Burnt ships along the path to conquest

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


The following story stands alone and can be read without any knowledge of my prior works, but does involve story elements that appeared previously in succulent: beauty in the cactus and the rose

“You can’t execute the boy for spying,” the old abbot said patiently.

The conqueror squeezed his sword. “Why not?”

"It’s not eavesdropping if your wife shouts, ‘Then burn the fucking ships!’ loud enough for the whole city to hear."

"Leave my wife out of this!"

"Too late now, sir."


I almost went on a long rant about how feminist history is real history and it's irresponsible to ignore the role of general's wives and queens and patrician women throughout history, but I hope I'd be preaching to the choir on that. Instead, I bring you a brief history of burning ships.

"Burn the ships behind you" as an idiom has come to be synonymous with the idea of commitment. Unlike "burning bridges" it's not about "torching" your relationships with other people when you leave, but rather ensuring that there's "no way out but forward." It began as military advice, but has metastasized into the corporate world so thoroughly that I'm not even sure where I first heard it.

So after I finished writing Eavesdrop I decided to track down the origins of the phrase and see if the pop culture methodology has any basis in reality.

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