Governorate (Russia)

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Governorates of the Russian Empire
CategorySubdivision of an empire
LocationRussian Empire
Created by"On the establishment of the gubernias and cities assigned to them"
  • December 18, 1708
  • October 1, 1929
Number117 (8 initially) (as of 1914)

A governorate, gubernia, province, or government (Russian: губе́рния, IPA: [ɡʊˈbʲɛrnʲɪjə], also romanized guberniia, guberniya; Ukrainian: губернія, romanizedhuberniia), was a major and principal administrative subdivision of the Russian Empire. After the empire was ended by revolution, they remained as subdivisions in Belarus, the Russian republic, Ukraine, and in the Soviet Union from its formation until 1929. The term is also translated as government, governorate, or province. A governorate was ruled by a governor (губернатор, gubernator), a word borrowed from Latin gubernator, in turn from Greek κυβερνήτης.

Selected governorates were united under an assigned governor general such as the Grand Duchy of Finland, Congress Poland, Russian Turkestan and others. There also were military governors such as Kronstadt, Vladivostok, and others. Aside from governorates, other types of divisions were oblasts (region) and okrugs (district).

First reform[edit]

Division of Russia into eight governorates in 1708

This subdivision type was created by the edict (ukase) of Peter the Great on December 18, 1708 "On the establishment of the gubernias and cities assigned to them", which divided Russia into eight governorates.

Second reform[edit]

In 1719, governorates were further subdivided into provinces (провинции, provintsii). Later the number of governorates was increased to 23.

Governorates of the Russian Empire (1708-1726)
1708-1710 Kazan Ingermanland Azov   Smolensk    
1710-1713 Saint Petersburg
1713-1714 Moscow Riga
1714-1717   Nizhny Novgorod
1717-1719 Astrakhan    
1719-1725   Nizhny Novgorod Reval
1725-1726 Voronezh
1726   Smolensk  
The Governorates of Archangelgorod, Kiev and Siberia remained constant between 1708 and 1726.

Changes from 1775: Namestnichestvo (Vice royalty)[edit]

Subdivisions of the Russian Empire in 1914

By the reform of 1775, subdivision into governorates and further into uezds (уезды), was based on population size, and the term guberniya was replaced by the synonym of Russian origin: namestnichestvo (наместничество), sometimes translated as "viceroyalty". The term guberniya, however, still remained in use. These viceroyalties were governed by namestniki (наместник) (literal translation: "deputy") or "governors general" (генерал-губернатор, general-gubernator). Correspondingly, the term "governorate general" (генерал-губернаторство, general-gubernatorstvo) was in use to refer to the actual territory being governed. The office of governor general had more administrative power and was in a higher position than the previous office of governor. Sometimes a governor general ruled several governorates.

By the ukase of the Russian Senate of December 31, 1796, the office of governorate general was demoted to the previous level of governorate, and Russia was again divided into governorates, which were subdivided into uezds, further subdivided into volosts (волость); nevertheless several governorates general made from several governorates existed until the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Governorates in Poland and Finland[edit]

The governorate (Russian: губе́рния, Polish: gubernia, Swedish: län, Finnish: lääni) system was also applied to subdivisions of the Kingdom of Poland ("Russian Poland") and the Grand Duchy of Finland.

Governorates in Ukraine[edit]

The Russian Empire had colonized much of the territory inhabited by Ukrainians by the early nineteenth century, which was organized into nine Ukrainian governorates: Chernigov (Ukrainian Chernihiv), Yekaterinoslav (Katerynoslav), Kiev (Kyiv), Kharkov (Kharkiv), Kherson, Podolia (Podillia), Poltava, Volhynia (Volyn), and the mainland part of Taurida (or Tavriia, without the Crimean peninsula). Additional lands annexed from Poland in 1815 were organized into the Kholm governorate in 1912.[1]

After the 1917 Revolution these governorates became subdivisions of the Ukrainian People's Republic, which also annexed Ukrainian-inhabited parts of Mahilioŭ, Kursk, Voronezh, and Minsk governorates in 1918.[2][1] By the end of the Soviet-Ukrainian war in 1920, the Soviets had made them part of the Ukrainian SSR.[2] Soviet Ukraine was reorganized into twelve governorates, which were reduced to nine in 1922, and then replaced with okruhas in 1925.[1]

Post-revolutionary changes[edit]

After the February Revolution, the Russian Provisional Government renamed governors into governorate commissars. The October Revolution left the subdivision in place, but the governing apparatus was replaced by governorate soviets (губернский совет).

Actual subdivisions of the Soviet Union into particular territorial units was subject to numerous changes, especially during the 1918–1929 period. Because of the Soviet Union's electrification program under the GOELRO plan, Ivan Alexandrov directed the Regionalisation Commission of Gosplan to divide the Soviet union into thirteen European and eight Asiatic oblasts, using rational economic planning rather than "the vestiges of lost sovereign rights".[3] Eventually, in 1929, the subdivision was replaced by the notions of oblast, okrug, and raion.

In post-Soviet republics such as Russia and Ukraine, the term Guberniya is obsolete, yet the word gubernator was reinstated and is used when referring to a governor of an oblast or a krai.

Other uses[edit]

There is another archaic meaning of the word as the word denoted a type of estate in former Lithuania of the Russian Empire till 1917.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kohut, Zenon E.; Nebesio, Bohdan Y.; Yurkevich, Myroslav (2005). "Administrative Divisions of Ukraine". Historical dictionary of Ukraine. Bohdan Y. Nebesio, Myroslav Yurkevich. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5387-6. OCLC 57002343.
  2. ^ a b Zadorozhnii, Oleksandr (2016). International law in the relations of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Kyiv: Ukrainian Association of International Law. pp. 54, 60. ISBN 978-617-684-146-3. OCLC 973559701.
  3. ^ Ekonomicheskoe raionirovanie Rossii, Gosplan, Moscow 1921

External links[edit]