What is a Province?

The provinces of Canada.
The provinces of Canada.

The exact definition of a province varies from one country to another, but the general definition has it that it is an administrative region within a nation. In some countries such as Canada, provinces have limited autonomy which contrasts to provinces in other countries like China which have no or little autonomy. In most countries, provinces were established by colonial authorities with no or little regard to the social and cultural dynamics of the region. However, there are a few provinces which were formed by local people who took great consideration of their cultural and social characteristics.


The term is derived from the French phrase "en province" which was traditionally used in reference to regions outside of Paris. The French phrase dates back to the 13th Century and is itself derived from the Latin word "provincia’"which is a combination of the terms "pro’" and "vincere’"which translate to "representing" and "have dominion over"  respectively. Some countries have administrative regions which fit the description of a province but are known by different names. An example is Russia whose administrative regions are known as oblasts. Historically, the Russian empire had governorates which were provinces.


The term has its origins traced back to the Roman Empire. According to Ancient Rome, a province was a basic administrative unit and was at one time the largest territorial unit of the empire outside Italy. At its peak, the Roman Empire encompassed the entire Mediterranean region. Some examples of provinces in the Roman Empire included Egypt, Judea, Syria, Macedonia, Sicilia, Hispania Ulterior, Britannia, Thracia, Galatia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria. The provinces in Ancient Rome were administered by senators most of whom were former praetors or consuls. These provinces were, in some instances, forged from territories owned by vanquished kingdoms and the consuls were allowed by Rome to exercise authority over the province.

Notable Provinces

Peru has the highest number of provinces of any country, having a total of 195 provinces. China is home to both the largest and most populous provinces in the world. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is not only the largest province in China but in the entire world, covering an area of over 0.64 million square miles. China’s second-largest province, the Tibet Autonomous Region doubles up as the world’s second-largest province, occupying an area of 0.474 million square miles. China’s Guangdong Province is the most populous province in the world, with a population of 0.104 billion people. Coming in second place is Shandong Province whose population of over 0.095 billion people is the second-largest of any province globally. Canada’s province of Quebec is the largest in the western hemisphere, covering an area of 0.523 million square miles.

Provinces in the United States

Interestingly, some of the states of the US were once provinces of the British Empire while the country was still a British colony. Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia were all provinces under the Southern Colonies, while New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York were provinces which made up the Middle Colonies. The New England Colonies were comprised of three provinces of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts Bay.


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