This section provides a glossary of terms often used on this site. This glossary is focused on political terms. For a glossary of philatelic terms, please refer to Linn’s Glossary of Philatelic Terms. This glossary will grow as I write new country profiles and come across new political entities that may require a definition.
To jump to a section of the alphabet please click on the alphabet below. To return to the top of the page from a section of the alphabet please click on the ‘Go to the top’ link at the bottom of each section of the alphabet.
Arab republic: The term Arab republic is used by Arab countries to stress the Arab identity of their nation. It does not refer to a particular form of government.
Association, Associated state: An associated state is a state cooperating in some way with another state. A cooperation that most often focuses on foreign affairs and defense. Depending on the agreements between the cooperating states, associated states may or may not be qualified as independent states. The term has been used in the past by France and Great Britain, currently it is used by New Zealand and the United States. The Cook Islands – New Zealand – and the Marshall Islands – United States – are examples of associated states as they currently exist.
Autonomy, Autonomous: The term autonomy refers to the transfer of parts of the government from the central government to a local form of government. Often domestic policy is transferred while foreign policy and and defense remain with the central government. The term can be used both for colonies and protectorates on their way to independence and for regions within a country with a special status. The term is synonymous with self government. Self government is the term most used on this site.
Autonomous Soviet socialist republic: An autonomous Soviet socialist republic is an area that – often on ethnic grounds – has a certain degree of autonomy within a Soviet socialist republic. The Soviet socialist republic is the higher form of government.
British dependent territory or British dependency: A British dependency is governed under the sovereignty of Great Britain, however, it is not a part of Great Britain. The British sovereign is head of state of British dependencies. The head of state is represented by a governor. British dependencies can have appointed or elected forms of government depending on the local context. The term was introduced in 1981 as a successor to the term British colony. In 2002 it is succeeded by the term British overseas territory.
British Commonwealth: The British Commonwealth is an intergovernmental organization with the goal to further cooperation between the members of the Commonwealth. The statutes of the British Commonwealth were formalized in 1931. Being formed by Great Britain and a number of British dominions, many former British colonies joined the Commonwealth upon gaining independence. Until 1949, the British sovereign was head of state of the members of the Commonwealth. Since 1949, states with a different head of state – monarchies and republics – can be a member of the Commonwealth. Also, in 1949, the name was changed from British Commonwealth to Commonwealth of Nations. In public speech, the term British Commonwealth is still often used. On this site I will also use the term British Commonwealth to distinguish the Commonwealth of Nations from other nations that have formed a commonwealth, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States formed by states of the former Soviet Union.
British crown dependencies: Crown dependencies are possessions of the British crown. As such, they are not part of Great Britain and – although they are not sovereign states – self governing with their own legislative system subject to assent of the crown. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are crown dependencies.
British overseas territory: A British overseas territory is governed under the sovereignty of Great Britain, it is, however, not a part of Great Britain. The British sovereign is head of state of British overseas territories. The head of state is represented by a governor. British overseas territories can have appointed or elected forms of government, depending on the local context. The term is introduced in 2002 as a successor to the term British dependency, which, in itself, in 1981 was the successor to the term British colony.
Caliphate: A caliphate is an Islam nation with a caliph is head of state. A caliph is, strictly speaking, the religious and political leader of the Muslim world in succession of Mohammed. In practice, many Islamic states have proclaimed themselves to be a caliphate.
Chartered company: A charted company is a private company that has been given certain administrative and judiciary powers through a charter. Often found as the predecessor of governmental colonial administrations.
Colony, Colonial: A colony is a country or territory that is governed under the sovereignty of another country. Colonies may have different forms of government ranging from direct colonial administration by a governor to being largely self governing.
Commonwealth of Nations: The Commonwealth of Nations is an intergovernmental organization of independent states. In 1949 the term superseded that of British Commonwealth. Currently, 16 members of the Commonwealth of Nations have the British sovereign as head of state, 5 members are a monarchy with a local head of state, and 33 are republics.
Commonwealth realm: A Commonwealth realm is an independent state with the British sovereign as head of state. The British sovereign is head of state in personal union, not as sovereign of Great Britain. The term Commonwealth realm was introduced in 1952 as de facto successor of de jure still applicable term dominion.
