Written by the Winners

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Eddard Stark: My lord, what you're proposing is treason!
Littlefinger: Only if we lose.


When the official history of the setting is overwritten by the ones in power and their Propaganda Machine.

A prime belief of every Conspiracy Theorist.

Sub-trope of Might Makes Right. Supertrope of Internal Retcon. Variation on Unreliable Narrator. Contrast You Cannot Kill an Idea.

Examples of Written by the Winners include:

Anime and Manga

  • The motto of Big Bad Makoto Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin.
  • In Scrapped Princess, Earth was conquered by the aliens who then rewrote history, presenting the heroes of La Résistance and Les Collaborateurs as evil and good gods, respectively.
  • One Piece - Implied to have happened with the Lost Century, which was apparently removed from history for unknown reasons by the reigning World Government, with the only remaining records of that time being inscribed on indestructible tablets called Poneglyphs. Anyone capable of reading said Poneglyphs... become unpersons.
    • This trope is an explicit belief held by Donquixote Doflamingo, who says that whoever wins the current war between the World Government and Whitebeard will be the ones to define what "Justice" means.
  • Saint Seiya - Cancer Deathmask subscribes to this theory, but was in the wrong side of the conflict. However, in the Hades arc, he could've been subscribing to this and just been smart for once.
  • One of the tools that 20th Century Boys' Friend uses to win over all of Japan and, later, the rest of the world. It's so much easier to be a Villain with Good Publicity when the public at large is convinced that you saved the world instead of from that Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.
  • In Death Note, Light tells the Task Force that if Kira wins, he's justice, if he loses, evil. He loses.

Comic Books

  • In an issue of Peter David's Captain Marvel, Rick Jones and Genis-Vell travel to a far-flung After the End future where the Earth is covered in desert and has been colonized by aliens. The only surviving history was written by Doctor Doom. Notably, this means that all superheroes were portrayed as evil villains who stood in the way of progress. Hitler was still a bad guy, though, because he persecuted the Roma (Doom's ethnic group).
    • So, this is a literal case of history being written by the Victor (Von Doom).
  • In another issue of Peter David's (this time X-Factor), Quicksilver offers his own version of the phrase: "The future is written by the winners. History is written by the survivors."
  • In The Cartoon History of the Universe, Julius Caesar declares about the Gallic Wars, "I'll go down in history! By Jupiter, I'll write the history!!"

Fan Works

  • In Black Book of Arda, one of the most prominent Russian J. R. R. Tolkien fanfics, The Silmarillion is revised this way.
  • Played with in the Pony POV Series when Celestia reveals she erased Discord from the history books because, in her mind, he didn't deserve a legacy after all he'd done. She also explained that she didn't want the memory of those like Shady who were related to Discord to be tainted by association with him.


  • Braveheart, the opening monologue: "I shall tell you of William Wallace. Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes."
  • In the Underworld movies, Viktor rewrote vampire history to appear as if he was the original vampire, when, in fact, it was another Elder, Marcus. So this is a literal case of history being written by the Viktor.
    • Not quite: Viktor is quite willing to acknowledge the legend that vampires and werewolves came from the brother Corvinus ("One bit by a bat, the other bit by a wolf"), but he makes fun of it, probably to diminish the connection between Lycans and Vampires. On the other hand, he's quite willing to rewrite his murder of Selene's entire family.
    • Selene shows signs of being aware of this. She recognizes that Kraven is not enough of a warrior to have actually killed Lucian, but as the only survivor could claim that he did. She also initially comments that the Lycans started the war, but then admits that that is what is said anyway. By the second film, she's (accurately) assumed virtually everything Viktor has said is a lie.
  • One of Franklin's witticisms in 1776 reflects this:

Rebellion is always legal in the first person -- "Our Rebellion". It's only in the third person -- "Their rebellion" -- that it becomes illegal.

As does another:

Treason, eh? Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.

  • Avengers: Endgame: Past!Thanos, seeing that the survivors of the snap are Ungrateful Bastards trying to undo it, resolves to use the Infinity Stones to destroy the current universe and create a new one that only knows what it has been given, not the price of doing so, and no pesky Avengers to say otherwise.


