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This article is about political regions. See geologic province for geological meanings.

Province is a name for a subnational entity that is a secondary level of government in most countries. In some countries an alternative term is used, such as state (in Australia, India and the United States), prefecture (in Japan), län (in Sweden), or region (in France and in Italy where provincia is a tertiary form of government, akin to a county). Various parts of the British Empire had the title of Province such as the Province of Canada and the Province of South Australia (to distinguish it from the penal 'colonies' elsewhere in Australia). In Germany and Austria, the same sense of historical and cultural unity on a less-than-national scale is expressed as Land, the common name for states of Germany and states of Austria.

In many federations (particularly those that are in fact 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 in the constitution are 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 law and order, property, civil rights, education, social welfare, medical services and even taxation.

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.

The word provincia was introduced by the Romans, who divided their empire into provinciae. The word is thought to have originated from the Latin word provincia (zone of influence), which is turn is thought to have derived from pro ("in front") and vincia ("linked").

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".) 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.

Current provinces

Not all "second-level" polities 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 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.

There are also provinces in New Zealand, but the country is not seen as a "federal" country. However, the provinces do have a few duties like collecting rates and each province has its own Health Board and District Prisons Board.

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 sq. km) and Quebec, Canada (1,500,000 sq. km).

The term governorate is widely used in Arab countries to describe an administrative unit; it translates the Arabic word muhafazah. Some governorates combine more than one wilaya; others closely follow traditional boundaries inherited from the Ottoman Empire's vilayet system.

Provinces and polities translated "province"

Country local name(s) Number of entities
Provinces of Afghanistan from arab. wilaya 24
Provinces of Argentina span. provincia 23
Provinces of Armenia marz 11
Provinces of Belarus bela. voblast 6
Provinces of Belgium dutch provincie; french province 10
Provinces of Bolivia span. provincia 112
Provinces of Bulgaria bulg. oblast 28
Provinces of Canada (federation members) engl.=french province 10
Provinces of Chile span. provincia 51
Provinces of China chin. sheng 22
Provinces of Cuba span. provincia 15
Provinces of Ecuador span. provincia 22
Provinces of Equatorial Guinea span. provincia 7
Provinces of Finland finn. läänit / swed. län 6
Provinces of Gabon fran. province 9
Provinces of Greece 73
Provinces of Indonesia indo. provinsi or propinsi 29
Provinces of Iran fars. ostan 30
Provinces of Ireland 4
Provinces of Italy ital. provincia 103
Provinces of Kazakhstan oblasy 14
Provinces of Kenya 8
Provinces of Kyrgyzstan oblasty 7
Provinces of Korea kore. do, to 14
Provinces of Laos lao khoueng 16
Provinces of Madagascar 6
Provinces of the Netherlands dutc. provincie 12
Provinces of Oman ara. wilaya appr. 60
Provinces of Pakistan Singular: "Suba" 4
Provinces of Papua New Guinea 19
Provinces of Peru span. provincia 180
Provinces of the Philippines fili.: lalawigan / probinsya 79
Provinces of Poland pl. województwo 16
Provinces of Rwanda intara 12
Provinces of São Tomé and Príncipe port. 2
Provinces of Saudi Arabia arab. mintaqah 13
Provinces of the Solomon Islands 9
Provinces of South Africa 9
Provinces of Spain span. provincia 50
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 Zambia 9
Provinces of Zimbabwe 8

Historical provinces

Ancient and medieval/feudal provinces

  • pharaonic : see nome (Egypt)
  • in Achaemenid Persia (and probably before in Media), again after conquest and further extension by Alexander the Great, and in various (mainly the larger) hellenistic successor states : see satrapy
  • Provinces of the Roman empire
  • in (later) Byzantium : see exarchate, theme
  • the gau (a county) in the Frankish (Carolingian) 're-founded' Holy Roman Empire
  • the emirate? in the (Arab-ruled) caliphate and subsequent sultanates
  • the daruğa ('direction'), in the Tartar Khanate of Khazan (but there were five!)
  • the subah in the Indian mughal empire
  • In the Habsburg territories, the traditional provinces are partly expressed in the Länder of 19th-century Austria-Hungary.
  • The Ottoman Empire's provinces had various types of governors (generally a pasha), but mostly styled vali, hence the predominant term vilayet, generally subdivided (often in beyliks), sometimes grouped under a governor-general (styled beylerbey).

Modern post-feudal provinces

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