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.
Zig-Zagged in Real Life- winners, losers, third parties, descendants and people completely unrelated to the conflicts in question tend to write and rewrite and reinterpret history for any number of reasons or agendas, and contemporary authors even on the same "side" can wildly disagree on pretty much anything. That people often believe this trope to be true itself runs the gauntlet of aversion, inversion, subversion and playing the trope dead straight all at the same time. This is also connected with Grey and Gray Morality in that picking one side of the story over the other in this context does not necessarily make it correct.
Sub-trope of Might Makes Right. Supertrope of Internal Retcon. Contrast You Cannot Kill an Idea.
In One Piece, this is more or less the case with the Lost Century, though it's less "written" and more "entirely ignored". The World Government absolutely forbids any research into the century immediately prior to their founding. They will murder anyone and raze entire islands to keep that secret. The only record of that time is found on indestructible tablets called Poneglyphs, written in a dead language that only one living person knows how to read. Others could before, and the government had them systematically killed.
This also makes you wonder how they engraved the information onto the stone.
This trope is an explicit belief held by Donquixote Doflamingo, who says that whoever wins the war between the World Government and Whitebeard will be the ones to define what "Justice" means. Considering that Doflamingo is one of the descendants of the "winners," this is not surprising in the least.
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.
In Death Note, Light tells the Task Force that if Kira wins, he's justice, if he loses, evil. He loses.
Ravages Of Time so literally runs on this trope that in chapter 209, a historian employed by Prime Minister Cao Cao discusses with an old friend named Chen Gong how the historian is going to demonize the prior Prime Minister to make the current one look better.
Chen Gong: That's what happens after a dynasty change. In order to justify the rule, the enemy would have to take all the blame. Historians are but tools for propaganda.
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."
Nights Favored Child: After defeating Celestia, Nightmare Moon spends the next thousand years not only removing all traces of her from history, but also of the very concept of day, including removing words like "dusk", "dawn", "sun" and (notably) "twilight" from the lexicon.
Legends of Equestria: When Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon, her actual goal was to re-acquire equal footing with her sister, who had taken all the power in the country for herself. Luna fully intended to restore the day and go back to business as usual afterwards. Rather than give up sole power over the country, Celestia disposed of Nightmare Moon and vilified her in the history books.
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.
We later see the Sea Ponies in the Epilogue timeline are fed a completely rewritten version of history that's the complete opposite of what happened, right down to Discord blaming the Alicorns for the genocide he committed.
The Hooviet empire does this via propaganda, so that they never have to admit to having ever lost a war.
The Last Ringbearer Points out that the Red Book, which is the basis of The Lord of the Rings, is actually a history written by the winners. It's bursting full of examples. In it the Orks and Wild man of the south are simply people of color. The Red Book dehumanizes it's enemies, makes light of Aragorn using Necromancy to defeat the Mordorians and condemns the scientific nation of Mordor as corrupters by blaming the desertification of their homeland upon them. The war was started by Gandalf because the enemy technology was becoming stronger, while the magic of the eldritch elves and the wizards became only weaker as knowledge was lost. Saruman saw that the only way to stamp out science was to commit genocide and wanted nothing to do with it.
Further, Aragorn taunts the Mordorian general after having him shot in the back during a honor duel: "The history books will say you got killed by a midget and a broad."
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.
Directly addressed by former Secretary of Defense Robert S. Mc Namara in the 2003 documentary The Fog Of War who admitted that firebombing 63 Japanese cities and following it up with 2 nuclear bombs would be considered a war crime if not for the fact that he was on the winning side and then wonders why that should make any difference.
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.")
Animorphs. Interestingly, it's the humans that do this, refusing to put Jake on trial for war crimes while happily trying Visser One for the same charge.
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, particularly in the prequel Flame of Eterna: Rinaldi Rakan was sentenced to death by his royal brother and left in history as a 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.
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."
Orientalism by the Palestinian-American critic Edward W. Said is a non-fiction work that explores in detail how colonialist nations abuse their control of the media and command of universities and textbooks to spread stereotypes and Flanderization of a complex, subtle and regionally diverse culture and how this comes to define the general perception of the Middle East well into the 20th Century.