  • 1984. This was the whole purpose of minitrue (The Ministry of Truth), which constantly rewrites history. ("He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past.")
  • In Arcia Chronicles, The Church rewrote history of the War of the Deer to remove all positive mentions of those heroes who didn't comply with its official doctrine.
  • The same is done in Reflections of Eterna, particulary in the prequel Flame of Eterna: Rinaldi Rakan was sentenced to death by his royal brother and left in history as a Complete Monster, while he was framed by his brother and Beatrix Borrasque.
    • In the Taligoian Ballad, his distant descendant Ramiro Alva was killed by Alan Oakdell for regicide and betraying the Cabitela City to the Maragonian Bastard. 400 years later, the last will of the "murdered" king was found and revealed that the king himself ordered Ramiro to give up the city.
  • Subverted...kind of...in Small Gods:

Winners don't have glorious victories. That's because they're the ones who get to see what the battlefield looks like afterwards. It's only the losers who have glorious victories.

Most people will take any excuse they can get to have had a glorious victory, but meh...this is the Discworld, after all. And the quote is from a tortoise.
    • Another Discworld example, from Hogfather, as Susan tells a bedtime story:

"And then Jack chopped down what was the world's last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant's children didn't have a daddy any more. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no-one asks inconvenient questions."

  • A couple examples from Larry Niven's Known Space universe where victors wrote the original history of a colony world:
    • In A Gift From Earth, the official histories say that the social stratification of Plateau was initially agreed upon by the crew and colonists because the crew had done the work and taken the risks. In fact, the original crew "convinced" the original colonists at gunpoint.
    • In Fleet of Worlds, the official histories say that the Puppeteers rescued a crippled human colony ship and settled its occupants on one of their worlds. In fact, the Puppeteers themselves had attacked the ship out of panic that it had discovered one of the worlds being moved into the fleet, and then enslaved the occupants in order to breed a compliant population.
  • Santa and Pete: where young Pete asks his amateur historian grandfather, "Who was right, the Indians or the Dutch?" His grandpa laughs and answers, "Depends on who's tell the story."
  • Of the latter, Lois McMaster Bujold's The Vor Game. Gregor hasn't heard any of the stories about his father except stuff he could dismiss as propaganda. Miles is able to assure him that the stories he has heard are not all true.
  • In The Egyptian Sinuhe muses that due to Horemheb's rewriting of history no one will ever remember the three Pharaohs that preceeded him: Ay, Tutankhamon and Achenaton. Horemheb was, obviously, less than successfull.
  • Addressed but averted in Timothy Zahn's Vision Of The Future:

Shada: What do you mean by "true" [history]? What does anyone mean by "true"? We all know history is Written by the Winners.
Jorj Car'das: History is also written by the bystanders... peoples who had no park or stake in what happened. Would you accuse them all of lying?

  • The Sundering reimagines The Lord of the Rings with an aversion of this trope.
  • In The Fall of the Kings, earlier in the setting world's history, the kings and their wizards were overthrown and the ruling nobility burned all the works about magic that they could find and made it illegal even to claim that magic was real. This causes some frustration for one of the protagonists, a historian living 200 years later who has trouble finding reliable sources for his research on the wizards. Especially when he proposes a debate to prove that the wizards' magic was real, disregarding the fact that the aforementioned law is still on the books...
  • Referenced in 1632 by Cardinal Richelieu, as to why he isn't surprised or bothered all that much by how villainous he looks in our uptime media.
  • In a BattleTech novel, a character counters to someone stating this that "History is written by the survivors" and that "given my track record, you should hope I remember you fondly".

