League (unit)

League (unit)

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A league is a unit
Units of measurement
A unit of measurement is a definite magnitude of a physical quantity, defined and adopted by convention and/or by law, that is used as a standard for measurement of the same physical quantity. Any other value of the physical quantity can be expressed as a simple multiple of the unit of...

 of length
Length
In geometric measurements, length most commonly refers to the longest dimension of an object.In certain contexts, the term "length" is reserved for a certain dimension of an object along which the length is measured. For example it is possible to cut a length of a wire which is shorter than wire...

 (or, rarely, area
Area
Area is a quantity that expresses the extent of a two-dimensional surface or shape in the plane. Area can be understood as the amount of material with a given thickness that would be necessary to fashion a model of the shape, or the amount of paint necessary to cover the surface with a single coat...

). It was long common in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

, but it is no longer an official unit in any nation. The league originally referred to the distance a person or a horse could walk in an hour
Hour
The hour is a unit of measurement of time. In modern usage, an hour comprises 60 minutes, or 3,600 seconds...

. Since the Middle Ages, many values have been specified in several countries.

English-speaking world


On land, the league was most commonly defined as three mile
Mile
A mile is a unit of length, most commonly 5,280 feet . The mile of 5,280 feet is sometimes called the statute mile or land mile to distinguish it from the nautical mile...

s (about 4.8 km), although the length of a "mile" could vary from place to place and at different times. At sea, a league was three nautical mile
Nautical mile
The nautical mile is a unit of length that is about one minute of arc of latitude along any meridian, but is approximately one minute of arc of longitude only at the equator...

s (about 5.6 km). English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 usage also included any of the other leagues mentioned below (for example, in discussing the Treaty of Tordesillas
Treaty of Tordesillas
The Treaty of Tordesillas , signed at Tordesillas , , divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between Spain and Portugal along a meridian 370 leagueswest of the Cape Verde islands...

)
.

Ancient Rome



The league was used in Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, defined as 1.5 Roman miles (7,500 Roman feet, 2.2225 km, 1.4 mi.). The origin is the "leuga gallica" (also: leuca Gallica), the league of Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

.

Argentina


The Argentinian league (legua) is 5.572 km (3.5 mi) or 6,666 varas: 1 vara is 0.83 m (32.7 in).

Australia


In certain districts of rural Australia, particularly far west New South Wales, one league is an approximate measurement of distance travelled in one hour by motor vehicle, usually 60 to 80 km (37.3 to 49.7 mi).

Brazil and Portugal


In Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

, Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 and other parts of the Portuguese Empire
Portuguese Empire
The Portuguese Empire , also known as the Portuguese Overseas Empire or the Portuguese Colonial Empire , was the first global empire in history...

, there were several units called league (Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

: légua):
  • Légua of 18 by degree = 6,172.4 metre
    Metre
    The metre , symbol m, is the base unit of length in the International System of Units . Originally intended to be one ten-millionth of the distance from the Earth's equator to the North Pole , its definition has been periodically refined to reflect growing knowledge of metrology...

    s
  • Légua of 20 by degree = 5,555.56 metres (Maritime légua)
  • Légua of 25 by degree = 4,444.44 metres


The names of the several léguas referred to the number of units that made the length corresponding to an angle degree
Degree (angle)
A degree , usually denoted by ° , is a measurement of plane angle, representing 1⁄360 of a full rotation; one degree is equivalent to π/180 radians...

 of a meridian arc
Meridian arc
In geodesy, a meridian arc measurement is a highly accurate determination of the distance between two points with the same longitude. Two or more such determinations at different locations then specify the shape of the reference ellipsoid which best approximates the shape of the geoid. This...

.

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.

France


The French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 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
Si
Si, si, or SI may refer to :- Measurement, mathematics and science :* International System of Units , the modern international standard version of the metric system...

 for a while but is now long discontinued.

As used in Jules Verne
Jules Verne
Jules Gabriel Verne was a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea , A Journey to the Center of the Earth , and Around the World in Eighty Days...

's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a classic science fiction novel by French writer Jules Verne published in 1870. It tells the story of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus as seen from the perspective of Professor Pierre Aronnax...

, a league is four kilometres.

Mexico


In Yucatan
Yucatán
Yucatán officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Yucatán is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities and its capital city is Mérida....

 and other parts of rural Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, 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.

