AskDefine | Define contraband

Dictionary Definition

contraband adj : distributed or sold illicitly; "the black economy pays no taxes" [syn: bootleg, black, black-market, smuggled] n : goods whose importation or exportation or possession is prohibited by law

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. any goods which are illicit or illegal to possess
  2. goods which are prohibited from being traded, smuggled goods
  3. an escaped slave during the Civil War who was taken behind Union lines


  1. prohibited from being traded
    • 1940 - The Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America: Having ... - Division of the Federal Register, the National Archives - Page 2191
    "[...] when the seizure is made in connection with a violation involving a contraband article covered by section 1 (b) (1) of the said Act; [...]"
    • 1953 - United States, United States. President, United States. Congress - United States Code Congressional and Administrative News - Page 2039
    "The exclusion of mandatory payment of moieties for seizures of contraband controlled substances is accomplished through Section 17 of the bill, [...]"
    • 1899 - Albert William Chaster - The Powers, Duties and Liabilities of Executive Officers as Between These ... - Stevens and Haynes - Page 55
    "4. Contraband goods may be seized if found in a river before they are landed or offered for sale."

Extensive Definition

This article is about the illegal traffic of goods. For other uses of the term, see Contraband (disambiguation)
The English word contraband, reported in English since 1529, from Medieval French contrebande "a smuggling," derived via Italian contrabando from Latin contra "against" + Middle Latin bannum (from Frankish root ban "a command", as in Italian bando 'law'; also the root of 'banishment'), denotes any item which, relating to its nature, is illegal to be possessed, sold et cetera.
However the term is also commonly and in legal language used for goods that by their nature, e.g. too dangerous or offensive in the eyes of the legislator (those are termed contraband in se) are forbidden, and for so-called derivative contrabande, i.e. goods that may normally be owned but are liable to be seized because they were used in committing an unlawful act and hence begot illegally, such as:
  • smuggler goods
  • stolen goods - knowingly participating in their trade is an offense in itself, called fencing
  • the fruits of fraud, forgery etc.
The word is also used as an adjective, again meaning 'distributed or sold illicitly'.

International law of war

In the international law, goods carried by vessels of neutral nations during wartime that may be confiscated by a belligerent power and thus prohibited from delivery to the enemy. Traditionally, contraband is classified into two categories, absolute contraband and conditional contraband. The former category includes arms, munitions, and various materials, such as chemicals and certain types of machinery, that may be used directly to wage war or be converted into instrumentalities of war.
Conditional contraband, formerly known as occasional contraband, consists of such materials as provisions and livestock feed. Cargoes of this kind, while presumably innocent in character, are subject to seizure if, in the opinion of the belligerent nation that seizes them, the supplies are destined for the armed forces of the enemy rather than for civilian use and consumption. In former agreements among nations, certain other commodities, including soap, paper, clocks, agricultural machinery and jewelry, have been classified as non-contraband, although these distinctions have proved meaningless in practice.
Under conditions of modern warfare, in which armed conflict has largely become a struggle involving the total populations of the contending powers, virtually all commodities are classified by belligerents as absolute contraband.
Numerous treaties defining contraband have been concluded among nations. In time of war, the nations involved have invariably violated these agreements, formulating their own definitions as the fortunes of war indicated. The Declaration of London, drafted at the London Naval Conference of 1908-1909, and made partly effective by most of the European maritime nations at the outbreak of World War I, established comprehensive classifications of absolute and conditional contraband. As the war developed, the lists of articles in each category were constantly revised by the various belligerents, despite protests by neutral powers engaged in the carrying trade. By 1916 the list of conditional contraband included practically all waterborne cargo. Thereafter, for the duration of World War I, nearly all cargoes in transit to an enemy nation were treated as contraband of war by the intercepting belligerent, regardless of the nature of the cargo. A similar policy was inaugurated by the belligerent powers early in World War II.
Under international law, the citizens of neutral nations are entitled to trade, at their own risk, with any or all powers engaged in war. No duty to restrain contraband trade is imposed on the neutral governments, but neither have neutral governments the right to interfere on behalf of citizens whose property is seized by one belligerent while in transit to another. The penalty traditionally imposed by belligerents on neutral carriers engaged in commercial traffic with the enemy consists of confiscation of cargoes. By the Declaration of London this was extended to include condemnation of the carrying vessel, provided that more than half the cargo was contraband. The right of warring nations to sink neutral ships transporting contraband is not recognized in international law, but this practice was initiated by Germany in World War I and was often resorted to by the Axis Powers in World War II.

Sources and references

contraband in German: Konterbande
contraband in French: Contrebande
contraband in Italian: contrabbando
contraband in Polish: Przemyt
contraband in Swedish: Kontraband

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Eighteenth Amendment, Prohibition Party, Volstead Act, actionable, against the law, anarchic, anarchistic, anomic, ban, banned, barred, black-market, bootleg, bootleg liquor, chargeable, cigarette smuggling, cigarettes, contrabandage, contrary to law, criminal, denial, disallowance, disapproved, dope, dope smuggling, drugs, embargo, excluded, exclusion, felonious, flawed, forbade, forbid, forbiddance, forbidden, forbidden fruit, forbidding, gunrunning, hot, hot goods, illegal, illegitimate, illicit, impermissible, index, index expurgatorius, index librorum prohibitorum, inhibition, injunction, interdict, interdiction, interdictum, irregular, jewel smuggling, jewels, justiciable, law, lawless, narcotics, narcotics smuggling, no-no, nonconstitutional, nonlegal, nonlicit, nonpermissible, not permitted, off limits, out of bounds, outlaw, outlawed, preclusion, prevention, prohibited, prohibition, prohibitory injunction, proscribed, proscription, punishable, refusal, rejection, repression, restrictive covenants, ruled out, ruling out, rumrunning, run, shut out, smuggled goods, smuggling, statute, stolen goods, sumptuary laws, suppression, taboo, tabooed, triable, unallowed, unauthorized, unconstitutional, under the ban, under-the-counter, under-the-table, unlawful, unlicensed, unofficial, unpermissible, unsanctioned, unstatutory, untouchable, unwarrantable, unwarranted, verboten, vetoed, wrongful, zoning, zoning laws
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