Live-Action TV

  • Blackadder - Henry Tudor has everyone else erased from history in the first series.
  • Star Trek: Voyager - In an inversion, in the episode "Living Witness", the history was written from the perspective of the losers who were relegated to second class citizenry, and the winning faction was very annoyed at being portrayed as vicious, bloodthirsty tyrants who slaughtered innocents and made martyrs out of people that turned out to be pirates and raiders.
    • Debatable, as there were some hints that the winning side really were that bad. Most of the martyrs were those who were gunned down after being convinced by Janeway to surrender.
  • Tom Zarek uses this theory to gloss over murdering Laird and The Quorum on Battlestar Galactica. He loses.
    • Not that it mattered since history was one of the many, many things that the Colonials decided to jettison upon reaching Earth.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • "Contagion": Picard says this in reference to the Iconians.
    • Another episode has Picard asking for some help from his good buddy Gowron. Gowron himself was letting the press know that he did not have as much help from Picard as there really was; this trope's name was given word for word.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - the two-parter "The Way of the Warrior", Gowron quotes it again just before the Klingon fleet and Deep Space Nine engage in battle.
  • In one episode of Red Dwarf Rimmer invokes this with regard to Robert Scott pointing out that his diary is the only record of Laurence Oates' Heroic Sacrifice and that if Rimmer had been Scott he'd have bludgeoned Oates to death with a frozen husky and eaten him telling everyone that he had sacrificed himself. As is immediately pointed out by Lister, however, Rimmer is an exceptionally self-centred and ignoble person.
  • A variation in that they didn't really "win", but the version of the Peacekeeper battle against the Venek Horde that Aeryn relates in the Farscape episode Different Destinations. Subofficer Dacon was a cook and only ended up negotiating the ceasefire because everyone else was killed. Alternatively, if this is a case of a Stable-ish Time Loop, he was just following Aeryn's instructions in the first place.


  • Some Satan Is Good beliefs held this about The Bible.
  • Averted in Greek Mythology, where it is established that Chronos ruled over a Golden Age, so the Olympians didn't bother to hide that.

Tabletop Games

  • In Eberron there was the War of the Mark, the first half of which was basically genocide preformed by the dragon mark houses against those with aberrant dragon marks, and the second half was a war because the victimized party got organized and put up a valiant effort, anyways it didn't end well. Most people don't like and fear aberrant dragon mark wielders, although the extent of the prejudice is up to the DM. The dragon marked houses however are quite accepted, and while many people know of the War of the Mark (despite it happening almost 2,500 years ago), almost none know what actually happened.
  • This helps explain the untidiness affecting a lot of Warhammer 40,000's backstory. The Space Wolves know that the Thousand Sons were traitorous sorcerers that their forebearers rightfully punished for using forbidden magics, while the Thousand Sons know they suffered an unjust and unprovoked attack ordered by the Emperor they up until then had loyally served. The Horus Heresy novels reveal that while the Thousand Sons were using sorcery, they were trying to warn the Emperor about the imminent rebellion, but then the true traitor, Warmaster Horus, changed the Space Wolves' orders from "bring in for questioning" to "kill them all," and the psyker-hating Space Wolves were happy to oblige. Nowadays the idea that the Space Wolves were played or that the Emperor should have believed the Thousand Sons' warning are treated as heresy.
    • Another example is the history of the Dark Angels. Outsiders know the chapter to be one of the original First Founding legions and exemplars of loyalty. The chapter itself is wracked with guilt over how fully half their members turned traitor during the Horus Heresy, a secret they jealously guard and which drives them to obsessively hunt these Fallen Angels. Meanwhile there's hints that the Dark Angels' primarch may have been sitting out the civil war altogether, and the "Fallen" were merely defending themselves against their possibly traitorous kin...
      • This Trope and the Lion's ultimate allegiance are dealt with in the Age of Darkness anthology story Savage Weapons, Lion'el is absolutely loyal to the Emperor but his campaign against the Night Lords, and the Chaos Gods intervention in the Warp will prevent him from ever reaching Terra to aid in the defence. Night Haunter himself directly taunts Jonson stating that the Lion's character will always be questioned because he not was at Terra.


  • The majority of Shakespeare's Histories (That is: King John, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Richard III and Henry VIII) feature this to a greater or lesser degree, seeing as how Shakespeare wrote histories for the winners, his 'sponsors'. The other wiki's article is a brief introduction to this.
  • The Wizard's song "Wonderful" in Wicked is all about this. ("A man's called a traitor- or a liberator. A rich man's a thief- or philanthropist. Is one a crusader, or ruthless invader? It's all in which label is able to persist.") Of course, he's used this to his advantage by wielding the Propaganda Machine against his political opponents.