Scandinavia



The Danish
Danish units of measurement
The Danes started with a system of units based on a Greek pous of which they picked up through trade in the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age. Some early standards of measure can be recovered from measured drawings made of the , which though dating to the early Iron Age exemplifies plank built...

 or Swedish
Swedish units of measurement
In Sweden, a common system for weights and measures was introduced by law in 1665. Before that, there were a number of local variants. The system was slightly revised in 1735. In 1855, a decimal reform was instituted that defined a new Swedish inch as 1/10 foot...

 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 7.5km to 12km depending on nation or region, but has since metrication been defined as 10km in Norway and Sweden.

Spain



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). Officially the league was abolished by Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

 in 1568, but it is still in use unofficially in parts of Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

, with exact meaning varying in different countries.

In the early Hispanic
Mexican American
Mexican Americans are Americans of Mexican descent. As of July 2009, Mexican Americans make up 10.3% of the United States' population with over 31,689,000 Americans listed as of Mexican ancestry. Mexican Americans comprise 66% of all Hispanics and Latinos in the United States...

 settlement of New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, and Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

, a league was also a unit of area
Area
Area is a quantity that expresses the extent of a two-dimensional surface or shape in the plane. Area can be understood as the amount of material with a given thickness that would be necessary to fashion a model of the shape, or the amount of paint necessary to cover the surface with a single coat...

, defined as being equal to 25,000,000 square varas or about 4,428.4 acre
Acre
The acre is a unit of area in a number of different systems, including the imperial and U.S. customary systems. The most commonly used acres today are the international acre and, in the United States, the survey acre. The most common use of the acre is to measure tracts of land.The acre is related...

s. This usage of league is referenced frequently in the Texas Constitution
Texas Constitution
The Constitution of the State of Texas is the document that describes the structure and function of the government of the U.S. State of Texas.Texas has had seven constitutions: the constitution of Coahuila y Tejas, the 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas, the state constitutions of 1845,...

. So defined, a league of land would encompass a square that is one Spanish league on each side.

Use in fiction

  • The seven-league boots
    Seven-league boots
    Seven-league boots are an element in European folklore. The boots allow the wearer to take great strides—seven leagues each step—resulting in great speed. The boots are often presented by a magical character to the protagonist to aid in the completion of a significant task...

     are a magical prop in some European folk tales.
  • Several authors have used the league to measure distances in their work. Examples are A Song of Ice and Fire
    A Song of Ice and Fire
    A Song of Ice and Fire is a series of epic fantasy novels by American novelist and screenwriter George R. R. Martin. Martin began writing the series in 1991 and the first volume was published in 1996. Originally planned as a trilogy, the series now consists of five published volumes; a further two...

     by George R. R. Martin
    George R. R. Martin
    George Raymond Richard Martin , sometimes referred to as GRRM, is an American author and screenwriter of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. He is best known for A Song of Ice and Fire, his bestselling series of epic fantasy novels that HBO adapted for their dramatic pay-cable series Game of...

    , J. R. R. Tolkien
    J. R. R. Tolkien
    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College,...

    's Middle-earth
    Middle-earth
    Middle-earth is the fictional setting of the majority of author J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy writings. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place entirely in Middle-earth, as does much of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales....

     (where one league is worth 3 miles), Robert Jordan
    Robert Jordan
    Robert Jordan was the pen name of James Oliver Rigney, Jr. , under which he was best known as the author of the bestselling The Wheel of Time fantasy series. He also wrote under the pseudonyms Reagan O'Neal and Jackson O'Reilly.-Biography:Jordan was born in Charleston, South Carolina...

    's Wheel of Time
    Wheel of time
    The Wheel of time or wheel of history is a concept found in several religious traditions and philosophies, notably religions of Indian origin such as Hinduism and Buddhism, which regard time as cyclical and consisting of repeating ages...

    , Christopher Paolini
    Christopher Paolini
    Christopher Paolini is an American author. He is best known as the author of the Inheritance Cycle, which consists of the books Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance...

    's Inheritance cycle
    Inheritance Cycle
    The Inheritance Cycle is a series of fantasy novels by Christopher Paolini. It was previously titled the Inheritance Trilogy until Paolini's announcement on October 30, 2007 that there would be a fourth book...

    , Tad Williams
    Tad Williams
    Robert Paul "Tad" Williams, born in San Jose, California, is the author of several fantasy and science fiction novels, including Tailchaser's Song, the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, the Otherland series, and The War of the Flowers....

