League (unit)

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For other uses, see League (disambiguation).

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.

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.[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[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.[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 with which the measurements were being made, 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.

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.

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.[10]
02,470Sardinia, Piemont
03,898French lieue (post league)France2000 "body lengths"
04,000general or metric league
04,190legueMexico[11]= 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,[11] (Guatemala, Haiti)= 36 cuadros = 5400 varas
04,828English land leagueEngland3 miles
Germanic rasta, also doppelleuge
(double league)
05,000légua novaPortugal[11]
05,196leguaBolivia[11]= 40 ladres
05,152legua argentinaArgentina, Buenos Aires[11]= 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[11]= 3 Millas
05,572.7leguePeru[11]= 20,000 feet
05,572.7legua antigua
old league
Spain[11]= 3 millas = 15,000 feet
05,590léguaBrazil[11]= 5,000 varas = 2,500 bracas
05,600Brazilian leguaBrazil
05,840[12]Dutch mileHolland
06,197légua antigaPortugal[11]= 3 milhas = 24 estadios
06,687.24legua nueva
new league, since 1766
Spain[11]= 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:

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b c d 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. 
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Pre-metric units of length
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ IKAR-Altkartendatenbank der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Kartenabteilung.