League (unit)

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A league is a unit of length (or, in various regions, area). It was long common in Europe and Latin America, but it is no longer an official unit in any nation. The word originally meant the distance a person could walk in an hour.[1] Since the Middle Ages, many values have been specified in several countries.

Different definitions

English-speaking world

On land, the league was most commonly defined as three miles, though the length of a mile could vary from place to place and depending on the era. At sea, a league was three nautical miles (6,076 yards; 5.556 kilometres). English usage also included any of the other leagues mentioned below (for example, in discussing the Treaty of Tordesillas).

Ancient Rome

The league was used in Ancient Rome, defined as 1.5 Roman miles (7,500 Roman feet, 2.2 km, 1.4 mi.). The origin is the "leuga gallica" (also: leuca Gallica), 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]

Brazil and Portugal

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

  • Légua of 18 by degree = 6,172.4 metres[dubious ]
  • Légua of 20 by degree = 5,555.56 metres (Maritime légua)
  • Légua of 25 by 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.

As a transitory measure, after Portugal adopted the metric system, the metric légua, of 5.0 km, was used.

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


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

As used in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a league is four kilometres.[4][5]


In Yucatán and other parts of rural Mexico, the league is still commonly 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.


The legua or Spanish league was originally understood as equivalent to 3 millas (Spanish miles).[6] This varied depending on local standards for the pie (Spanish foot) and on the precision of measurement, but was officially equivalent to 4180 meters (2.6 miles) before the legua was abolished by Philip II in 1568. It remains in unofficial 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 meters or 3.1876 modern nautical miles). That seems pretty straight forward until one realizes that 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 (7 843 meters or 4.235 modern nautical miles) to 21 874 feet (6 667 meters or 3.600 modern nautical miles) respectively.[6]
  • 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 meters), which gave a Spanish league of the degree of 25 776 feet (7 857 meters 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 7315 meters, almost exactly 3.950 modern nautical miles).[7]
  • 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 (1696 meters), making a geographical league of four millias equal 22 256 feet (6784 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 (6353 m or 3.430 modern nautical miles).[6]
  • Legua marítima (maritime league): From around 1840 through the early 20th century, a Spanish marine league equaled 18 263.52 feet (5566.72 meters or 3.005 79 modern nautical miles), i.e. about 35 feet (10 meters) longer than our modern maritime league.[6]

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 (1 792.110 hectares).[8] 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.


In US linear measure, one league (Symbol: US st. leag.) was equal to 15,840 feet (or three miles). US nautical league (Symbol: US naut. leag.) was equal to 18,240 feet.[9]

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
01,482 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 Great Britain 1592 1959 1760 yards Over the course of time, the length of a yard changed several times and consequently so did the English, and from 1824, the imperial mile. The statute mile was introduced in 1592 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I
01,609.344 mile international 1959 today 1760 yards Until 1 July 1959 the imperial mile was a standard length worldwide. The length given in metres is exact.
01,609.3472 (statute) mile US 1893 today 1760 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: 3600/3937 x 1760
01,820 Italy
01,852 nautical mile international today 1 minute of arc Measured at a circumference of 40,000 km. Abbreviation: NM, nm
01,852.3 (for comparison) 1 meridian minute
01,853.181 nautical mile Turkey
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 estimated the circumferences of the equator at 40,000 km.
02,065 Portugal
02,220 Gallo-Roman league Gallo-Roman culture 1.5 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 2000 "body lengths"
04,000 general or metric league
04,000 legue Guatemala
04,190 legue Mexico[12] = 2500 tresas = 5000 varas
04,444.8 landleuge 1/25° 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 = 5400 varas
04,808 Switzerland
04,828 English land league England 3 miles
Germanic rasta, also doppelleuge
(double league)
05,000 légua nova Portugal[12]
05,196 legua Bolivia[12] = 40 ladres
05,152 legua argentina Argentina, Buenos Aires[12] = 6000 varas
05,154 legue Uruguay
05,200 Bolivian legua Bolivia
05,370 legue Venezuela
05,500 Portuguese legua Portugal
05,510 legue Ecuador
05,510 Ecuadorian legua Ecuador
05,532.5 Landleuge
(state league)
05,540 legue Honduras
05,556 Seeleuge (nautical league) 1/20° of a circle of longitude
3 nautical miles
05,570 legua Spain and Chile Spanish customary units
05,572 legua Kolumbien[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 legua Brazil
05,840[13] Dutch mile Netherlands
06,197 légua antiga Portugal[12] = 3 milhas = 24 estadios
06,277 Luxembourg
06,280 Belgium
06,687.24 legua nueva
new league, since 1766
Spain[12] = 8000 Varas
06,797 Landvermessermeile
(state survey mile)
07,400 Netherlands
07,409 (for comparison) 4 meridian minutes
07,419.2 Kingdom of Hanover
07,419.4 Duchy of Brunswick
07,420.439 geographic mile 1/15 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 primarlly for Denmark defined by Ole Rømer
07,585.9 Postmeile
(post mile)
Austro-Hungary Austrian units of measurement
07,850 Romania
08,800 Schleswig-Holstein
08,888.89 Baden
09,062 mittlere Post- / Polizeimeile
(middle post mile or police mile)
Saxony 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 myriameter
10,044 große Meile
(great mile)
10,670 Finland
10,688.54 mil Sweden 1889
11,113.7 (for comparison) 6 meridian minutes
11,132.4 (for comparison) 6 equatorial minutes
11,299 mil Norway was equivalent to 3000 Rhenish rods.

Similar units:

See also


  1. Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia
  2. The Oxford English Dictionary
  3. Espasa-Calpe Dictionary, Argentina and Mexico Edition 1945: headword Legua
  4. [1]
  5. Part 2, Chapter 7 "Accordingly, our speed was twenty–five miles (that is, twelve four–kilometer 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 meters 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."
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Spence, E. Lee. Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, p. 32. Narwhal Press (Charleston), 1997.
  7. Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, by Dr. E. Lee Spence, Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, © by Edward L. Spence, 1997, p. 32
  8. Vikki Gray (1998-12-24). "Land Measurement Conversion Guide". Vikki Gray. Retrieved 2007-06-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Cardarelli, François Cradarelli (2003). Encyclopaedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measures. London: Springer. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-4471-1122-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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. (German)Pre-metric units of length
  12. 12.00 12.01 12.02 12.03 12.04 12.05 12.06 12.07 12.08 12.09 12.10 Helmut Kahnt (1986) (in German), BI-Lexikon Alte Maße, Münzen und Gewichte (1, ed.), Leipzig: VEB Bibliographisches Institut, pp. 380 
  13. IKAR-Altkartendatenbank der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Kartenabteilung.