League (unit)

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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. 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.

European Union Economic and political union of European states

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe. It has an area of 4,475,757 km2 (1,728,099 sq mi) and an estimated population of about 513 million. The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states in those matters, and only those matters, where members have agreed to act as one. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the internal market, enact legislation in justice and home affairs and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. For travel within the Schengen Area, passport controls have been abolished. A monetary union was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002 and is composed of 19 EU member states which use the euro currency.


Different definitions

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]

Ancient Rome History of Rome from the 8th-century BC to the 5th-century

In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, encompassing the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire until the fall of the western empire. The civilization began as an Italic settlement in the Italian Peninsula, conventionally founded in 753 BC, that grew into the city of Rome and which subsequently gave its name to the empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilisation the empire developed. The Roman Empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants and covering 5.0 million square kilometres at its height in AD 117.

Gaul region of ancient Europe

Gaul was a historical region of Western Europe during the Iron Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. It covered an area of 494,000 km2 (191,000 sq mi). According to the testimony of Julius Caesar, Gaul was divided into three parts: Gallia Celtica, Belgica, and Aquitania. Archaeologically, the Gauls were bearers of the La Tène culture, which extended across all of Gaul, as well as east to Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, and southwestern Germania during the 5th to 1st centuries BC. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Gaul fell under Roman rule: Gallia Cisalpina was conquered in 203 BC and Gallia Narbonensis in 123 BC. Gaul was invaded after 120 BC by the Cimbri and the Teutons, who were in turn defeated by the Romans by 103 BC. Julius Caesar finally subdued the remaining parts of Gaul in his campaigns of 58 to 51 BC.


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

English-speaking world

On land, the league is 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 is three nautical mile s (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).

Mile Unit of length

The mile is an English unit of length of linear measure equal to 5,280 feet, or 1,760 yards, and standardised as exactly 1,609.344 metres by international agreement in 1959.

Nautical mile unit of distance (1852 m)

A nautical mile is a unit of measurement used in both air and marine navigation, and for the definition of territorial waters. Historically, it was defined as one minute of a degree of latitude. Today it is defined as exactly 1852 metres. The derived unit of speed is the knot, one nautical mile per hour.

Treaty of Tordesillas "Age of Discovery" Catholic treaty dividing the "unclaimed" world between Spanish and Portuguese sovereignty

The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed at Tordesillas in Spain on June 7, 1494, and authenticated at Setúbal, Portugal, divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between the Portuguese Empire and the Crown of Castile, along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, off the west coast of Africa. This line of demarcation was about halfway between the Cape Verde islands and the islands entered by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage, named in the treaty as Cipangu and Antilia.


The French lieue – at different times – existed in several variants: 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 now long discontinued.

Mesures usuelles were a system of measurement introduced by Napoleon I in 1812 to act as compromise between the metric system and traditional measurements. The system was restricted to use in the retail industry and continued in use until 1839.

Metric lieue was used in France from 1812 to 1840, 1 lieue (metric) = 4000 m (E). [4]

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


Perhaps in some rural parts of Mexico, the league 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]

Portuguese-speaking world

In Portugal, Brazil and other parts of the former 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, the légua is still used occasionally, where it has been described as about 6.6 km.


9 leguas a Avila in geographical league Fuente em Gredos.jpg
9 leguas a Ávila in geographical league

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 meters (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.

