Definition of chieftain in English:



  • 1The leader of a people or clan.

    ‘powerful feudal chieftains’
    • ‘From his throne of ivory and sculpted wood, the king ruled through an elaborate network of councilors and governors, clan elders and local chieftains, priests and electors.’
    • ‘However he was very popular with the lords and chieftains of his day as he stayed in their castles and manors and wrote of their prowess and lineage.’
    • ‘They may be clamouring for democracy and progress, but Lebanon's chieftains are feudal at heart.’
    • ‘The annual clan banquet will be in the Manor Hotel on Saturday night where the clan chieftain will be elected.’
    • ‘The big event on Saturday is the election of the new chieftain and clan banquet in the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel.’
    • ‘Archeologists have found evidence that a warrior chieftain took control over most of Greece back in the early seventh century B.C.’
    • ‘Henry II came to Ireland in order to secure the feudal loyalty of the Normans, and many Irish chieftains.’
    • ‘The country had lost its charismatic leader, the clan its chieftain.’
    • ‘It could be a priest, a king, chieftain or tribal leader.’
    • ‘Barons or lesser feudal chieftains replicated this structure, which was not a flexible or adaptive one.’
    • ‘For centuries, they lived in clans commanded by chieftains and feuded among themselves.’
    • ‘The key consideration in war-torn Gaelic society was that marriages should seal important political and military alliances between the chieftains' dynasties.’
    • ‘Beyond that, there were 10,000 further titles of nobility (chiefs, chieftains, feudal barons and lairds), so that one Scot in 45 belonged to a noble house.’
    • ‘These men may have been of sufficient influence to become imperceptibly more like chieftains in control of warbands than Roman commanders.’
    • ‘The Tang Dynasty appointed local clan chieftains to govern for them.’
    • ‘These were the fortified residences of local lords and chieftains, both of the native Irish families and the descendants of the Anglo-Norman settlers.’
    • ‘According to Innes, all that was conferred to chieftains in royal charters was the arable land on estates - not the waste land and mountains.’
    • ‘I spent a few minutes in the abbey museum, admiring high-relief tomb carvings of bygone Scots kings and chieftains in full battle gear.’
    • ‘Armed to the teeth and clad in kilt, tartan hose and bonnet, he looks every inch the clan chieftain.’
    • ‘After the Ottoman Empire gained general control of the area in 1516, Lebanon continued to maintain a feudal system of rule by local chieftains.’
    leader, head, headman, ruler, overlord, master, commander, suzerain, seigneur, liege, liege lord, potentate
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    1. 1.1informal A powerful member of an organization.
      ‘an elite composed of corporate chieftains’
      • ‘Each spring, corporate America's preeminent chieftains offer sage counsel to eager university graduates across the nation.’
      • ‘Unlike the greedy profiteers and corporate chieftains who actually made money on those stocks, we were not acting irresponsibly.’
      • ‘In some cases, the highly compensated corporate chieftains are presiding over companies that are slashing payrolls.’
      • ‘With the economy flailing, many corporate executives and leveraged-buyout chieftains are taking a wait-and-see attitude.’
      • ‘These are messy matters corporate chieftains would much rather handle behind closed - or, even better, locked and barricaded - boardroom doors.’


Middle English and Old French chevetaine, from late Latin capitaneus (see captain). The spelling was altered by association with chief.