anything prohibited by law from being imported or exported.
goods imported or exported illegally.
illegal or prohibited trade; smuggling.
International Law. contraband of war.
(during the American Civil War) a black slave who escaped to or was brought within the Union lines.


prohibited from export or import.

Origin of contraband

1520–30; earlier contrabanda < Spanish < Italian contrabando (now contrabbando), equivalent to contra contra1 + Medieval Latin bandum, variant of bannum ban2
Related formsnon·con·tra·band, noun, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for contraband

Contemporary Examples of contraband

Historical Examples of contraband

  • Suppose she has to pay excess on her luggage, or to wrangle about contraband?

  • The cargo had been well shipped by men skilled in the subtle art of contraband.

    The Law-Breakers

    Ridgwell Cullum

  • Of this state of things we were informed by a contraband we chanced to meet.

  • He wanted its earrings—they were contraband of war, I suppose.


    Joseph Conrad and F.M. Hueffer

  • But something new in this veracious narration—the contraband.


    Henry Morford

British Dictionary definitions for contraband



  1. goods that are prohibited by law from being exported or imported
  2. illegally imported or exported goods
illegal traffic in such goods; smuggling
Also called: contraband of war international law goods that a neutral country may not supply to a belligerent
(during the American Civil War) a Black slave captured by the Union forces or one who escaped to the Union lines


(of goods)
  1. forbidden by law from being imported or exported
  2. illegally imported or exported
Derived Formscontrabandist, noun

Word Origin for contraband

C16: from Spanish contrabanda, from Italian contrabando (modern contrabbando), from Medieval Latin contrabannum, from contra- + bannum ban, of Germanic origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for contraband

1520s, "smuggling;" 1590s, "smuggled goods;" from Middle French contrebande "a smuggling," from older Italian contrabando (modern contrabbando) "unlawful dealing," from Latin contra "against" (see contra) + Medieval Latin bannum, from Frankish *ban "a command" or some other Germanic source (see ban (v.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

contraband in Culture


Goods illegally transported across borders to avoid the payment of taxes.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.