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Old Castilian units of length or distance

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This page describes an obsolete unit.

The unit described on this page was in use prior to modern methods of precision measurement. It was based on a standard which is no longer available, and which is not capable of being calibrated against modern measurement units. Therefore, the equivalence to modern SI units or to current United States customary units can only be considered approximate.

The old Castilian units of length or distance are listed in the following table. The names "pulgada," "pie," "vara," and "milla" are often used as Spanish translations of the corresponding United States customary units when measurements in those units are translated into Spanish.

No actual Castilian standards are definitively known by the present day, so that the only way of determining the length of any Old Castilian unit would be to measure something in modern terms whose length was given by the Castilians in their units. And because this procedure does not give us any clue to which unit may have been the base unit and which were subsidiary units, this distinction really does not apply to the Old Castilian units here given, so all the units really have equal status. However, most references appear to have treated the vara (Castilian yard) as the base unit, expressing other units in terms of the vara.

The values in this table are based on the figure of 0.835905 m for the length of the vara, given by Cardarelli[1] in his tabulation, which has presumably been determined by measurements of distances expressed in terms of the vara. This value is given in Wikipedia as well. Other values[2] have been found in the literature as well, differing slightly from Cardarelli's. Entries in this table are from Cardarelli, except that two units not cited by Cardarelli have been added: the coto = ⅛ vara[3] (not to be confused with the codo which is four times as large), and cordel = 50 varas[4]. It should be noted that Cardarelli writes "codo" as "codoc" in his table, but this unit does not look like a Spanish name, and "codo" appears to be the correct name[5].

Name of unit Translation Value in terms of smaller units Value in terms of the meter Value in terms of United States customary measure
punto point 0.00012093533 0.00476123 in.
linea line 12 puntos 0.001451224 0.0571348 in.
diedo finger or digit 12 lineas 0.0174147 0.685618 in.
pulgada inch 1⅓ diedos 0.0232196 0.914157 in.
coto 4½ pulgadas 0.104881 4.113706 in. = 0.342809 ft
sesma 1⅓ cotos 0.1393175 5.484941 in. = 0.457078 ft
palma palm 1½ sesmas 0.208976 8.227411 in. = 0.685618 ft
pie foot 1⅓ palmas 0.278635 10.969882 in. = 0.914157 ft
codo cubit 1½ pies 0.4179525 1.371235 ft = 0.457078 yd
vara yard 2 codos 0.835905 2.74247 ft = 0.914157 yd
paso pace 1⅔ varas 1.393175 1.523595 yd = 0.000866 mi
estado fathom 11/5 pasos 1.67181 1.828314 yd = 0.001039 mi
estadal 2 estados 3.34362 3.656627 yd = 0.002078 mi
cordel 12½ estadales 41.79525 45.707841 yd = 0.02597 mi
milla mile 33⅓ cordeles 1393.175 1523.5947 yd = 0.8657 mi
legua league 3 millas 4179.525 2.597 mi

A somewhat different table of equivalences is given by Woolhouse[6]. Note that he gives the equivalences in terms of British linear measure as of 1864, but the difference between the standard Imperial yard of that time and the modern International yard are inconsequential. The metric values are thus given by conversion, assuming the value of the international units.

Name of unit Value in terms of smaller units Value in terms of United States customary measure, and metric equivalent
punto 0.00642 in (0.0163 cm)
linea 12 puntos 0.077 in (0.1956 cm)
dedo (so spelled in Woolhouse) 9 lineas 0.6955 in (1.7666 cm)
pulgada 12 lineas 0.927 in (2.3546 cm)
sesma 6 pulgadas 5.564 in (14.1326 cm)
palmo (so spelled in Woolhouse) 12 dedos 8.346 in (21.1988 cm)
pie 2 sesmas 11.128 in (28.2651 cm)
vara 3 pies 33.384 in (84.7954 cm)
estadal 4 varas 133.536 in (3.39181 m)
legua 2000 estadales 22256 ft (6783.6 m)


  1. Cardarelli, François (1998). Scientific Unit Conversion. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 3-540-76022-9. 
  2. The variable vara (length of the vara in Spain and various former colonies)
  3. Whitney, William Dwight; Smith, Benjamin E. (1897). The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. New York: The Century Co.. p. 1293. 
  4. Whitney, William Dwight; Smith, Benjamin E. (1897). The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. New York: The Century Co.. p. 1263. 
  5. Whitney, William Dwight; Smith, Benjamin E. (1897). The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. New York: The Century Co.. p. 1084. 
  6. Woolhouse, Wesley Stoker Barker (1864). London, England: Virtue Brothers & Co. (Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing). 

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