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.
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?
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".
Black Adder - 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. As it turns out, both sides weren't exactly saints to begin with.
It is very likely the history was originally written by the winners and only turned to favor the other side in the centuries of coexistence later. The story still puts almost all the blame on Voyager rather than the winners themselves. In the propaganda simulation, even the representative of the victorious species who made the deal for Voyager's involvement is horrified at their atrocities, but his objections are ignored.
Ultimately subverted at the end of the episode when we flash forward to the future to see that both sides have reconciled their differences (thanks in large part to the Doctor). The old anti-Voyager propaganda simulations are still on display, but only as an example of how past prejudices once pushed them apart.
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.
"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.
"The High Ground" has Kyril Finn point out to a captive Dr. Crusher that if George Washington had lost his war, he'd be remembered as a terrorist, and not a revolutionary.
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.
Archer: I wonder how history would have played out if Cochrane hadn't turned the tables on your invasion force.
In one episode of Red DwarfRimmer 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.
Crops up in the Once Upon a Time episode "Tallahassee". Captain Hook tells the Human-Giant wars as a war against brutal giants who came down to pillage the land and kill humans. Humans drove them back up the beanstalk, and killed all but one, the most vicious of them all. The last surviving giant claims humans started the war and slaughtered giants for no real reason, but since they won got to paint history how they wanted.The giant was telling the truth. Humans started the war for the giant's gold and magic beans, and gleefully slaughtered them.
Babylon 5: After conquering the Narns a second time, the Centauri lay the blame for the conflict squarely on their shoulders, to the point of placing every member of the Narn ruling council on trial for war crimes. Then again, the two powers have been taking stabs at each other ever since the Narns overthrew the Centauri the first time (including the Narns secretly selling Centauri weapons to humans during the Earth-Minbari War). And the Centauri are still not willing to acknowledge that the first time even happened either. They keep claiming that they landed peacefully on Narn and uplifted the primitives. Given that G'Kar's father was hung in the dessert by his thumbs until he died of dehydration, it's highly unlikely to have been the case.
Defied however, by Agron who swears that it is ultimately Spartacus who history will see as the hero.
Agron: One day, Rome will crumble and fall. But your name will be remembered forever.
Referenced in Stargate SG-1. Woolsey initially helps Kinsey in trying to shut down the SGC. He eventually realizes what kind of person Kinsey is, and then gives the President evidence of Kinsey's crimes. The following conversation then takes place:
Woolsey: I also hope that one day history recognizes that I tried to do the right thing.
President Hayes:Whose version of history, Mr. Woolsey?
Since WCW was bought out, WWE mostly only provides its own account of the Monday Night Wars, and spends a lot of time mocking WCW for its silly gimmicks (while the WWF had plenty of its own) and the mismanagement that led to its downfall. You'll seldom hear much about why Nitro beat Raw in their ratings war for so long, just that it happened. ECW on the other hand gets treated like a Worthy Opponent and gets much more respect (perhaps because its more marketable).
Averted in Greek Mythology, where it is established that Chronos ruled over a Golden Age, so the Olympians didn't bother to hide that.
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.
Paranoia: It's the year 214. It's always the year 214. We are at war with the Communists, always were, and always will be. The Computer Is Your Friend, and this is the history the Computer tells you. Questioning the Computer's history of the world is treason.
The history of the Realm in Exalted proclaims there was a time when the world was ruled over by demonic "Anathema" who harrowed and tormented mankind, and it was only through the overwhelming force of the Dragon-Blooded that they were driven back into the shadows. While this isn't entirely inaccurate from what sometimes happened under the rule of the Solars, it sure does obscure a lot of the nuances.
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 the Demon King; Morva is even the one to land the killing blow. 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, but Morva himself doesn't really mind.
''Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword has a rather half-hearted version of this. The prologue states that the Scouring, a brutal war between dragons and humans, began when humans broke the peace for no explained reason. Yet it doesn't go on to question the fact that the human "heroes" of that war are held in religious reverence and the one who joins your party is something of The Obi-Wan.
