadian usage. The title "province" above all reflects Northern Ireland's unique autonomy within the UK immediately after its foundation in 1921, but today Northern Ireland varies between a devolved government and direct rule. The term province may also suggest at Ulster, the northern most province of Ireland, six counties of which are Northern Ireland and are in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is effectively a constituent nation of the United Kingdom.
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" and in Romania, where în provincie means "outside the region of Bucharest".) 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 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 identifi 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, (compare to modern-day oblast). 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 divded into 15 regions, which a 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"

Historical provinces

Ancient, medieval and feudal provinces

Sources and references

provinces in Asturian: Provincia
provinces in Central Bicolano: Provincia
provinces in Catalan: Província
provinces in Czech: Provincie
provinces in Danish: Provins
provinces in German: Provinz
provinces in Esperanto: Provinco
provinces in Spanish: Provincia
provinces in Basque: Probintzia
provinces in Persian: استان
provinces in French: Province
provinces in Western Frisian: Provinsje
provinces in Galician: Provincia
provinces in Hebrew: פרובינציה
provinces in Croatian: Pokrajina
provinces in Indonesian: Provinsi
provinces in Italian: Provincia
provinces in Japanese: 県
provinces in Korean: 도 (행정 구역)
provinces in Latin: Provincia
provinces in Limburgan: Provincie
provinces in Malay (macrolanguage): Provinsi
provinces in Dutch Low Saxon: Pervincie
provinces in Dutch: Provincie
provinces in Norwegian Nynorsk: Provins
provinces in Norwegian: Provins
provinces in Narom: Provinche
provinces in Polish: Prowincja
provinces in Portuguese: Província
provinces in Russian: Провинция
provinces in Sicilian: Pruvincia
provinces in Simple English: Province
provinces in Sundanese: Propinsi
provinces in Swedish: Provins
provinces in Thai: จังหวัด
provinces in Tagalog: Lalawigan
provinces in Turkish: İl
provinces in Ukrainian: Провінція
provinces in Vietnamese: Tỉnh
provinces in Yiddish: פראווינץ
provinces in Chinese: 省
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