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In 'Game of Thrones' and its sequels, George R R Martin refers to places as being hundreds or even thousands of leagues apart. I thought a league was three miles, but if so, his characters are travelling around really fast. Is he using 'league' for 'mile'?

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The Roman league was just under a mile and a half, which may be more applicable. I'm not familiar with the context. –  Travis Christian Dec 7 '11 at 17:49
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how long do they supposedly take to get places, say 100 leagues away? –  Kevin Dec 7 '11 at 18:05
    
I've read the first two volumes on audiobooks, so it's a bit hard for me to go back and get specifics. However, I've been struck by mentions of "thousands of leagues", journeys that should take months on horseback, so I wondered if "league" meant something smaller. –  Charles Anderson Dec 8 '11 at 8:30
    
@CharlesAnderson that would depend on a lot of factors. At full gallop a mounted horse can do ~30mph; a single rider with spare horses could easily cover a thousand leagues in under a week (if he was willing to ride his horses to exhaustion) –  Michael Edenfield Apr 8 '13 at 14:13
    
@Michael Edenfield But in the book it's armies (travelling at most 30miles per day) that seem to be able to cover hundreds of leagues in very little time. –  Charles Anderson Apr 9 '13 at 7:24

8 Answers 8

up vote 26 down vote accepted

So Spake Martin:

Yes, a league is three miles.

And on the issue of distances and inconsistencies:

I have deliberately tried to be vague about such things, so I don't have obsessive fans with rulers measuring distances on the map and telling me Ned couldn't get from X to Y in the time I say he did.

However, if you really must know, you can figure out the distances for yourself. The Wall is a hundred leagues long. A league is three miles. Go from there.

But if you turn up any mistakes in travel times by using that measure, let it be your secret.

Shhh! We won't tell if you don't!

P.S. Do not click this link.

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Don't Touch It, You Idiot! –  gnovice Dec 7 '11 at 20:56
    
It is nice to note too that they would most likely think of distances as less "point A is x distance from point B" but more, how long it takes to get from point A to B. A day's march, a month's journey, etc. –  NominSim Apr 18 '12 at 13:28

George R. R. Martin says that events aren't written chronologically and the chapters happen in a day or a month or a year... So it's not that these characters are all over the place in a short time frame because you never really know how long journeys take unless the author flat out tells you. Also, sometimes the characters back track or have to deal with some sort of issue so they might take longer to get from point A to point B.

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That's an added benefit of the seasons being so steeply mismatched from the year cycle, you just accept that the time flow is imprecise and enjoy the story. –  Dacio Dec 17 '13 at 20:54

In addition to Gilles' answer; there is proof in the books that a league is roughly equal to three miles.
From A Dance With Dragons:

“One hundred leagues from Deepwood Motte to Winterfell,” said Artos Flint, the night the argument boiled to a head in Galbart Glover’s longhall. “Three hundred miles as the raven flies.”
-A Song of Ice and Fire: A Dance With Dragons, Part One - Dreams and Dust, Chapter Fourty-Two (The King's Prize).

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On page 605 of a Dance with Dragons, Stannis is 100 leagues from Winterfell, or "Three hundred miles as the crow flies."

So it sounds as if GRRM is using something close to the standard 3.48 miles definition of a league.

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Characters don't travel that fast - its just that describing three weeks of travel isn't very interesting, either on the page or on TV. They skip the travel time unless lots of things happen on the way. Compare how long it takes for Arya to travel from Winterfell to King's Landing. It was virtually instant compared to the whole second book to return.

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The league originally referred to the distance that a person could walk in one hour. The English league is indeed 3 miles, but there was no global standard and as such the league has fallen out of use as a unit of measurement. As far as I know, no definitive standard has been set for what a league actually is so I would personally go with the simplest which is the distance a person can walk in one hour.

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I've looked a couple of different times for definition of league(s) Wiki

originally meant the distance a person could walk in an hour.

If I recall, for Lord of the Rings; its distance was intended to be about 2 miles distance.

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Have you got any source for that final sentence? –  Moogle May 28 at 21:27
    
How is the Lord of the Rings relevant for this question? –  curiousdannii 13 hours ago

Jon Snow says the distance from the wilding camp to Dorne is 10,000 leagues. At 30,000 miles, that's longer than the earth's circumference. If this is really the War of the Roses and set in England (Yorks v Lancasters), then it's more like 1/10 mile per league, but then that doesn't work for the wall which should be hundreds of miles long. So I take the answer to be that GoT is 8,000 pages and keeping the distances correct was out of our league....

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