In Tales of Symphonia, quite a bit of the legend of Mithos the Hero is false, created by Mithos himself
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 Priceand 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).
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.
The aptly namedBorderlands 2 mini-mission "Written By The Victors" has you take a quick tour of the history of Hyperion and Handsome Jack. Naturally, every word of it is utter bull.
Hyperion hasn't "won" anything yet, but they're winning, and they own the news media on Pandora. Hyperion spreads its version of events through Hyperion Truth Broadcasting, where DJ Hunter Hellquist is always spinning reality to make Handsome Jack look like the hero and the Crimson Raiders look like the most vile villains imaginable.
In Mass Effect 3, the Morning War was really a civil war between the quarian minority who protested the extermination of the geth and the rest of the quarians. The quarian dissenters were quickly wiped out, and the surviving quarians pinned the blame on the geth who only took up arms in a futile attempt to protect their friends. Tali is naturally very disturbed when she discovers the truth.
Baten Kaitos is centered around the aftereffects of an ancient mythical battle between the god of evil and the gods of good. The prequel reveals that this essentially has the morality of the parties backwards - its just that the good guys (who were a group, not an individual as history recorded) had made A Deal With The Devil with an unrelated and forgotten third party.
One of the SCP Foundation's more bizarre entries is Bigfoot. According to the general clearance section, just seeing it causes you to have a percentile chance of instantly dying that increases the longer you spend looking at it. Except that's complete bull. The truth is that Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti were a nocturnal sentient race far more advanced than humans, being masters of Organic Technology, while humans were basically their own wild men of the forest. Man went from hunted to hunter, destroying 70% of their population in a single day and using their newly-acquired technology to rewrite the Sasquatch and their own memories to what we know today. They can communicate, and this is what they have to say:
we forgive you; given choice for now, not forever; let us back in
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.
Aang's quest to topple the Fire Lord would ultimately fix this.
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 oppressive ruler. If America lost, it would have gone down as one of the most heinous examples of treason against the British government.
Are any rebellions against Britain vilified today, though, as opposed to British governments that struggle against them? Chances are it still would have ended up being idealized.
It would probably have been barely mentioned, considering it was likely little more than just another chapter in Britain's conflict with France.
The only contemporary account of the Battle of Thermopylae to survive is by Herodotus, who came from a Greek town belonging to the Persian Empire but settled in Athens and wrote primarily for an Athenian audience. Other, later accounts from antiquity were also written by Greeks and are based either on Herodotus or other Greek historians, whose works have been lost. The Persian view of the battle, either in some form of historiography or in official documents, has not been handed down to us after the wars of Alexander the Great and the fall of the Achaemenid Empire. Later historians could note that the numbers given by Herodotus, especially for Xerxes' army, are too fantastic to be true, but are left to speculate as to what the actual ones may have been according to what they think is probably. This often can depend on where they come from.
The French Revolution. Of course, even at the time people knew it involved a lot of Gray and Grey Morality because of extremists on both sides, but nowadays we know that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were not nearly as bad of people as their contemporaries made them out to be. At best, they were victims of a corruption within the system that made a revolution almost inevitable regardless of their actions taken, and at worst they were just naive and incompetent.
Vlad the Impaler benefited from this. Sure, he was incredibly brutal, but it was that brutality that kept at bay the Ottomans who were trying to conquer Wallachia at every turn, at least for a time (Vlad ultimately failed to keep Wallachia free and ended his days in a Hungarian prison). As a result, modern Romanians consider him a national hero, who was "harsh but fair". Pretty good deal for a guy who spent decades putting people's heads on pikes. Of course, since those heads generally didn't belong to his own citizens, he did better than some of his contemporaries.
Nearly all of our information about the Roman Empire comes from Roman sources; these are often unreliable, as rewriting history to suit the present generation (or people in power) was a long-established Roman tradition. 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 with regards to 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 fiddle (which did not exist then), so the fiddling thing is wrong anyway.
