League (unit)

For other uses, see League (disambiguation).

A league is a unit of length (or, in various regions, area). It was common in Europe and Latin America, but 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 (3.452 miles; 5.556 kilometres). English usage also included many 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 12 Roman miles (7,500 Roman feet, modern 2.2 km or 1.4 miles). 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):

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.

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
1,482 mille passus, milliarium Roman Empire Ancient Roman units of measurement
1,486.6 miglio[10] Sicily
1,500 Persian mile Persia
1,524 London mile England
1,609.3426 (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
1,609.344 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.
1,609.3472 (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
1,820 Italy
1,852 nautical mile international today 1 minute of arc Measured at a circumference of 40,000 km. Abbreviation: NM, nm
1,852.3 (for comparison) 1 meridian minute
1,853.181 nautical mile Turkey
1,855.4 (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.
2,065 Portugal
2,220 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]
2,470 Sardinia, Piemont
2,622 Scotland
2,880 Ireland
3,780 Flanders
3,898 French lieue (post league) France 2000 "body lengths"
4,000 general or metric league
4,000legue Guatemala
4,190legueMexico[12] = 2500 tresas = 5000 varas
4,444.8 landleuge 1/25° of a circle of longitude
4,452.2 lieue commune France Units of measurement in France before the French Revolution
4,513leguaChile,[12] (Guatemala, Haiti) = 36 cuadros = 5400 varas
4,808 Switzerland
4,828 English land league England 3 miles
Germanic rasta, also doppelleuge
(double league)
5,000 légua nova Portugal[12]
5,196leguaBolivia[12] = 40 ladres
5,152legua argentinaArgentina, Buenos Aires[12] = 6000 varas
5,200 Bolivian legua Bolivia
5,500 Portuguese legua Portugal
5,510 Ecuadorian legua Ecuador
5,532.5 Landleuge
(state league)
5,556 Seeleuge (nautical league) 1/20° of a circle of longitude
3 nautical miles
5,570 legua Spain and Chile Spanish customary units
5,572leguaKolumbien[12] = 3 Millas
5,572.7leguePeru[12] = 20,000 feet
5,572.7legua antigua
old league
Spain[12] = 3 millas = 15,000 feet
5,590 légua Brazil[12] = 5,000 varas = 2,500 bracas
5,600 Brazilian legua Brazil
5,840[13] Dutch mile Netherlands
6,197 légua antiga Portugal[12] = 3 milhas = 24 estadios
6,277 Luxembourg
6,280 Belgium
6,687.24legua nueva
new league, since 1766
Spain[12] = 8000 Varas
6,797 Landvermessermeile
(state survey mile)
7,400 Netherlands
7,409 (for comparison) 4 meridian minutes
7,419.2 Kingdom of Hanover
7,419.4 Duchy of Brunswick
7,420.439 geographic mile 1/15 equatorial grads
7,421.6 (for comparison) 4 equatorial minutes
7,448.7 Württemberg
7,450 Hohenzollern
7,467.6 Russia 7 werst Obsolete Russian units of measurement
7,480 Bohemia
7,500 kleine / neue Postmeile
(small/new postal mile)
Saxony 1840 German Empire, North German Confederation, Grand Duchy of Hesse, Russia
7,532.5 Land(es)meile
(German state mile)
Denmark, Hamburg, Prussia primarily for Denmark defined by Ole Rømer
7,585.9 Postmeile
(post mile)
Austro-Hungary Austrian units of measurement
7,850 Romania
8,800 Schleswig-Holstein
8,888.89 Baden
9,062 mittlere Post- / Polizeimeile
(middle post mile or police mile)
Saxony 1722
9,206.3 Electorate of Hesse
9,261.4 (for comparison) 5 meridian minutes
9,277 (for comparison) 5 equatorial minutes
9,323 alte Landmeile
(old state mile)
Hanover 1836
9,347 alte Landmeile
(old state mile)
Hanover 1836
9,869.6 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 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 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. 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."
  5. 1 2 3 4 Spence, E. Lee. Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, p. 32. Narwhal Press (Charleston), 1997.
  6. Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, by Dr. E. Lee Spence, Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, © by Edward L. Spence, 1997, p. 32
  7. Vikki Gray (1998-12-24). "Land Measurement Conversion Guide". Vikki Gray. Retrieved 2007-06-04.
  8. Cardarelli, François Cradarelli (2003). Encyclopaedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measures. London: Springer. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-4471-1122-1.
  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. (German)Pre-metric units of length
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Helmut Kahnt (1986), BI-Lexikon Alte Maße, Münzen und Gewichte (in German) (1 ed.), Leipzig: VEB Bibliographisches Institut, pp. 380
  12. IKAR-Altkartendatenbank der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Kartenabteilung.
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