Broadly speaking a nation may refer to a community of people who share a common territory and government; and who often share a common language, race, descent, and/or history.[1] It can also refer to the inhabitants of a sovereign state irrespective of their ethnic make-up.[2][3] In international relations, nation can refer to a country or sovereign state.[1] The United Nations, for instance, speaks of how it was founded after the Second World War by “51 countries” and currently has “192 member states”.[4] The word nation can more specifically refer to a tribe of North American Indians, such as the Cherokee Nation.[1]

Familypedia's "nation" field in place classification[]

With very few exceptions, the "nation" field for events on a person-page should be only the current nation. Former country or province or even town names may go in the "other places" field. The United Kingdom is treated as a nation, with four constituent "states".


The word nation came to English from the Old French word nacion which in turn originates from the Latin word natio (nātĭō) literally meaning "that which has been born".[5]

As an example of how the word natio was employed in classical Latin, the following quote from Cicero's Philippics Against Mark Antony in 44 BC contrasts the external, inferior nationes ("races of people") with the Roman civitas ("community").:

"Omnes nationes servitutem ferre possunt: nostra civitas non potest."
("All races are able to bear enslavement, but our community cannot.")

Cicero, Orationes: Pro Milone, Pro Marcello, Pro Ligario, Pro rege Deiotaro, Philippicae I-XIV[6]

An early example of the use of the word "nation" (in conjunction with language and territory) was provided in 968 by Liutprand (the bishop of Cremona) who, while confronting the Byzantine emperor, Nicephorus II, on behalf of his patron Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, declared:

"The land...which you say belongs to your empire belongs, as the nationality and language of the people proves, to the kingdom of Italy.'"

Liutprand, Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana ad Nicephorum Phocam [7]

A significant early use of the term nation, as natio, was at mediaeval universities,[8] to describe the colleagues in a college or students, above all at the University of Paris, who were all born within a pays, spoke the same language and expected to be ruled by their own familiar law. In 1383 and 1384, while studying theology at Paris, Jean Gerson was twice elected procurator for the French natio. The division of students into a natio was also adopted at the University of Prague, where from its opening in 1349 the studium generale was divided among Bohemian, Bavarian, Saxon and Polish nations.

In a similar way, the nationes were segregated by the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, who maintained at Rhodes the hostels from which they took their name "where foreigners eat and have their places of meeting, each nation apart from the others, and a Knight has charge of each one of these hostels, and provides for the necessities of the inmates according to their religion," as the Spanish traveller Pedro Tafur noted in 1436.[9]

Nation state[]

A nation state can be variously defined as one in which the boundaries of a state and nation coincide,[10] or a state in which there is a relative homogeneity among its inhabitants.[11]

Nations without a sovereign state[]

Nations that are a community of people sharing a common territory and government but are not sovereign states can be controversial subjects due, in no small part, to national security concerns of neighbouring countries. A notable example of a group of people who are sometimes claimed to constitute such a stateless nation are Palestinians. Palestinian nationalism in modern times arose between 1948 and 1950. Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 spoke of "the Palestinian nation" in the context of Jerusalem and Palestine.[12] The State of Palestine is today widely recognized by sovereign states, although often in equivocal terms.[13] Still, opTemplate:Nbhyphed pieces in Israeli media question the existence of a Palestinian nation,[14] partly due to its very short history.

See also[]

  • Citizenship
  • Civilization
  • Country
  • Culture
  • Ethnic group
  • Government
  • Identity (social science)
  • Identity politics
  • Imagined communities
  • Indigenous peoples

  • Intercultural competence
  • List of sovereign states
  • List of states with limited recognition
  • Lists of ethnic groups
  • Lists of people by nationality
  • Meta-ethnicity
  • Multinational state
  • Nation (university)
  • National emblem
  • Nationalism
  • Nationality


  1. ^ a b c World Book Dictionary defines nation as “the people occupying the same country, united under the same government, and usually speaking the same language”. Another definition is that nation is a “sovereign state.” It also says nation can refer to “a people, race, or tribe; those having the same descent, language, and history.” World Book Dictionary also gives this definition: “a tribe of North American Indians.” Webster’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary defines nation as “a community of people composed of one or more nationalities with its own territory and government” and also as “a tribe or federation of tribes (as of American Indians)”.
  2. ^ "Nation". Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged (10th ed.). Retrieved 17 June 2011. "1. an aggregation of people or peoples of one or more cultures, races, etc, organized into a single state: the Australian nation". 
  3. ^ Bretton, Henry L. (1986). International relations in the nuclear age: one world, difficult to manage. Albany: State University of New York Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-88706-040-4. Retrieved 17 June 2011. "It should be stated at the outset that the term nation has two distinctly different uses. In a legal sense it is synonymous with the state as a whole regardless of the number of different ethnic or national groups–nationalities–contained within it. In that sense, one speaks of nation and means state." 
  4. ^ United Nations: UN at a Glance
  5. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Nation". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 5 June 2011. .
  6. ^ Online at
  7. ^ Taken from an online translation at
  8. ^ see: nation (university)
  9. ^ Pedro Tafur, Andanças e viajes.
  10. ^ Maidment, Richard; Mackerras, Colin (1998). Culture and Society in the Asia-Pacific. London: Routledge. p. 188. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  11. ^ "nation-state", The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edn., Erin McKean (editor), 2051 pages, May 2005, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-517077-6.
  12. ^ The New York Times: "Text of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Speech"
  13. ^ Crawford, James (1999). "Israel (1948-1949) and Paletine (1998-1999): Two Studies in the Creation of States", in Goodwin-Gil G.S. and S. Talmon, The Reality of International Law: Essays in Honour of Ian Brownlie, Oxford University Press Inc., New York, pp. 110-115
  14. ^ "Was there ever a Palestinian 'nation'?"

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