To "fiddle" means to waste your time doing idle things; its not just the name of an instrument. That people thinks that's what it means to say "Nero fiddled" probably counts as an example in itself (or maybe an inversion). Also, the fiddle may have been derived from the lyre.
It doesn't help that the contemporary historians who wrote badly of Nero were tied to the senate, which Nero was actively trying to weaken in order to keep all the power from being held by one small group. That's not to say it wasn't for somewhat selfish reasons (Seneca implied he was very paranoid), but at the end of the day he was popular with the people, but unpopular with statesmen, and of course the statesmen influenced the history books.
While the Flanderization of Caligula is surreal enough, it's nothing compared to what his daughter and sister got (measured 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 year 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 were evil, crazy and stupid, but also that many of them were 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 an 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 1) Seem 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.
A more direct Roman example is their own writings about their enemies, especially the Celtic and Germanic tribes. The Romans were happy to malign them, and since they had little in the way of a written culture, historians pretty much took the Romans' word for it until the second half of the twentieth century. For example, all the evidence we have of druidic human sacrifice derives from Roman sources. However, there is archeological evidence (ritually killed corpses) to back up some human sacrifice at least, though it may well have been exaggerated.
In much the same manner of Richard III, Macbeth, King of Scotland, was rather unsurprisingly vilified by some rather biased English scholars after his death. In truth none of the contemporary sources of the time dubbed him a tyrant. In reality Macbeth's rule was by many accounts very successful, not to mention lengthy. In a period where monarchs were being killed and overthrown in short accord his reign lasted 17 years. In fact his reign was so secure he was even able to safely make a pilgrimage to Rome, a journey few rulers of the time would have undertaken for fear of being usurped in their lengthy absence.
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.
In Sweden, the Danish King Christian II is remembered as "Christian the Tyrant" because of his mass execution of Swedish nobility and ultimately failed attempts to re-take control of the rebellious Swedes. This name largely stuck because of the efforts of King Gustaf I Vasa, the revolutionary leader who deposed him from the Swedish throne, who was an absolute master of propaganda and slander against his opponents. There is a common belief among Swedes that King Christian II is called "Christian the Good" or "Christian the Peasant-Friend" in Denmark. This is not actually true, but the Urban Legend has survived because it is such a great illustration of this trope.
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.
Pretty much confirmed by the fact that the most famed French medieval victory in the country is Bouvines, where Philippe II Auguste's army and militia was alone against England, the Holy Roman Empire, Brabant, Holland, Lorraine and several rebellious vassals (Counts of Flanders and Boulogne).
For that matter, Joan of Arc herself-the French considered her a prophet, while the English considered her insane and/or a witch, with historical records shifting their tone after her capture.
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.
Kind of hard to say the Turks could write it off so easily, since 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 Yellow Ford (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.
The same thing happened to the defeat of the various Native American nations in North America. Whereas the predominate view was of "civilized" European people bring civilization to the frontier by defeating the "savages," now the popular view is the tragedy of the Native Peoples fighting a Hopeless War against the rapacious European conquerors. The Battle of the Little Big Horn, for instance, was originally depicted as Custer tragically dying in a heroic last stand against overwhelming numbers, whereas now it's more of an idiot general charging heedlessly into battle against the advice of his scouts, getting all his men killed along with himself in the process, and rightly so, as they had attacked the natives simply defending their land.
In a strange inversion, Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms (very looselynovelized 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.
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 were remarkably few historical works that focus exclusively on women, members of the peasant classes, or the bourgeoisie.
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 ethnicities 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 of which accounts survived into posterity.
The battle of Kadesh (1274 B.C.) is a well-known example. It is practically only documented from the Egyptian side, which should have something to do with the fact that the Hittite Empire was overthrown, never to return, about a century later while the Egyptian Empire survived in one form or another until Roman times and so was much more effective in preserving Ramasses II's ebullient accounts and monuments. Historians are still debating on whether, once you subtract Pharaonic propaganda, the battle should in truth be regarded as an Egyptian victory, a Hittite one, or a draw.
