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.
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.
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 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"
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).
- The former provinces of the Ottoman Empire
Modern post-feudal provinces
- The former Province of Canada (1840-1867)
- The former provinces of France
- The former provinces of Ireland
- The former provinces of Japan
- The former Province of South Australia (now an Australian state)
- The former provinces of Sweden
- The former Republic of the Seven United Provinces (The Netherlands)
- The former United Provinces of Central America
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