    's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, Carol Berg
    Carol Berg
    Carol Berg is the author of several fantasy novels, including the books from the Rai-Kirah series, Song of the Beast, the books from The Bridge of D'Arnath series, and the Lighthouse novels...

    's Song of the Beast, and Stephen R. Donaldson
    Stephen R. Donaldson
    Stephen Reeder Donaldson is an American fantasy, science fiction and mystery novelist, most famous for his Thomas Covenant series...

    's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.
  • The Beatles
    The Beatles
    The Beatles were an English rock band, active throughout the 1960s and one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music. Formed in Liverpool, by 1962 the group consisted of John Lennon , Paul McCartney , George Harrison and Ringo Starr...

     film Yellow Submarine says in the beginning that the setting (Pepperland) is 80,000 leagues under the sea.
  • Jules Verne
    Jules Verne
    Jules Gabriel Verne was a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea , A Journey to the Center of the Earth , and Around the World in Eighty Days...

     used this unit in the title of two novels:
    • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
      Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
      Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a classic science fiction novel by French writer Jules Verne published in 1870. It tells the story of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus as seen from the perspective of Professor Pierre Aronnax...

    • Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
      Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
      Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon is a novel by Jules Verne, published in 1881.Unlike many of his other novels, this story does not have any science fiction elements. It is an adventure novel....

  • In Frank Herbert
    Frank Herbert
    Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr. was a critically acclaimed and commercially successful American science fiction author. Although a short story author, he is best known for his novels, most notably Dune and its five sequels...

    's Dune universe
    Dune universe
    Dune is a science fiction franchise which originated with the 1965 novel Dune by Frank Herbert. Considered by many to be the greatest science fiction novel of all time, Dune is frequently cited as the best-selling science fiction novel in history...

     the first sandworm
    Sandworm (Dune)
    The sandworm is a fictional form of desert-dwelling creature from the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. They first appear in the 1965 novel Dune, considered to be among the classics in the science fiction genre, and are iconic of the Dune series.In the series, the sandworms called Shai-Hulud...

     that Paul Muad'Dib rides was described as being "more than half a league long".
  • In Gene Wolfe
    Gene Wolfe
    Gene Wolfe is an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He is noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith, to which he converted after marrying into the religion. He is a prolific short story writer and a novelist, and has won many awards in the...

    's The Book of the New Sun
    The Book of the New Sun
    The Book of the New Sun is a novel in four parts written by science fiction and fantasy author Gene Wolfe. It chronicles the journey and ascent to power of Severian, a disgraced journeyman torturer who rises to the position of Autarch, the one ruler of the free world...

    , various antiquated units of measure (including the league, chain, span, and cubit
    Cubit
    The cubit is a traditional unit of length, based on the length of the forearm. Cubits of various lengths were employed in many parts of the world in Antiquity, in the Middle Ages and into Early Modern Times....

    ) are prevalent.
  • In Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade
    The Charge of the Light Brigade (poem)
    "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is an 1854 narrative poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson about the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War...

     begins: -
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
  • In the popular Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas
    Good King Wenceslas
    "Good King Wenceslas" is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen . During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king's footprints, step for step,...

    , 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..."
  • In David Eddings
    David Eddings
    David Eddings was an American author who wrote several best-selling series of epic fantasy novels.-Biography:...

    ' many volumes of fiction fantasy novels, including The Belgariad and the Mallorean, the primary unit of measuring distance is leagues.

See also

  • Anthropic units
    Anthropic units
    Anthropic units are units of measurement which explicitly arose from human physiology or behavior. Some were derived directly from the dimensions of the human body, and as such, are commonly referred to as anthropomorphic...

  • Medieval weights and measures for various definitions of the league.
  • Li (unit)
    Li (unit)
    The li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of 500 meters or half a kilometer...

    , a Chinese
    China
    Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

     unit of length (considerably shorter than a league).
  • Portuguese customary units
    Portuguese customary units
    The Portuguese customary units were used in Portugal, Brazil and other parts of the Portuguese Empire until the adoption of the Metric System in the 19th century.The Metric System was adopted by Portugal and Portuguese colonies in 1852 and by Brazil in 1862....

  • Spanish customary units
  • Walking
    Walking
    Walking is one of the main gaits of locomotion among legged animals, and is typically slower than running and other gaits. Walking is defined by an 'inverted pendulum' gait in which the body vaults over the stiff limb or limbs with each step...