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)NameWhere usedFromToDefinitionRemarks
1,482mille passus, milliariumRoman Empire Ancient Roman units of measurement
1,486.6miglio [10] Sicily
1,500Persian milePersia
1,524London mileEngland
1,609.3426(statute) mileGreat Britain159219591760 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
1,609.344mileinternational1959today1760 yards Until July 1, 1959 the imperial mile was a standard length worldwide. The length given in metres is exact.
1,609.3472(statute) mileUnited States1893today1760 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 meters was: 3600/3937 × 1760
1,852 nautical mile internationaltoday1852 mSymbol: nmi; Abbreviation: NM
1,852.3(for comparison)1 meridian minute
1,853.181nautical mileTurkey
1,855.4(for comparison)1 equatorial minuteThough 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.
2,220Gallo-Roman league Gallo-Roman culture 1 12 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. [11]
2,470Sardinia, Piemont
3,898French lieue (post league)France2000 "body lengths"
4,000general or metric league
4,190legueMexico [12] = 2500 tresas = 5000 varas
4,444.8landleuge125° of a circle of longitude
4,452.2lieue communeFrance Units of measurement in France before the French Revolution
4,513leguaChile, [12] (Guatemala, Haiti)= 36 cuadros = 5400 varas
4,531WegstundeSaxony [13] 172218401000 Dresden rodsintroduced on occasion of a countrywide road survey
4,828English land leagueEngland3 miles
Germanic rasta, also doppelleuge
(double league)
5,000légua novaPortugal [12]
5,196leguaBolivia [12] = 40 ladres
5,152legua argentinaArgentina, Buenos Aires [12] = 6000 varas
5,200Bolivian leguaBolivia
5,500Portuguese leguaPortugal
5,510Ecuadorian leguaEcuador
(state league)
5,556Seeleuge (nautical league)120° of a circle of longitude
3 nautical miles
5,570leguaSpain and Chile Spanish customary units
5,572leguaColombia [12] = 3 Millas
5,572.7leguePeru [12] = 20,000 feet
5,572.7legua antigua
old league
Spain [12] = 3 millas = 15,000 feet
5,590léguaBrazil [12] = 5,000 varas = 2,500 bracas
5,600Brazilian leguaBrazil
5,685 Fersah (Turkish league)Ottoman Empire19334 Turkish milesDerived from Persian Parasang .
5,840 [14] Dutch mileNetherlands
6,197légua antigaPortugal [12] = 3 milhas = 24 estadios
6,687.24legua nueva
new league, since 1766
Spain [12] = 8000 Varas
(state survey mile)
7,409(for comparison)4 meridian minutes
7,419.2Kingdom of Hanover
7,419.4Duchy of Brunswick
7,420.439geographic mile115 equatorial grads
7,421.6(for comparison)4 equatorial minutes
7,467.6Russia7 werst Obsolete Russian units of measurement
7,500kleine / neue Postmeile
(small/new postal mile)
Saxony1840 German Empire, North German Confederation, Grand Duchy of Hesse, Russia
(German state mile)
Denmark, Hamburg, Prussia primarily for Denmark defined by Ole Rømer
(post mile)
Austria-Hungary Austrian units of measurement
7,850 Romania
9,062average Post- or Polizeimeile
(middle post mile or police mile)
Saxony [13] 1722
9,206.3Electorate of Hesse
9,261.4(for comparison)5 meridian minutes
9,277(for comparison)5 equatorial minutes
9,323alte Landmeile
(old state mile)
9,347alte Landmeile
(old state mile)
10,000metric mile, Scandinavian mile Scandinaviastill 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
11,295milNorway1889was equivalent to 3000 Rhenish rods.

Similar units:

See also

Related Research Articles

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A number of different units of measurement were used in Argentina as its national system was derived from Spanish Castillian. The metric system was legally optional since 1863 and has been compulsory since 1887.

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A number of units of measurement were used in Paraguay to measure quantities including length, mass, area, capacity, etc. Metric system had been optional since 1890, and adopted since 1899 in Paraguay.

Several units of measurements were used in Puerto Rico. The metric system has been compulsory since 1860 in Puerto Rico. However, there are exceptions, such as speed limits posted in miles per hour along roadways.

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  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. François Cardarelli: Scientific Unit Conversion (Springer-Verlag London, 1999)
  5. 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–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." 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. 1 2 3 4 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. 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
  13. 1 2 "Historie der Postsäulen" (in German). Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen e.V. und 1. Sächsischer Postkutschenverein e.V. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  14. IKAR-Altkartendatenbank [ permanent dead link ] der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Kartenabteilung.