  • Valkyria Chronicles: The known history has The Valkyria as demigods who arrived from the north and saved the land from the Darcsen race, who were fighting devastating wars with Ragnite weapons. The Valkyria are still worshiped as gods and saviors, and the Darcsen are prosecuted and marginalized. In truth, the Darcsen were peaceful, and the Valkyria were invaders who enslaved them - as well as causing enormous destruction with their ragnite weapons. They rewrote history to suit themselves, and hid the truth from all but their own descendants.
  • Star Trek: Birth of the Federation - When you choose to play the Cardassians, their opening claims this as one of their motivating principles.
  • Fire Emblem Tellius reminds you that Chaos Is Evil. Uh, then you uncover the millenium-long coverup setup by the one survivor of the Law vs Chaos War. And he's the King of Dragons!
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones has a variant of this. The common myth is that the Demon King was defeated by the "Five Heroes" led by Grado. It turns out that the "Five Heroes" were led by Morva, the leader of the dragonkin. Together, they defeat Demon King. However, as centuries pass, the human nations which the heroes founded eventually forgot about Morva. The people of Caer Pelyn are rather unhappy about this, believing the other nations are being ungrateful to the Great Dragon who saved mankind.
  • In Tales of Symphonia, quite a bit of the legend of Mithos the Hero is false, created by Mithos himself
  • In Last Scenario, pretty much all of the standard history is a load of crap. This is used as part of the game's subversion of Video Game Tropes of all kinds, as it means the opening Info Dump lies to you.
  • Legacy of Kain
    • Legacy Of Kain: Defiance This is what Raziel says upon finding out what the Hylden have to say about their war with the Ancients.
    • In Blood Omen 2, Kain combines this with In Their Own Image;

Kain: "Oh, Sebastian. Our destiny could have been glorious. The land was ours for the taking. History would have been rewritten in our image."

  • This point is made by Captain Price and General Shepherd in Modern Warfare 2. One of them is very much counting on it.

History is written by the victor. History is filled with liars.

  • Assassin's Creed posits that all of history is deliberately distorted by The Knights Templar to strengthen their position, cover up their existence, and vilify the Assassins. This Hand Wave permits the dev team to stuff the series with exquisite research while still taking creative license with history when necessary for the sake of the story.
  • Invoked in the Thief series, as the Keepers' motto is "Propaganda is written by the winners. History is written by the observer."
  • In Red Dead Redemption, after the final mission no matter how high or low you go on the Karma Meter, Edgar Ross sees to it that John Marston is remembered by most as a vile monster.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics is full of this trope. Saint Ajora and the Lucavi in the past and then the official history of Ramza and the Kingdom as a whole. Possibly subverted by the Durai Reports though.
  • In Guild Wars, White Mantle history records Saul D'Alessio's final battle against the Charr as a defeat. In fact, D'Alessio won the battle, but his gods murdered most of his followers and abducted him, never to be seen again. Ironically, this would lead to D'Alessio being villified by the people who overthrew the White Mantle when he would have likely sympathized with their cause.
  • Mentioned by developers of League of Legends as the reason why Demacia is perceived as "good", while Noxus is "evil".
    • The Journal of Justice is written by the League(neutral organization) and averts this trope(see also Morgana vs Kayle).
  • Mentioned in the Russian campaign of Empire Earth.
  • The Fallout 3 expansion Operation: Anchorage has this as part of its backstory - a General Chase commissioned an elaborate virtual reality simulation of the Alaska campaign of the Sino-American War, in which he played a key role. But instead of serving as an adviser he kept tweaking and changing the script, even as the world shuddered towards nuclear war, until the events depicted in the simulation bore little resemblance to what actually happened (including entirely fictional Chinese secret weapons). The technicians developing the program privately worried that the man had gone insane. Then they all died in a nuclear apocalypse.

Western Animation

  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Headband", Aang (in disguise) attends a Fire Nation school for a day. During the class's history lesson, the teacher quizzes the students on how Fire Lord Sozin defeated the "Air Nation Army". Of course, Aang (and the viewers) know full well that the Air Nomads were a mostly peaceful population of monks, who didn't even have an established government, much less an army, and that Sozin's attack against them wasn't so much a battle as it was outright genocide. When Aang tries to point this out, the teacher snaps that, unless he was actually around 100 years ago, he shouldn't be questioning the Fire Nation's history books.

Real Life

To minimize the danger of history politicizing discussion, please refrain from adding examples that are less than 200 years in the past.

