Difference Between Territory and State (With Table)

The political division of a landmass can be of varying forms and faces, with the major ones being continents, countries, etc. However, it is the smaller units that matter to the people, as the ruling bodies of each of these small political divisions are what affect the people directly and the most. Such small political divisions are states, and territories. However, there are a significant number of divisions in the governance and official terminologies between both of these terms.

Territory vs State

The difference between territory and state is that territory is a small political division that does not have an administration of its own, while a state is a relatively larger portion of land which constitutes a federal nation and has a government of its own.

Territories are a piece of land that is not divided further and is not too large in terms of area (they are relatively smaller than states in general). Territories are a political unit of a country that however does not get the equal political status and treatment that any other political subdivision of that country, such as a state might get. Usually, a number of territories come together to form a state and the state government leads this state.

States, on the other hand, are the units in which a federal country is further broken down into to ease governance. Also, in a federal state, each state has the authority to govern certain areas and topics on their own accord. These topics are pre-decided by the central government (the government that governs the country) and the state government. A state, in general, is larger in terms of area than a territory.

Comparison Table Between Territory and State

Parameters of ComparisonTerritoriesState
DefinitionTerritories are politically divided areas that do not have proper political governance of their own.States are the next basic unit of division in a country that enjoy their own administrative policies.
AreaTerritories are relatively small in area as compared to states.States are bigger in terms of area and often a few territories come into a state.
Political BenefitsTerritories do not enjoy several political benefits provided by the central government.States enjoy all the political benefits that the central government has to offer.
Method of ControlTerritories do not have their own governance policies.States have their own government and can pass their own laws on various issues.
Citizens BenefitsCitizens of territories enjoy only a limited amount of rights and benefits.Citizens of states enjoy the full rights and benefits one can get.

What are Territories?

Territories are the administrative divisions that have a relatively smaller administrative area of coverage as compared to states. Usually, all the administrative and political activities of a territory come under the jurisdiction of the state. However, it is understandable that territories do not get to enjoy the rights and full political benefits that a state can enjoy.

The word territory is derived from the Latin word territorium. Territorium stands for ‘land around a town’. In this case, we can clearly understand how this would be applicable, as the land around a town would not be much big and similarly, a territory is characterized by its small political area coverage.

There are quite a few types of territories. The main ones being, capital territory, dependent territory, federal territory, overseas territory, etc.

Capital territories are those where the administrative capital of a country is located. This is done so that no other state can take undue advantage or importance because the capital is located in its own borders. Dependent territories are those which are not independent yet are not in the direct political-administrative capabilities of the federal government. Federal territories on the other hand are those which are under the direct jurisdiction of the central government. Overseas territories are those which are under the jurisdiction of the government but are separated by the ocean lying in between the mainland and the territory.

What are States?

States are the units in which the political land of a country is divided. A state can be created due to a variety of reasons, like due to a certain religious majority being present there, or due to other political reasons. Officially, in a federal country, a state is defined as the federal polity that makes up the federal country.

The word state could have been derived from several European languages as there are a lot of similar words that could have possibly been involved in its etymology, however, it is predominantly believed to have originated from the Latin word status, which means either a condition or circumstances. 

In federal government systems, a state government and the federal government are two different, separate entities. The state government gets to formulate the rules and regulations of various topics and can implement them in its own politically bound area. And just like the federal government, states also have their own elections, high courts, police departments, etc.

Main Differences Between Territory and State

  1. The main difference between territory and state is that territory is a small political division that does not have an administration of its own, while a state is a relatively larger portion of land which constitutes a federal nation and has a government of its own.
  2. Territories are small, while states are relatively larger.
  3. Territories do not enjoy various administrative benefits offered to states.
  4. Territories do not have their own government, while a state can form its own government and operate with full functionality.
  5. Citizens of territories enjoy only limited benefits as compared to citizens of a state, who enjoy the full rights and benefits offered by the government.


As citizens of a country and as global citizens, it is important for us to know the difference between territories and states. Not only do they come of use in academics, knowing these differences makes a person well-spoken and knowledgeable. Also, knowing the differences makes a person aware of his/her rights and that helps one to a large extent when one is in some kind of a legal situation.


  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02508060.2016.1134898
  2. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=8UamWMisjtkC&oi=fnd&pg=PA41&dq=+political+states&ots=DwNy2Zgtyc&sig=LfJ95i5SjD3zxht1OMGn5oZyMTo
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