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Origin of Burn The Boats

209 B.C.

Dating back to 207 B.C., during the Battle of Julu against the Qin Dynasty, Xiang Yu, a fierce warrior from Chu State, who grew tired of his army commander, General Song Yi, waiting for a safe moment to attack. Xiang Yu killed General Song and took over the commanding post. He brought the army across the Yellow River, and ordered his men, just before the big battle, to break all cooking pots and burn all the boats and camp gear. His soldiers fought like no other, as they knew there was nothing to fall back on.  

On January 10, 49 B.C.E., General Julius Caesar entered Roman territory by crossing the Rubicon, a stream in what is now Northern Italy. In crossing the Rubicon, Caesar began a civil war that signaled the end of the Roman Republic. It was against the law to cross into Roman territory with an army, and Caesar knew this—he knew he was starting a civil war. He may have quoted one of his favorite plays when crossing the stream. The phrase "crossing the Rubicon" has become closely tied to "burning the boats" as they are both metaphors for making a decisive and irrevocable step or taking a fateful action that will have significant consequences. It represents the point of no return, where one commits to a course of action that cannot be reversed.

49 B.C.

In 711 AD, Tariq ibn Ziyad, a Muslim general serving under the Umayyad Caliphate, led an army of approximately 7,000 soldiers across the Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa to Hispania (modern-day Spain). Upon landing in Hispania, Tariq ibn Ziyad ordered his soldiers to burn their own ships. This act symbolized the commitment to their mission, eliminating any possibility of retreat. It demonstrated to his troops that they were fully dedicated to conquering the land, as there was no option but to move forward and face the challenges ahead. This decision also prevented any thoughts of desertion and ensured that the soldiers were wholly focused on the task at hand.

The phrase "Burn the boats" is often attributed to the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, who led an expedition to Mexico in the early 16th century. According to historical accounts, Cortés and his men arrived in Veracruz in 1519 and faced the daunting challenge of conquering the powerful Aztec Empire. As a motivational tactic, Cortés ordered his men to burn their own ships, leaving them with no option but to move forward and fight to conquer the Aztecs. By eliminating the possibility of retreat, Cortés aimed to instill determination and commitment in his soldiers, emphasizing that failure was not an option.

The Research Behind It

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