Give Now

A Moment of Science

Why Is A Mile 5,280 Feet?

Our word "mile" comes from the Latin "mille," which referred to the Roman mile.

Our word “mile” comes from the Latin “mille,” which referred to the Roman mile. The Roman mile had military origins, since it was the equivalent of one-thousand double paces of their marching soldiers. The soldiers’ double paces were about five feet, so the Roman mile was about five-thousand feet.

Roman Empire

Since we got our measurement system of inches, feet, yards, and miles from the British, what does the Roman mile have to do with our mile? Well, Britain was part of the Roman Empire from the first to the fifth centuries A.D., so when the British began to standardize their measuring system there was a Roman influence.

Even before the British started keeping written records of land holdings, the farmers laid out their fields in plowed furrows that were consistently the equivalent of a modern 660 feet long. This distance became a standard part of their measurements. Over time, by slurring the words, this “furrow-long” distance became “furlong,” a unit that is now used almost exclusively in horse racing.


The British eventually used the Roman mile as a model in their measurement system, but they didn’t want to give up their furlong. The Roman mile was about seven-and-one-half furlongs, and when the British adopted it, they lengthened the Roman mile to eight furlongs, which equals 5,280 feet.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science