Condominium: A condominium is a form of government in which two countries share the sovereignty over a country or territory. In the past Sudan and the New Hebrides have been examples of a condominium. Currently, the only country that could qualify as a condominium is Andorra.
Confederation: A confederation is a form of government in which several sovereign states join to form a central government. The responsibilities of the central government may be defined in treaties or in a constitution. What responsibilities are delegated to the central government may vary – a confederation can thus be closer to an intergovernmental organization or closer to a federal republic.
Convention state: Philatelic term for those princely states in British India that had signed the postal convention and thus had the right to issue stamps for use in all of British India. The stamps issued were all stamps of British India overprinted with the name of the issuing state. See also: feudatory state.
De facto: The term ‘de facto’ is used to indicate the actual political status, when this is different from the legal or ‘de jure’ status of a country or territory.
De jure: The term ‘de jure’ is used to indicate the political status of a country by international law. It is used mostly in the context where the ‘de facto‘ status of a country is different from the ‘de jure‘ status.
Democratic (peoples) republic: The term democratic republic is often used by socialist or communist countries, and it implies that the governmental powers rest with a representation of the people. In democratic republics, one most often sees that power is in the hands of a single party. As such, it is different from a democracy as it is seen in the Western world, where a multiparty system is a precondition for democratic government. The term democratic republic is synonymous to democratic peoples republic or peoples republic.
Dependency: A dependency is a country or territory governed by another country. It can be part of the political and judiciary system of the governing country but it can also be a separate political entity with its own political and judiciary system. Dependencies we find mostly in the former British and French colonial empires.
Dominion: A dominion is a former British colony with a certain degree of self government. At first, dominions achieved self government in domestic affairs, gradually dominions have achieved broader forms of self government including foreign affairs and defense. In 1931 dominions were recognized as independent states with a status equal to that of Great Britain. Along with the greater degree of independence, the position of the head of state also has changed. At first, the sovereign of Great Britain, as such, was head of state of the dominions. As of 1949, the British sovereign is head of state of the dominions in personal union. The term dominion is de jure still used, de facto has been superseded, in 1949, by the term Commonwealth realm.
Duchy, Duke: A duchy is a territory ruled by a duke. A duke ranks below a king but above a prince as in the ruler of a principality.
Emirate, Emir: Emir is a title in the Arab world signifying a high rank. An emirate is a monarchy with an emir as head of state. The Western equivalent would be a prince as head of state of a principality.
Empire, Emperor: An empire is a monarchy with an emperor as head of state. An emperor ranks above a prince or a king. Tsar and shah are terms equivalent to emperor.
Exclave: An exclave is a part of a country that is geographically not part of the main territory of that country but completely surrounded by the territory of other countries. Campione is an example of an Italian exclave in Switzerland.
Federal, Federal republic: A federal republic is a republic in which several states, or territories, with partial self government are united under a joint federal government. The division of governmental powers between the member states and the federal government is most often defined in the constitution and cannot be changed unilaterally by the federal government. A federal republic is one of the forms a federation may have.
Federation: A federation is a form of government in which several states or territories with partial self government are united under a joint federal government. The division of governmental powers between the member states and the federal government is most often defined in the constitution and cannot be changed unilaterally by the federal government. One of the forms of a federation is the federal republic.
Feudatory state: Philatelic term for those princely states in British India that issued stamps valid for use within the issuing state. See also: convention state.
French overseas department: A French overseas department is a French department outside metropolitan France. An overseas department has the same rights as a French department, the same governmental structure and the same legislation. The term was introduced in 1946 and superseded by the term French colony.
French overseas territory: A French overseas territory is a territory governed by France with – and in this it is different from a French overseas department – a local form of government and local legislation. The term was introduced in 1946 and superseded the term French colony. In 2003 the term French overseas territory was itself superseded by the term French overseas collectivity. An exception are the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, which are still a French overseas territory.
French overseas collectivity (sui generis): A French overseas collectivity is a territory governed by France with – and in this it is different from a French overseas department or a French overseas region – a local form of government and local legislation. The term was introduced in 2003 and superseded the term French overseas territory, which itself was introduced in 1946 to supersede the term French colony. A special status has New Caledonia as a French overseas collectivity sui generis, a status that is related to the preparations taking place for a possible independence of New Caledonia.
