Definition of chieftain in English:



  • 1The leader of a people or clan.

    ‘powerful feudal chieftains’
    • ‘For centuries, they lived in clans commanded by chieftains and feuded among themselves.’
    • ‘Armed to the teeth and clad in kilt, tartan hose and bonnet, he looks every inch the clan chieftain.’
    • ‘Henry II came to Ireland in order to secure the feudal loyalty of the Normans, and many Irish chieftains.’
    • ‘Archeologists have found evidence that a warrior chieftain took control over most of Greece back in the early seventh century B.C.’
    • ‘I spent a few minutes in the abbey museum, admiring high-relief tomb carvings of bygone Scots kings and chieftains in full battle gear.’
    • ‘The big event on Saturday is the election of the new chieftain and clan banquet in the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel.’
    • ‘The annual clan banquet will be in the Manor Hotel on Saturday night where the clan chieftain will be elected.’
    • ‘Barons or lesser feudal chieftains replicated this structure, which was not a flexible or adaptive one.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The country had lost its charismatic leader, the clan its 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.’
    • ‘It could be a priest, a king, chieftain or tribal leader.’
    • ‘They may be clamouring for democracy and progress, but Lebanon's chieftains are feudal at heart.’
    • ‘The key consideration in war-torn Gaelic society was that marriages should seal important political and military alliances between the chieftains' dynasties.’
    • ‘According to Innes, all that was conferred to chieftains in royal charters was the arable land on estates - not the waste land and mountains.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘These men may have been of sufficient influence to become imperceptibly more like chieftains in control of warbands than Roman commanders.’
    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’
      • ‘These are messy matters corporate chieftains would much rather handle behind closed - or, even better, locked and barricaded - boardroom doors.’
      • ‘With the economy flailing, many corporate executives and leveraged-buyout chieftains are taking a wait-and-see attitude.’
      • ‘In some cases, the highly compensated corporate chieftains are presiding over companies that are slashing payrolls.’
      • ‘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.’


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