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League (unit)

A league is a unit of length. It was common in Europe and Latin America, but is no longer an official unit in any nation. Derived from an ancient Celtic unit and adopted by the Romans as the leuga, the league became a common unit of measurement throughout western Europe. Since the Middle Ages, many values have been specified in several countries.

It may have originally represented, roughly, the distance a person could walk in an hour.[1]


Ancient Rome

The league was used in Ancient Rome, defined as 1½ Roman miles (7,500 Roman feet, modern 2.2 km or 1.4 miles). The origin is the leuga Gallica (also: leuca Callica), the league of Gaul.[2]


The Argentine league (legua) is 5.572 km (3.462 mi) or 6,666 varas: 1 vara is 0.83 m (33 in).[3]


On land, the league is most commonly defined as three miles (4.83 km), although the length of a mile could vary from place to place as well as depending on the era. At sea, a league is three nmi (3.452 mi; 5.556 km). English usage also included many of the other leagues mentioned below (for example, in discussing the Treaty of Tordesillas).[citation needed]


The French lieue — at different times — existed in several variants, namely 10,000, 12,000, 13,200 and 14,400 French feet, about 3.25 to 4.68 km (2.02 to 2.91 miles). It was used along with the metric system for a while, but is long discontinued.

A metric lieue was used in France from 1812 to 1840, with 1 metric lieue being exactly 4,000 m, or 4 km (about 2.5 mi).[4] It is this unit that is referenced in both the title and the body text of Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (1870).[5]


In some rural parts of Mexico, the league (Spanish legua) is still used in the original sense of the distance that can be covered on foot in an hour, so that a league along a good road on level ground is a greater distance than a league on a difficult path over rough terrain.[6]


In Portugal, Brazil and other parts of the former Portuguese Empire, there were several units called league (Portuguese: légua):

  • Légua of 18 to a degree = 6,172.84 metres
  • Légua of 20 to a degree (Maritime légua) = 5,555.56 metres
  • Légua of 25 to a degree = 4,444.44 metres

The names of the several léguas referred to the number of units that made the length corresponding to an angle degree of a meridian arc.

For compatiblilty after Portugal adopted the metric system, the metric légua, of 5.0 km, was used.

In Brazil, the légua is still used occasionally, where it has been described as about 6.6 km.


Milestone in the Province of Ávila, Spain indicating a distance of 9 leagues to the city of Ávila

The legua or Spanish league was originally understood as equivalent to 3 millas (Spanish miles).[7] This varied depending on local standards for the pie (Spanish foot) and on the precision of measurement, but was officially equivalent to 4,180 metres (2.6 miles) before the legua was abolished by Philip II in 1568. It remains in use in parts of Latin America, where its exact meaning varies.

  • Legua nautica (nautical league): Between 1400 and 1600 the Spanish nautical league was equal to four Roman miles of 4,842 feet, making it 19,368 feet (5,903 metres or 3.1876 modern nautical miles). However, the accepted number of Spanish nautical leagues to a degree varied between 14 1/6 to 16 2/3, so in actual practice the length of a Spanish nautical league was 25,733 feet (4.235 modern nautical miles) to 21,874 feet (3.600 modern nautical miles) respectively.[7]
  • Legua de por grado (league of the degree): From the 15th century through the early 17th century, the Spanish league of the degree was based on four Arabic miles. Although most contemporary accounts used an Arabic mile of 6 444 feet (1,964 metres), which gave a Spanish league of the degree of 25,776 feet (7,857 metres or 4.242 modern nautical miles) others defined an Arabic mile as just 6,000 feet making a Spanish league of the degree 24,000 feet (or 7,315 metres, almost exactly 3.95 modern nautical miles).[8]
  • Legua geographica or geográfica (geographical league): Starting around 1630 the Spanish geographical league was used as the official nautical measurement and continued so through the 1840s. Its use on Spanish charts did not become mandatory until 1718. It was four millias (miles) in length. From 1630 to 1718 a millia was 5,564 feet (1 696 metres), making a geographical league of four millias equal 22,256 feet (6,784 m or 3.663 modern nautical miles). But from 1718 through the 1830s the millia was defined as the equivalent of just over 5,210 feet, giving a shorter geographical league of just over 20,842 feet (6,353 m or 3.430 modern nautical miles).[7]
  • Legua marítima (maritime league): From around 1840 through the early 20th century, a Spanish marine league equaled 18,263.52 feet (5,566.72 metres or 3.00579 modern nautical miles).[7]

In the early Hispanic settlements of New Mexico, Texas, California, and Colorado, a league was also a unit of area, defined as 25 million square varas or about 4,428.4 acres.[9] This usage of league is referenced frequently in the Texas Constitution. So defined, a league of land would encompass a square that is one Spanish league on each side.

