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Milla Passum, the Reason Why We Say Miles

Updated on May 24, 2020
Sandra Miliers profile image

Sandra was born in Toronto, but with a swedish mother. Came to Europe for university and ended up travelling the world.

Miles and kilometers.

There are two ways of measuring distance. Kilometers and Miles. But have you ever wondered how did the name come around?

Kilometers kind of says itself, "kilo" meaning a thousand, and then "meters". The same with kilograms. A thousand grams. But Miles, how did that word come around? And how did it end up being a measurement? The story actually goes all the way back to the time of the Roman empire. Let me tell you what happened...

Making a road network.

During the time of the roman empire, more than 90.000 km of “calzadas” (walkways/transport roads) were constructed, forming a vast net of roads throughout the empire. Together with the merchandising routes by ocean, it was possible to reach Rome from any part of the empire. The year 312 B.C, the first official “calzada” was inagurated, called “La Apia”, but since long before then, in the mediterranean area, and the middle east, there had been a long list of names of trafficked routes to transport merchandise and troops. These roads were well used and remade by the romans during their expansion.

Walking. Everywhere.

Now, you have to keep in mind that these people walked, or marched in reality, everywhere. So it must have been important for them to keep track of where they were, and which road they had to follow. So they figured out this really smart (and advanced for their time period) road network system.

Milla Passum.

The walkways would have big columns called “milarios”. The first milario would be placed at the very beginning of the "calzada", indicating the start of the route. Then they would place another "milario" after every thousand steps made (mill meaning a thousand in Latin) The columns were called “milla passum” (thousand steps made). They would have three inscriptions on them, the inscription on top would say who had ordered the "calzada" to be made, secondly it would say where the origin was, and thirdly, it would have a number dictating the number of milla passums from the start. Walking a thousand steps, you walk on average 1.6 km, which is equal to one mile. Hence the word milestone.

The Romans travelled in miles.

So that's the reason why we say miles, basically saying "from one milario to the next". And yes, ironically we can say that the Romans actually traveled in miles, not in kilometers. Even till today, in some parts of the world, we can still see these "milla passum", especially if you travel to southern europe, for example, I remember I seeing them when I lived and worked in Spain a couple of years back...


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