  • Pretty much anything you were taught about Christopher Columbus or the story of Thanksgiving in Elementary School, if you're American. Though this is slowly changing.
    • YMMV on whether the change feels more like going to the opposite extreme than a move towards neutrality.
    • Similarly in American textbooks: The American Revolution. America won, so the war is written as downtrodden citizens rising up against an oppresive ruler. If America lost, it would have gone down as one of the most heinous examples of treason against the British government.
  • Both the Persians and the Greeks have wildly different accounts of the Battle of Thermopylae. Both sides agree that Persia won, but the real question is how outnumbered the Greeks were, and how long they held off the Persians. The West tends to go by the Greek account, though.
  • Nearly all of our information about the Roman Empire comes from Roman sources. The only reason we are at all aware of the Romans ever doing anything bad is because of Values Dissonance (they wrote about something that seemed good to them, like efficiently exterminating a particularly troublesome tribe). And then, our information about the Roman Empire has been mostly processed through Christianity, which means we need to keep in mind the possibility of Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Villain Upgrade, particularly on part of Christian and Pagan emperors.
    • There is little evidence outside a few passages in Suetonius to suggest that Tiberius had a rape palace built on Capri. It is also worth remembering that Suetonius was commissioned to write his history by the Flavian dynasty which succeeded Tiberius's own Julio-Claudians. The Flavians were akin to modern "family values" politicians who espoused a return to the piety of Augustus and the Republic, in deliberate contrast to the supposed excesses of the later Julio-Claudians.
    • Domitian and Nero seem to have gotten the shaft from Christian scholars, for example, while Constantine is very well thought of. Of course, Domitian and Nero also had contemporary detractors who made sure their names were vilified, possibly with cause, at least partially. Caligula wasn't nearly as batty as he's portrayed by Suetonius, and Nero wasn't anywhere near Rome when it burned; when he returned, he organised massive aid for the city, despite the rumors he contributed to the damage. Also, he played the lyre, not the violin, so the fiddling thing is wrong anyway.
    • While the Flanderization of Caligula is surreal enough, it's nothing compared to what his daughter and sister got. (Meassured in surrealness rather then evilness.) The official history on the emperor Caligula teaches us that the conspiracy that had him murdered was very brave, wise, and benevolent. Not only was Caligula so evil and mad that he totally deserved to die, his two years old daughter who was murdered at the same time (because she was his only heir and thus a threat to the usurper) was also so evil that she totally deserved to die. The same history writing tell us not only that all political decisions he ever made was evil, crazy and stupid, but also that many of them was very popular... but that's only because the population is stupid. The later theory was also used to Hand Wave why empress Drusilla was considered a popular politician... while using unsubstantiated slander to Retcon her into a mere Sex Slave of her brother.
    • The objective historical truth about Drusilla is that the imperial oath was aimed at her as well as her brother, that the coins of the empire depicted her like they would depict any emperor, that she had a imperial cult around her just like the other emperors had, and that there was a national mourning when she died. Also, that she was married to another man and that her brother was married to another woman. Two of the funny quirks about the rumors about Brother-Sister Incest is that they 1. Seems to have started after Caligula's death, and thus long after Drusilla's death. 2. That the story was simplified by pretending that Drusilla's husband and Caligula's wife didn't exist, rather then commenting on how they reacted to the stories.
    • The ruins of Pompeii were a great find in large part because they were uncontaminated by this (though it is also valued for a lot of mundane information about Roman life).
  • Richard III of England is a good example. While he wasn't the nicest guy around, he was also not the Complete Monster that the dynasty that succeeded him portrayed him as, either, as the modern research shows. It doesn't help that Shakespeare was with the Tudors on this issue.
  • Ivan IV of Russia. Consider at the very least the fact that he actually prayed for those he sentenced to death. Though, that would not be especially abnormal for his highly religious time. Still, there is plenty of historical debate as to whether he destroyed Muscovite society and caused the Time of Troubles or whether he dug out the foundations of Peter the Great's new Russian Empire (or both). There is also debate as to whether his epithet "Groznii" means "Terrible" in the modern sense of "horrible" or in the Old Testament sense of "awe-inspiring". The fact remains that he has been used as a historical justification for the need of a strong leader in Russian society (see: Stalin).
  • A rare subversion can be seen in the Mongol conquests of everything from China to Hungary. In addition to more conventional tools of war, among their most effective weapon was their reputation. They deliberately committed horrific atrocities, and actively encouraged the spread and exaggeration of the stories (which were pretty bad to begin with by any standard). The primary purpose of this was to make their enemies shake in their boots when the Mongols came knocking, breaking the enemy morale, and leading many adversaries to outright surrender without a fight (it was that or be butchered down to the last man, woman, child and dog).
The sheer amount of those who chose to surrender due to hearing such gruesome tales may have even saved lives in the long run, at the cost of absolutely brutalizing those that did die. This is a subversion as both winners and losers agree on their version of events—the losers because they were powerless to stop the flow of rumors counter-productive to the war effort, and the winners because it suits them to have a reputation as bloodthirsty warmongers that only give you one chance to surrender before they take everything you own, slaughter your children, rape your wife, burn down your house, use you as a human shield against your own soldiers (often by filling a spiked trench with corpses so that they could ride over it) and then have a good laugh about it, not necessarily in that order.