Comparison table

A comparison of the different lengths for a "league", in different countries and at different times in history, is given in the table below. Miles are also included in this list because of the linkage between the two units.

Length (m) Name Where used From To Definition Remarks
01,000 (for comparison) 1 kilometer
01,280.16 kawtha Myanmar today 20 out-thaba Myanmar units of measurement
01,482 mille passus, milliarium Roman Empire Ancient Roman units of measurement
01,486.6 miglio[10] Sicily
01,500 Persian mile Persia
01,524 London mile England
01,609.3426 (statute) mile England/UK 1592 1959 1,760 yards Over the course of time, the length of a yard changed several times and consequently so did the English (and, from 1824, Imperial) mile. The statute mile was introduced in 1592 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I
01,609.344 mile some English speaking countries[citation needed] 1959 today 1,760 yards On 1 July 1959, the imperial mile was standardized to an exact length in metres
01,609.3472 (statute) mile United States 1893 today 1,760 yards From 1959; also called the U.S. Survey Mile. From then its only utility has been land survey, before it was the standard mile. From 1893 its exact length in metres was: 3,600/3,937 × 1760
01 820 Italy
01,852 nautical mile international today 1,852 m Symbol: nmi; Abbreviation: NM
01,852.3 (for comparison) 1 meridian minute
01,853.181 Turkish (nautical) mile Turkey 1933 today
01,855.4 (for comparison) 1 equatorial minute Though the NM was defined on the basis of the minute, it varies from the equatorial minute, because at that time people could only estimate the circumference of the equator to be 40,000 km.
01,894.35 Ottoman mile Ottoman Empire 1933 5,000 ayak Ottoman units of measurement
02,065 Portugal
02,220 Gallo-Roman league Gallo-Roman culture 1+12 miles Under the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus, this replaced the Roman mile as the official unit of distance in the Gallic and Germanic provinces, although there were regional and temporal variations.[11]
02,470 Sardinia, Piemont
02,622 Scotland
02,880 Ireland
03,780 Flanders
03,898 French lieue (post league) France 2,000 "body lengths"
04,000 French lieue France 1812 1840 4,000 m exactly This unit is referenced by Jules Verne's 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas.[5]
04,000 general or metric league
04,000 legue Guatemala
04,179.4 legua antigua
(old league)
Spain 1568
04,190 legue Mexico[12] = 2,500 tresas = 5,000 varas
04,444.8 landleuge 125° of a circle of longitude
04,452.2 lieue commune France Units of measurement in France before the French Revolution
04,513 legue Paraguay
04,513 legua Chile,[12] (Guatemala, Haiti) = 36 cuadros = 5,400 varas
04,531 Wegstunde Saxony[13] 1722 1840 1,000 Dresden rods introduced on occasion of a countrywide road survey
04,808 Switzerland
04,828 English land league England 3 miles
Germanic rasta, also doppelleuge
(double league)
05,000 légua nova Portugal[12]
05,120.64 ga-wout (Burmese league) Myanmar today 4 kawtha Myanmar units of measurement
05,196 legua Bolivia[12] = 40 ladres
05,152 legua argentina Argentina, Buenos Aires[12] = 6,000 varas
05,154 legue Uruguay
05,200 Bolivian legua Bolivia
05,370 legue Venezuela
05,500 Portuguese légua Portugal
05,510 legue Ecuador
05,510 Ecuadorian legua Ecuador
05,532.5 Landleuge
(state league)
05,540 legue Honduras
05,556 Seeleuge (lit. "sea league" or nautical league) 120° of a circle of longitude
3 nautical miles
05,570 legua Spain and Chile Spanish customary units
05,572 legua Colombia[12] = 3 Millas
05,572.7 legue Peru[12] = 20,000 feet
05,572.7 legua antigua
old league
Spain[12] = 3 millas = 15,000 feet
05,590 légua Brazil[12] = 5,000 varas = 2,500 bracas
05,600 Brazilian légua Brazil
05,685 Fersah (Turkish league) Ottoman Empire 1933 3 Ottoman miles Derived from Persian Parasang.
05,840[14] Dutch mile Netherlands 1816
06,197 légua antiga Portugal[12] = 3 milhas = 24 estadios
06,277 Luxembourg
06,280 Belgium
06,687.24 legua nueva
(new league)
Spain[12] 1766 = 8,000 Varas
06,797 Landvermessermeile
(state survey mile)
07,400 Netherlands 1816
07,409 (for comparison) 4 meridian minutes
07,419.2 Kingdom of Hanover
07,419.4 Duchy of Brunswick
07,420.439 geographic mile 115 equatorial grads
07,421.6 (for comparison) 4 equatorial minutes
07,448.7 Württemberg
07,450 Hohenzollern
07,467.6 Russia 7 werst Obsolete Russian units of measurement
07,480 Bohemia
07,500 kleine / neue Postmeile
(small/new postal mile)
Saxony 1840 German Empire, North German Confederation, Grand Duchy of Hesse, Russia
07,532.5 Land(es)meile
(German state mile)
Denmark, Hamburg, Prussia primarily for Denmark defined by Ole Rømer
07,585.9 Postmeile
(post mile)
Austria-Hungary Austrian units of measurement
07,850 Romania
08,800 Schleswig-Holstein
08,888.89 Baden
09,062 average Post- or Polizeimeile
(middle post mile or police mile)
Saxony[13] 1722
09,206.3 Electorate of Hesse
09,261.4 (for comparison) 5 meridian minutes
09,277 (for comparison) 5 equatorial minutes
09,323 alte Landmeile
(old state mile)
Hanover 1836
09,347 alte Landmeile
(old state mile)
Hanover 1836
09,869.6 Oldenburg
10,000 metric mile, Scandinavian mile Scandinavia still commonly used today, e.g. for road distances.; equates to the myriametre
10,044 große Meile
(great mile)
10,670 peninkulma Finland 1887
10,688.54 mil Sweden 1889
11,113.7 (for comparison) 6 meridian minutes
11,132.4 (for comparison) 6 equatorial minutes
11,295 mil Norway 1889 was equivalent to 3,000 Rhenish rods.

