Province is a name for a secondary level, or subnational entity, of government in most countries. In some countries an alternative term is used, such as state (in Australia and the United States), prefecture (in Japan), or region (in France and Italy; the latter uses provincia as a teriary form of government, akin to a county). During the time of the British Empire, various colonies had the title of Province such as the Province of Canada and Province of South Australia.
The word 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 means "outside of the region of Paris". Prior to the French Revolution, the country consisted of the region of Ile-de-France – the personal fiefdom of the king – and the royal provinces, which were once governed by their own feudal lords. Today, the expression is sometimes replaced with en région, as that term is now officially used for the secondary level of government.
The same expression is used in Peru, where en provincias means "outside of the city of Lima", although it is not completely accurate as Lima is also located in a province. Provinces are a tertiary unit of government in Peru, as the country is divided into twenty-five regions, which are then subdivided into 194 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.
Subdivisions called or translated into "province".
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).
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.
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.
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.
In the Habsburg territories, the traditional provinces are partly expressed in the Länder of 19th-century Austria-Hungary
The Ottoman Empire's provinces were characterized by the term vilayet.