French overseas region: A French overseas region is a French region outside of metropolitan France. Regions were introduced in France, in 1982, as a form of government just above that of the departments. Regions have a chosen legislative assembly and its jurisdiction lies mainly in the fields of fiscal policy, education and public infrastructure. The French overseas departments are, since 1982, also French overseas regions, albeit with only one department.
French – military – territory: French colonization would, in many countries, start with military conquest and the establishment of a military territory under military administration. When ‘pacification’ would have progressed sufficiently, the country would become a territory under civil administration. The last step in this process would be elevation to the status of colony.
French territorial collectivity: A term introduced in 1958 for all administrative entities that have a local form of governance – both in metropolitan France and in the overseas possessions. Regions, departments, municipalities and overseas collectivities are all territorial collectivities.
General issues: The term general issues, as used on this site, stands for the standard stamp issues for general use in a country. These include definitives, commemoratives, postage dues, and so on. General issues are to be distinguished from special issues. The term special issues is used on this site for stamps: 1) issued by minor political entities in a country such as self governing regions or occupied territories; 2) stamps issued by companies such as airlines or shipping companies.
Grand Duchy, Grand Duke: A duchy is a territory ruled by a duke. A duke ranks below a king but above a prince as in the ruler of a principality. The term rand duchy was introduced to be able to distinguish larger from smaller duchies.
Imamate: An imamate is a monarchy with an imam as the monarch – an imam being a religious leader in Islam.
Interim government: An interim government is a temporary government usually installed after a major political crisis in a country with the goal of preparing the establishment of a regular, constitutional form of government. The term is synonymous with provisional government.
Islamic republic: The term Islamic republic is used by a number of Islamic countries. It may only be a way to stress the Islamic identity of a nation, but it may also indicate that a nation is governed by Islamic law or that an Islamic religious leader is head of state.
Khanate, Khan: A khanate is a form of government with a khan as head of state. The term ‘khan’ is of Mongolian origin and means ‘leader’. The title has been used by a wide range of leaders of which the Western equivalent would be tribal leader, prince, king or emperor.
Kingdom, King: A kingdom is a monarchy with a king as head of state. A king ranks between a prince and an emperor.
Mandated territory: A mandated territory is a country or territory that is governed by another country based on a mandate given by the League of Nations. The mandate may imply different forms of government varying from direct administration by the other country to being largely self governing. Specific obligations to be fulfilled by the governing country may be part of a mandate. The mandated territory was introduced in 1919 as a solution for the government of former parts of the German and Turkish empires. With the abolition of the League of Nations after WWII, the then still existing mandated territories became trust territories of the United Nations.
Military administration: Military administration is a form of government in which a country, or a part of a country, is occupied by another country and the occupied country is governed by the military of the occupying country. Military administration is a temporary form of administration. Military administration may be combined with civil administration, in which case the civil authorities function under supervision of the military authorities.
Monarchy, Monarch: A monarchy is a form of government with a monarch as head of state. A monarch may have many titles depending on rank and cultural context. In the West, common titles are prince, king and emperor. In the Islamic world common titles are emir and sultan. The title is most often a hereditary one. A difference is made between the absolutist monarchy in which the monarch holds legislative, executive and judiciary powers and the constitutional monarchy in which the monarch has a ceremonial role and the legislative, executive and judiciary powers lie with separate institutions.
Peoples republic: The term peoples republic is often used by socialist or communist countries and implies that the governmental powers rest with a representation of the people. In a peoples republic, one most often sees that power is in the hands of a single party. The term peoples republic is synonymous to democratic republic or democratic peoples republic.
Personal union: A personal union is the union of two countries in the person of one ruler – usually a monarch – while legally these countries remain separate states with, for example, their own constitutions and parliaments.
Presidency: Presidency is a term most commonly used for the office of president of a republic. It is also used as a term for administrative divisions within the former British Empire. As such, it was used in British India and in the British West Indies.
Princely state, Prince: A princely state is a monarchy with a prince as head of state. As such, it is synonymous to principality. In the historical tradition, the term princely state is most often used for local monarchies in British India.
