Many people celebrate their favorite milestone birthdays with their friends and families throughout their lives. Whether it’s someone’s 21st birthday, 30th, 40th, 50th or even their 100th birthday, it can be fun to add something special for these eventful milestones. But, where did the term milestone come from anyway? And, how did it come to define some of the bigger birthdays in our lives?
The term milestone means pretty much what you’d think. It was a stone left at one mile intervals along Roman roads to indicate how far you’d traveled and/or how far you needed to go. And, while other cultures also were fond of mile markers (The Byzantine Empire erected a monument called “the Million” which served as a starting point for all of the roads leading to their cities, the Indians erected “Kos Minars” or Mile Pillars in medieval times, and Europe had various milestones throughout their countries) it was the Romans who saw the value of tracking distance.
The Romans were not only fond of milestones, but they were fond of obelisks (probably due to their contact with the Egyptians), so naturally they made their first milestones stone obelisks made from granite and/or marble or other stones. Eventually, they would simplify their milestones and make them as concrete posts. The Appian Way was the first Roman road to feature mile markers and the Romans even built a “golden milestone” to mark the presumed center of the Roman Empire at the time.
It’s kind of a boring story as far as word origins go, but at some point (the first known appearance of “milestone” in 1746) the word milestone transcended from literally meaning a stone every mile to meaning an important marker in one’s life. So, the next time you’re celebrating a milestone birthday, remember the Romans and the many roads that their empire built long ago.