  • Peter I of Castile is Peter the Lawful in chronicles written by his supporters and Peter the Cruel in those written by his enemies. Since he lost the civil war that dethroned him, the second version is the one that has stuck to the modern day.
  • Subverted a few times where the events in question were much more important and significant to the losing side than to the winning one.
    • The popular image of the Hundred Years' War is very much shaped by the English narrative (partly helped by William Shakespeare) and what people remember are the three great victories of Crecy, Poitiers (Maupertuis), and Agincourt, while even the French hardly remember their resounding victories at Patay, Formigny and Castillon, preferring to focus on tragic heroine Joan of Arc - and even in her case more on the comparatively minor achievement in the relief of Orléans instead of her involvement at Patay, and her death. This troper suspects it may be because this was the last time for centuries that the English army was able to defeat the French unaided by allies, while the French prefer to remember the times afterwards when they were able to hold their own against several other powers at the same time.
    • Similarly, the popular image of the English-Scottish wars from the middle ages to the last "1745" Jacobite rebellion seem largely dominated by Scottish narratives, probably because these wars are important in defining the Scottish identity, while they were of relatively minor importance to the English, who had bigger fish to fry in wars against e. g. the French and Spanish or among themselves. Thus while Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn are well-remembered, not a lot of Englishmen care to remember Culloden with pride and even battles where the English forces achieved brilliant and resounding victories despite being outnumbered, like Flodden Field and Dunbar (1650), are almost unknown.
    • For patriotic Serbians, the lost battle of Kosovo (1389) is perhaps the defining moment of their country's history. For the Turks it is one hard-fought Ottoman victory among many.
      • Kind of hard to say the Turks could write it off so easily, that A) They lost the entirety of that particular part of their army and B) It resulted in the death of their Sultan Murad.
      • The battle ended up in a draw, with both army commanders being killed and both armies being crippled and unable to continue the fight. Family ties (the Serbian prince Lazar's daughter married Murad's son) and shifting of allegiances (Some Serbians lords, including Lazar's son were allies of the Ottoman empire) muddle the issue even more.
    • Similar to the Scottish example but even more extreme, every battle in which the Irish faced the English is almost completely forgotten about in England while being seen as watershed moments in Irish history. This includes not only the rare occasions when the Irish actually won such as Yellowford (1598) but also occasions like the Battle of Kinsale (1601) when English commanders pulled off spectacular victories. The one partial exception seems to be the Battle of the Boyne (1690) - and even there it is only recalled in England because Ulster Unionists are so vocal about it.
  • In a strange inversion, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms (very loosely novelized as Romance of the Three Kingdoms) was officially commissioned by a supporter of the losing side (Shu) after the fact, and as a result many historical characters from Wu and Shu (who lost) are lionized, while Wei, the victor, is demonized. Cao Cao, in particular: he was historically rather a good ruler.
  • Privateers get this naturally...some of the biggest and most well known? Sir Francis Drake and Capt. Morgan (the one who...you know...has a certain drink named after him). Celebrated heroes in England...demons of history to Spain.
    • The above seems to be speaking of modern history. Finding a text by the losing side in ancient history is extremely rare. Furthermore, there is no law that states Written by the Winners and Lost Cause tracts are mutually exclusive - each side might get their viewpoint across, both will be biased. If there is actually a person that disbelieves this trope happens in Real Life, then I have a bridge over some swamp-land in Florida on the moon to sell them.
    • Suetonius and other Roman histories are cases of losers (ie: the Senatorial Elite) writing the history which is no small part of why the first twelve Caesars come across as such villains. From classical times onward losers have been very good about getting their side into print - at least in the West. The Soviet Union of course was another story.
  • Some of the most early works of history can be seen as aversions and subversions: Herodotus was from Halicarnassus, which was part of the Persian Empire, although he wrote his Histories for the Greek victors. And Athenian Thucydides wrote the history of the Peloponnesian War, which Athens lost. Perceptions of the trial of Socrates are largely shaped by the accounts by Socrates' student Plato. Josephus Flavius, who had commanded a fortress in its defense against the Romans, wrote the main account of the Jewish War (which probably still was coloured by his personal attachment to the Flavians). Many books of the Bible also can be seen as aversions, as most people will know the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah from the Old Testament, not from the accounts of the empires that conquered them.
    • And then there's a huge gap between what scholars know and what the population believed. Up until recent times when scholars studies are more readily available to the general public, it is not at all strange to think this trope is in play in lots of real life cases.
    • As noted in History is Written by the Losers by T. Greer, Thucydides names few Spartans more than once… except Brasidas, because of course the more awesome Brasidas was, the less embarrassing it was to get beaten by him.