Principality, Prince: A principality is a monarchy with a prince as head of state. A principality ranks below a kingdom and is often a smaller monarchy.
Private issues: The term private issues, as used on this site, stands for issues by private legal entities, mostly companies that have issued stamps, such as shipping companies, airlines, railway companies and so on.
Protectorate: A protectorate is originally a country or territory that through treaties acquires protection from another country. Mostly a protectorate will transfer its foreign policy and defense to the protecting country. This may be done while maintaining the country’s sovereignty or by transferring the sovereignty, in part, to the protecting country. During the colonial era the term has been greatly stretched and has also been applied to countries that had been unilaterally declared to be a protectorate and to countries that were, in fact, governed like colonies.
Provisional government: A provisional government is a temporary government usually installed after a major political crisis in a country with the goal of preparing the establishment of a regular, constitutional form of government. The term is synonymous with interim government.
Republic, Republican: A republic is a form of government with a head of state that is not a monarch. A distinction is made between a presidential republic and a parliamentary republic. In a presidential republic, the legislative power rests with the parliament and the executive power with a president. In a parliamentary republic, the president has a largely ceremonial role. The legislative power rests with a parliament and the executive power with a government installed by the parliament and accountable to the parliament. A republic may have a one party or a multiparty system. A republic may be governed by a dictator.
Self government: The term self government refers to the transfer of parts of the government from the central government to a local form government. Often domestic policy is transferred while foreign policy and and defense remain with the central government. The term can be used both for colonies and protectorates on their way to independence and for regions within a country with a special status. The term is synonymous with autonomy.
Socialist republic: The term socialist republic is often used by socialist or communist countries and implies that the political and judiciary systems are setup according to socialist or communist principles. In socialist republics one most often sees that power is in the hands of a single party.
Sovereignty, Sovereign: Sovereignty is the right of a country to independently make all decisions regarding internal and external policies on all levels of the legislative, the executive and the judiciary powers. A country may have sovereignty over other countries such as colonies or mandated territories. Sovereignty does not exclude the possibility of the delegation of powers in a form of self government.
Soviet socialist republic: A Soviet socialist republic is a republic within the Soviet Union. De jure a Soviet socialist republic is an independent republic within the federation of Soviet republics forming the Soviet Union. De facto it is subject to the centralized governmental structure of the Soviet Union.
Special issues: The term special issues is used on this site for stamps issued: 1) by minor political entities in a country such as self governing regions or occupied territories; 2) by private companies such as airlines, shipping companies, and so on. Special issues are to be distinguished from general issues. The term general issues, as used on this site, stands for the standard stamp issues for general use in a country. These include definitives, commemoratives, postage dues, and so on.
Status quo ante bellum: Literally: the state of affairs as before war. A term used when a war has resulted in state of affairs between the warring countries being the same as before the war.
Sultanate, Sultan: Sultan is the title for a high government executive in the Islamic world. A sultanate is a monarchy with a sultan as head of state. The Western equivalent of a sultan is a king, that of a sultanate a kingdom.
Suzerainty: Suzerainty is the situation where a country controls the foreign policy of another country, the other country retaining a form of internal sovereignty. The term has been used mainly for parts of the Chinese and Ottoman Empires.
Tributary: A nation that pays tribute to another nation to show submission, obtain protection or purchase peace.
Trust territory: A trust territory is a country or territory that is governed by another country based on a mandate of the United Nations. The concept of trust territories has been developed in 1945 by the United Nations: 1) for the government of former mandated territories; 2) for territories that, after WWII, had been taken away from Germany, Italy and Japan. The general goal is to prepare a trust territory for self government and eventually independence. The last trust territory to have gained independence was Namibia in 1990.
Tsar: Tsar is equivalent to emperor. An emperor ranks above a prince or a king as head of state of an empire.
United States commonwealth: The term United States commonwealth may be applied to both states and territories of the United States. When applied to territories, it describes a territory that is largely self governing. Puerto Rico is a United States commonwealth.
United States territory: A United States territory is administered by the United States but not part of the United States. Depending on the local context, the United States constitution may or may not apply and the citizens of a territory may or may not be United States citizens.