The Peloponnesian War was won by Sparta and its allies over Athenes and its allies, but since Spartans did not write histories (or indeed much literature of any kind), it is essentially handed down to us in the writings of two Athenians, Thucydides and Xenophon.
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.
History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.
All accounts of the Battle of Hastings, the most famous being the Bayeux Tapestry, were created by the Norman conquerors. No Saxon account of the battle survives.
The Bayeux Tapestry was commissioned by Normans, but actually made by Saxon needle workers. Some historians think they could have smuggled the implication that Harold swore allegiance to William only under duress onto the Tapestry under the noses of the Normans.
It's worth noting that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which started under Alfred the Great, continued to be written under William. After his death, an obituary states that William was "a loyal servant of God and ruthless to those who opposed his will". God's will or William's? Nicely ambiguous.
That Christians were executed in the Colosseum is true enough, but it's not often told that after the Edict of Milan, Roman pagans were executed in the exact same way, except that the executions only stopped when the last non-Christian was dead.
Not to mention that, although Christians were persecuted, the extent has been somewhat exaggerated, with it going in waves at different periods of the late Roman Empire. Martyrdom in fact was very popular among some Christians, to the extent that some in fact sought it out by provoking others (the Circumcellions). Stories of martyrs were very popular, the more gruesome the better, to the point that it became something akin to torture porn. After the Christians gained power, the persecutions became reversed as mentioned above-pagans were killed, pagan temples destroyed, and eventually paganism banned entirely, along with the Greek philosophy schools.
Common practice in Imperial China was that when one dynasty got overthrown and another took over, the new dynasty would write off the last Emperor of the former dynasty as a weak ruler. This was accepted as the way things naturally worked. There was even a "standard excuse" for this, namely writing the former Emperor off as a drunken sod who was occupied by woman all day and had a corrupt eunuch as chancellor. However, each dynasty also kept a record of its own rule, so most of the times they were protected somewhat from this trope.
The way people would decide when it was time to overthrow the old Emperor was when he had lost the Mandate of Heaven, which was Heaven no longer accepting him as a ruler because he was bad at it. In response to this, all sorts of disaster struck the land the Emperor ruled over, like droughts, floods, severely corrupted tax collectors and eunuchs... Considering that this land always included the Yangtze river, which tends to flood a lot, some people now believe that it was not Heaven which had decided the old Emperor should go, but that the last Emperor of a dynasty just had the bad luck that all those disasters happened during his reign, making the populace unruly, which a noble could then take advantage of in order to become Emperor himself (or herself, on one occasion).
Knights, albeit they both won and lost various wars, so this is more on them as a social/political class. Much like how we found out more recently with the samurai, the knights in most cases weren't the nicest of people. Sure, the Knight in Shining Armor existed, but they were in no way the majority. Most knights were essentially mercenaries who just happen to be much more heavily armed than the average one. Most nobles didn't trust them as far as they could throw them, King Philip IV of France had the original Knights Templar almost completely wiped out (primarily because he didn't want to pay off France's monetary debt to them), with his son having the pope finish the job. From the 10th to 16th centuries, most knights were pretty infamous for being particularly brutal and (ironically) honorless. Some of this did exist in writing from the time, like when Chaucer sneaked in a comment about the sacking of Alexandria in the Knight's Prolouge, which was historically known for a battle where the knights raped and pillaged everything they saw. Most of this part of knight history went away when the knights jazzed up their stories for the nobility. When not at war, knights commonly started waging private wars against each other. They were more like rival gangs at times than anything to do with "chivalry".
American popular history, and a wealth of historical documents written by the Founding Fathers, portrays the American Revolution as a glorious crusade for republicanism against the cruel tyranny of monarchism. In truth, the powers of the English monarch had been steadily eroding since the civil war over a hundred years prior, in particular by the Bill of Rights of 1689, which was influenced, as was the United States, by the ideas of John Locke. By the late 1700s, George III was a convenient scapegoat for the Founding Fathers to avoid slandering Parliament, who the nascent US would eventually have to negotiate with.