League (unit)

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A league is a unit of length (or, rarely, 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.

In nautical usage, a league of 3 nautical miles (5.5 km) is roughly how far an observer of average height (around 6 ft. or 1.8 m) can see when standing at sea level.[2] Thus, a ship travelling one "league" has reached what was previously the farthest visible distance on the horizon. The lack of an historical and global standard for the exact measure of a "league" can be accounted for by the variable elevation of the observer. For example, a crow's nest mounted atop a 50 ft. (15.2 m) mast extends the visible range to 9.35 miles (15.1 km).[3]

Different definitions[edit]

English-speaking world[edit]

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 (about 5.6 km). English usage also included any of the other leagues mentioned below (for example, in discussing the Treaty of Tordesillas).

Ancient Rome[edit]

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.[4]


The Argentine league (legua) is 5.572 km (3.462 mi) or 6,666 varas: 1 vara is 0.83 m (33 in).[5]

Brazil and Portugal[edit]

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

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.[6][7]


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 Danish or Swedish mil was defined as a suitable walking distance between rests, or between inns. While etymologically similar to a mile, the definition shares origin with a that of a league. An old Scandinavian mil ranges from 7.5 km to 12 km depending on nation or region, but has since metrification been defined as 10 km in Norway and Sweden.


The Spanish League or legua was originally set as a fixed unit of distance of 5 000 varas (0.84 m each), about 4.2 km (2.6 miles). Contemporary writers also show it as three millas (miles of 4 566 feet (1 392 meters) each making a total of 13 698 feet (4 175 m or 2.594 miles).[8] Officially the league was abolished by Philip II of Spain in 1568, but it is still in use unofficially in parts of Latin America, with exact meaning varying in different countries.

In the early Hispanic settlements of New Mexico, Texas, 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).[10] 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[edit]

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)NameWhere usedFromToDefinitionRemarks
01,482mille passus, milliariumRoman EmpireAncient Roman units of measurement
01,500Persian milePersia
01,524London mileEngland
01,609.3426(statute) mileGreat Britain159219591760 yardsOver 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
01,609.344mileinternational1959today1760 yardsUntil 1 July 1959 the imperial mile was a standard length worldwide. The length given in metres is exact.
01,609.3472(statute) mileUSA1893today1760 yardsFrom 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
01,852nautical mileinternationaltoday1 minute of arcMeasured at a circumference of 40,000 km. Abbreviation: NM, nm
01,852.3(for comparison)1 meridian minute
01,853,181nautical mileTurkey
01,855.4(for comparison)1 equatorial minuteAlthough the NM was defined on the basis of the minute, it varies from the equatorial minute, because at that time the circumferences of the equator was only able to be estimated at 40,000 km
02,220Gallo-Roman leagueGallo-Roman culture1.5 milesUnder 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.[12]
02,470Sardinia, Piemont
03,898French lieue (post league)France2000 "body lengths"
04,000general or metric league
04,190legueMexico[13]= 2500 tresas = 5000 varas
04,444.8landleuge1/25° of a circle of longitude
04,452.2lieue communeFranceUnits of measurement in France before the French Revolution
04,513leguaChile,[13] (Guatemala, Haiti)= 36 cuadros = 5400 varas
04,828English land leagueEngland3 miles
Germanic rasta, also doppelleuge
(double league)
05,000légua novaPortugal[13]
05,196leguaBolivia[13]= 40 ladres
05,152legua argentinaArgentina, Buenos Aires[13]= 6000 varas
05,200Bolivian leguaBolivia
05,500Portuguese leguaPortugal
05,510Ecuadorian leguaEcuador
(state league)
05,556Seeleuge (nautical league)1/20° of a circle of longitude
3 nautical miles
05,570leguaSpain and ChileSpanish customary units
05,572leguaKolumbien[13]= 3 Millas
05,572.7leguePeru[13]= 20,000 feet
05,572.7legua antigua
old league
Spain[13]= 3 millas = 15,000 feet
05,590léguaBrazil[13]= 5,000 varas = 2,500 bracas
05,600Brazilian leguaBrazil
05,840[14]Dutch mileHolland
06,197légua antigaPortugal[13]= 3 milhas = 24 estadios
06,687.24legua nueva
new league, since 1766
Spain[13]= 8000 Varas
(state survey mile)
07,409(for comparison)4 meridian minutes
7,419.2Kingdom of Hanover
07,419.4Duchy of Brunswick
07,420.439geographic mile1/15 equatorial grads
07,421.6(for comparison)4 equatorial minutes
07,467.6Russia7 werstObsolete Russian units of measurement
07,500kleine / neue Postmeile
(small/new postal mile)
Saxony1840German Empire, North German Confederation, Grand Duchy of Hesse, Russia
(German state mile)
Denmark, Hamburg, Prussiaprimarlly for Denmark defined by Ole Rømer
(post mile)
Austro-HungaryAustrian units of measurement
09,062mittlere Post- / Polizeimeile
(middle post mile or police mile)
09,206.3Electorate of Hesse
09,261.4(for comparison)5 meridian minutes
09,277(for comparison)5 equatorial minutes
09,323alte Landmeile
(old state mile)
09,347alte Landmeile
(old state mile)
10,000metric mile, Scandinavian mileScandinaviastill commonly used today, e. g. for road distances.; equates to the myriameter
10,044große Meile
(great mile)
11,113.7(for comparison)6 meridian minutes
11,132.4(for comparison)6 equatorial minutes
11,299milNorwaywas equivalent to 3000 Rhenish rods.

Similar units:

Use in fiction[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia
  2. ^ DataGenetics: Consequences of living on a sphere
  3. ^ Sussex Scrapbook: The distance visible to the horizon from different heights
  4. ^ The Oxford English Dictionary
  5. ^ Espasa-Calpe Dictionary, Argentina and Mexico Edition 1945: headword Legua
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ 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."
  8. ^ a b c d Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, by Dr. E. Lee Spence, Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, © by Edward L. Spence, 1997, p. 32
  9. ^ Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, by Dr. E. Lee Spence, Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, © by Edward L. Spence, 1997, p. 32
  10. ^ Vikki Gray (1998-12-24). "Land Measurement Conversion Guide". Vikki Gray. Retrieved 2007-06-04. 
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Pre-metric units of length
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Helmut Kahnt (1986) (in German), BI-Lexikon Alte Maße, Münzen und Gewichte (1, ed.), Leipzig: VEB Bibliographisches Institut, pp. 380
  14. ^ IKAR-Altkartendatenbank der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Kartenabteilung.
  15. ^ Fonstad 1991, Introduction, p. x