Similar units:

See also


  1. ^ Chardon, Roland (June 1980). "The Linear League in North America". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 70 (2): 131. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.1980.tb01304.x. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  2. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary
  3. ^ Espasa-Calpe Dictionary, Argentina and Mexico Edition 1945: headword Legua
  4. ^ François Cardarelli: Scientific Unit Conversion (Springer-Verlag London, 1999)
  5. ^ a b Jules Verne: Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1871), Part 2, Chapter VII
    "Aussi, notre vitesse fut-elle de vingt-cinq milles à l’heure, soit douze lieues de quatre kilomètres. Il va sans dire que Ned Land, à son grand ennui, dut renoncer à ses projets de fuite. Il ne pouvait se servir du canot entraîné à raison de douze à treize mètres par seconde. Quitter le Nautilus dans ces conditions, c’eût été sauter d’un train marchant avec cette rapidité, manœuvre imprudente s’il en fut."
    "Accordingly, our speed was twenty–five miles (that is, twelve four–kilometre leagues) per hour. Needless to say, Ned Land had to give up his escape plans, much to his distress. Swept along at the rate of twelve to thirteen metres per second, he could hardly make use of the skiff. Leaving the Nautilus under these conditions would have been like jumping off a train racing at this speed, a rash move if there ever was one." Translated by F. P. Walter
  6. ^ Rani T. Alexander (2004). Yaxcabá and the Caste War of Yucatán: An Archaeological Perspective. UNM Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-8263-2962-2.
  7. ^ a b c d Spence, E. Lee. Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, p. 32. Narwhal Press (Charleston), 1997.
  8. ^ Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, by Dr. E. Lee Spence, Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, © by Edward L. Spence, 1997, p. 32
  9. ^ Vikki Gray (1998-12-24). "Land Measurement Conversion Guide". Vikki Gray. Archived from the original on 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2007-06-04.
  10. ^ Leopold Carl Bleibtreu: Handbuch der Münz-, Maß- und Gewichtskunde und des Wechsel-Staatspapier-, Bank- und Aktienwesens europäischer und außereuropäischer Länder und Städte. Verlag von J. Engelhorn, Stuttgart, 1863, p. 332
  11. ^ (in German)Pre-metric units of length
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Helmut Kahnt (1986), BI-Lexikon Alte Maße, Münzen und Gewichte (in German) (1 ed.), Leipzig: VEB Bibliographisches Institut, pp. 380
  13. ^ a b "Historie der Postsäulen" (in German). Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen e.V. und 1. Sächsischer Postkutschenverein e.V. Archived from the original on February 5, 2017. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  14. ^ IKAR-Altkartendatenbank[permanent dead link] der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Kartenabteilung.
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League (unit)
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