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. Since the Middle Ages, many values have been specified in several countries.
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).
The Argentine league (legua) is 5.572 km (3.462 mi) or 6,666 varas: 1 vara is 0.83 m (33 in).
Brazil and Portugal
- Légua of 18 by degree = 6,172.4 metres
- Légua of 20 by degree = 5,555.56 metres (Maritime légua)
- Légua of 25 by degree = 4,444.44 metres
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.
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). 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 to be 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).
- 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.
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). 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.
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|
|1,609.3426||(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||USA||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|
|1,852||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|
|1,855.4||(for comparison)||1 equatorial minute||Although 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|
|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.|
|3,898||French lieue (post league)||France||2000 "body lengths"|
|4,000||general or metric league|
|4,190||legue||Mexico||= 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|
|4,513||legua||Chile, (Guatemala, Haiti)||= 36 cuadros = 5400 varas|
|4,828||English land league||England||3 miles|
|Germanic rasta, also doppelleuge
|5,196||legua||Bolivia||= 40 ladres|
|5,152||legua argentina||Argentina, Buenos Aires||= 6000 varas|
|5,556||Seeleuge (nautical league)||1/20° of a circle of longitude
3 nautical miles
|5,570||legua||Spain and Chile||Spanish customary units|
|5,572||legua||Kolumbien||= 3 Millas|
|5,572.7||legue||Peru||= 20,000 feet|
|Spain||= 3 millas = 15,000 feet|
|5,590||légua||Brazil||= 5,000 varas = 2,500 bracas|
|6,197||légua antiga||Portugal||= 3 milhas = 24 estadios|
new league, since 1766
|Spain||= 8000 Varas|
(state survey mile)
|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|
|7,467.6||Russia||7 werst||Obsolete Russian units of measurement|
|7,500||kleine / neue Postmeile
(small/new postal mile)
|Saxony||1840||German Empire, North German Confederation, Grand Duchy of Hesse, Russia|
(German state mile)
|Denmark, Hamburg, Prussia||primarlly for Denmark defined by Ole Rømer|
|Austro-Hungary||Austrian units of measurement|
|9,062||mittlere Post- / Polizeimeile
(middle post mile or police mile)
|9,206.3||Electorate of Hesse|
|9,261.4||(for comparison)||5 meridian minutes|
|9,277||(for comparison)||5 equatorial minutes|
(old state mile)
(old state mile)
|10,000||metric mile, Scandinavian mile||Scandinavia||still commonly used today, e. g. for road distances.; equates to the myriameter|
|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.|
Use in fiction
- The seven-league boots are a magical prop in some European folk tales.
- In the Grimm brothers' "Little Red Cap", the protagonist walks to her grandmother's house, "out in the wood, half a league from the village."
- Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade begins: Half a league, half a league, / Half a league onward, / Into the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred.
- Jules Verne used this unit in the title of two novels:
- In the popular Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas, the Monarch asks his Page, "Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?" and the Page answers, "Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain."
- Many works of fiction, especially fantasy or historical fiction, mention distances in leagues:
- James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales"
- J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, where one league is worth 3 miles.
- The film Yellow Submarine is set in Pepperland, "80,000 leagues under the sea."
- A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
- Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time
- Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle
- Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy
- Carol Berg's Song of the Beast
- Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
- Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo
- Frank Herbert's Dune: Paul Muad'Dib rides a sandworm "more than half a league long".
- Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun – among other archaic units
- David Eddings' fantasies, including The Belgariad and The Mallorean
- John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice
- Chris Bradford's Young Samurai
- The film The Three Musketeers (1993)
- Anthropic units
- Medieval weights and measures for various definitions of the league.
- Li (unit), a Chinese unit of length (considerably shorter than a league).
- Portuguese customary units
- Spanish customary units
- Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia
- The Oxford English Dictionary
- Espasa-Calpe Dictionary, Argentina and Mexico Edition 1945: headword Legua
- 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."
- Spence, E. Lee. Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, p. 32. Narwhal Press (Charleston), 1997.
- Spence's Guide to Shipwreck Research, by Dr. E. Lee Spence, Narwhal Press, Charleston/Miami, © by Edward L. Spence, 1997, p. 32
- Vikki Gray (1998-12-24). "Land Measurement Conversion Guide". Vikki Gray. Retrieved 2007-06-04.
- 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
- Pre-metric units of length
- Helmut Kahnt (1986) (in German), BI-Lexikon Alte Maße, Münzen und Gewichte (1, ed.), Leipzig: VEB Bibliographisches Institut, pp. 380
- IKAR-Altkartendatenbank der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Kartenabteilung.
- Fonstad 1991, Introduction, p. x