Those who rule do not have the time to write about it. Occasionally history produces a Caesar or a Mao, men who can lead the masses to war on the one hand, while serving as prolific propagandists for their cause on the other. The greater part mankind is not so talented. Sima Guang would never have finished his history had he not been shunted out of Song court politics. Had Thucydides defeated Brasidas, he would be known today not as a historian, but as a military strategist, a strategist who never had the time to travel the world and collect the material needed to write his history. Even winning historians need time in defeat to write their histories—had Churchill’s party not been kicked out of power by British voters after the Second World War was over, Churchill’s famous account of that war would never have been written.
When high position is stolen from you, and access to the heights of wealth and power denied, there is little one can do about it—except write. History is thus rarely a “weapon of the weak.” The judgments of the historian do not serve the margins. They do not even serve the masses. They are a weapon in the hand of defeated elites, the voices of men and women who could be in power, but are not.

  • Regarding Israel, there are multiple Egyptian stelae from multiple eras noting how one Pharaoh or another "completely destroyed" them.
  • From a class perspective as opposed to a national one: Most of history (at least until modern times) focused on ruling and upper class males because ruling and upper class males dominated society, were generally the ones who knew how to write history, and were only interested in the affairs of their peers (i.e. other ruling and upper class males). There are remarkably few historical works that focus exclusively on women, members of the peasant classes, or the bourgeoisie.
  • Rather averted in the case of the American Civil War, where there are plenty of pro-Confederate accounts. This of course started with the fact that many Southern generals and politicians were forced into inactivity after losing the war and thus had more time to devote to writing their memoirs. A fairly extreme example is that Confederate president Jefferson Davis wrote a multi-volume apologia of his government while his victorious opposite number Abraham Lincoln for an obvious reason never got around to writing his account.
  • The early 19th century Merina conquest of Madagascar. The official account, taught in schools, is told from the Merina perspective: a tiny highlander kingdom that manages to unite and modernize the whole island through diplomacy and brilliant military strategies. For many non-Merina though, the story goes differently: the conquest was a series of bloody wars led by the megalomaniac Merina monarchy with help by foreigners (mainly the English). To this day, the whole thing still causes friction, mainly in that Merina politicians are often distrusted by the other ethnies and (actively or not) are often prevented from reaching leadership positions.
  • In many cases, it was also a case of history being written by those who could write, period. Or the chance which accounts survived to posterity.
  • In European history it is quite common for histories of a large war to come from everyone concerned. That is because despite all of Europe's wars it is rare that a major state is actually eliminated. Usually they just hold a Peace Conference, exchange provinces and then get back to plotting their next evil deeds.
  • Invoked by Winston Churchill, who is also the Trope Namer

History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.

(And he did: among other works, a six-volume History of the Second World War.)