Voivode (/ˈvɔɪˌvd/, also spelled voievod, voevod, voivoda, vojvoda or wojewoda) is a title denoting a military leader or warlord in Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe in use since the Early Middle Ages. It primarily referred to the medieval rulers of the Romanian-inhabited states and of governors and military commanders of Hungarian, Balkan or some Slavic-speaking populations.

In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, voivode was interchangeably used with palatine. In the Tsardom of Russia, a voivode was a military governor. Among the Danube principalities, voivode was considered a princely title.


See also: Strategos

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The term voivode comes from two roots. Voi is related to warring, while vod means 'leading' in Old Slavic, together meaning 'war leader' or 'warlord'. The Latin translation is comes palatinus for the principal commander of a military force, serving as a deputy for the monarch. In early Slavic, vojevoda meant the bellidux, the military leader in battle. The term has also spread to non-Slavic languages, like Romanian, Hungarian and Albanian, in areas with Slavic influence.


Voivode Hat (heraldry)
Voivode Hat (heraldry)

During the Byzantine Empire it referred to military commanders mainly of Slavic-speaking populations, especially in the Balkans, the Bulgarian Empire being the first permanently established Slavic state in the region. The title voevodas (Greek: βοεβόδας) originally occurs in the work of the 10th-century Byzantine emperor Constantine VII in his De Administrando Imperio, in reference to Hungarian military leaders.[1][2]

The title was used in medieval: Bohemia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Moldavia, Poland, Rügen, Russian Empire, Ukraine, Serbia, Transylvania and Wallachia.[3][1] In the Late Middle Ages the voivode, Latin translation is comes palatinus for the principal commander of a military force, deputising for the monarch gradually became the title of territorial governors in Poland, Hungary and the Czech lands and in the Balkans.[4][clarification needed]

During the Ottoman administration of Greece, the Ottoman Voivode of Athens resided in the ancient Gymnasium of Hadrian.[5]

The Serbian Autonomous Province of Vojvodina descends from the Serbian Vojvodina, with Stevan Šupljikac as Vojvoda or Duke, that became later Voivodeship of Serbia and Banat of Temeschwar.

Military rank

Main article: Vojvoda (Serbia and Yugoslavia)

Epaulettes for the rank Voivode (Kingdom of Serbia and Kingdom of Yugoslavia)

In the Kingdom of Serbia and its later iteration, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the highest military rank was Vojvoda. After the Second World War, the newly formed Yugoslav People's Army stopped using the royal ranking system, making the name obsolete.[6]

Title of nobility and provincial governorship

Main article: Voivodeship

The transition of the voivode from military leader to a high ranking civic role in territorial administration (Local government) occurred in most Slavic-speaking countries and in the Balkans during the Late Middle Ages. They included Bulgaria, Bohemia, Moldavia and Poland. Moreover, in the Czech lands, but also in the Balkans, it was an aristocratic title corresponding to dux, Duke or Prince. Many noble families of the Illyricum still use this title despite the disputes about the very existence of nobility in the Balkans.

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

In 16th-century Poland and Lithuania, the wojewoda was a civic role of senatorial rank and neither heritable nor a title of nobility. His powers and duties depended on his location. The least onerous role was in Ruthenia while the most powerful wojewoda was in Royal Prussia. The role began in the crown lands as that of an administrative overseer, but his powers were largely ceremonial. Over time he became a representative in the local and national assemblies, the Sejm. His military functions were entirely reduced to supervising a mass mobilization and in practice he ended up as little more than overseer of weights and measures.

Appointments to the role were usually made until 1775 by the king. The exceptions were the voivodes of Polock and Vitebsk who were elected by a local poll of male electors for confirmation by the monarch. In 1791, it was decided to adopt the procedure throughout the country but the 18th-century Partitions of Poland put a stop to it.[7] Polish voivodes were subject to the Law of Incompatibility (1569) which prevented them from simultaneously holding ministerial or other civic offices in their area.[8]

The role was revived during the Second Polish Republic after Poland regained its independence in 1918.[9]

Modern Poland

Main article: Voivodes of Poland (since 1999)

Voivodes continue to have a role in local government in Poland today, as authorities of voivodeships and overseers of self-governing local councils, answerable not to the local electorate but as representatives/emissaries of the central government's Council of Ministers. They are appointed by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers and among their main tasks are budgetary control and supervision of the administrative code.[10]

Ottoman Empire

Mohammed Rushien Efendi, Ottoman Voivode of Athens, 1827
Mohammed Rushien Efendi, Ottoman Voivode of Athens, 1827

In some provinces and vassal states of the Ottoman Empire, the title of voivode (or voyvoda) was employed by senior administrators and local rulers. This was especially common in the Danubian Principalities, which protected the northern borders of the empire and were ruled by the Greek Phanariotes.[11] The title "Voyvoda" turned into another position at the turn of the 17th century. The governors of provinces and sanjaks would appoint someone from their own households or someone from the local elites to collect the revenues. [12]

Ottoman Greece

The chief Ottoman administrator of Athens was also called the voivode.[13] One such holder of this title, Hadji Ali Haseki, was voivode on five separate occasions before his final banishment and execution in 1795 after angering both the Greek and Turkish residents of Athens and making powerful enemies at the Porte.[14]


  1. ^ a b Starchenko, N.P. Voivode. Encyclopedia of the History of Ukraine
  2. ^ M. Kokolakis, “Mia autokratoria se krisi, Kratiki organosi-Palaioi Thesmoi-nees prosarmoges” [An Empire in Crisis: State Organization – Old Institutions – New Adjustments], in Istoria tou neou ellinismou, Vol. 1, publ. Ellinika Grammata, Athens 2003, p. 49.
  3. ^ "Der Minnesänger Wizlaw III. von Rügen". wizlaw.de.
  4. ^ Konstantin Jireček; Vatroslav Jagić (1912). Staat und gesellschaft im mittelalterlichen Serbien: studien zur kulturgeschichte des 13.-15. jahrhunderts. In Kommission bei Alfred Hölder.
  5. ^ Karl Baedeker (Firm) (1896). Athens and Its Immediate Environs. Baedeker. p. 49.
  6. ^ Bjelajac 2004, p. 15.
  7. ^ Volumina Legum, vol. 9, p. 251, art. 4.3.
  8. ^ Wojewoda – Elektroniczny słownik języka polskiego XVII i XVIII wieku (in Polish). Polska Akademia Nauk. Polish Online Dictionary of the Academy of Science
  9. ^ Jerzy Jan Lerski (1996). Historical dictionary of Poland, 966–1945. Greenwood Press. p. 664. ISBN 978-0-313-03456-5.
  10. ^ Dziennik Ustaw|2017|2234|(in Polish) Legislative Record of the Polish sejm
  11. ^ Viorel Panaite (2019). Ottoman Law of War and Peace: The Ottoman Empire and Its Tribute-Payers from the North of the Danube. Second Revised Edition. Brill. p. 264. ISBN 978-90-04-41110-4.
  12. ^ Yılmaz, Gülay (2015). "The Devshirme System and the Levied Children of Bursa in 1603-4". Belleten. 79 (286): 901–930. doi:10.37879/belleten.2015.901. ISSN 0041-4255.
  13. ^ R. A. McNeal (2010). Nicholas Biddle in Greece: The Journals and Letters Of 1806. Penn State Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-271-04165-0.
  14. ^ William Miller (1921). The Turkish Restoration in Greece, 1718–1797. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. pp. 31–32.