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To minimize the danger of history politicizing discussion, please do not add any examples that are less than 200 years in the past.

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    Real Life - Antiquity 
  • 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 political grudges (i.e. they saw some imperial conquest as strengthening the power-base of someone they disliked so they slagged it and used it as propaganda). Furthermore, our information about the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity has been 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.
    • While the Demonization of Caligula is surreal enough, it's nothing compared to what his daughter and sister got (measured in surrealness rather than 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 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) they 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 than commenting on how they reacted to the stories.
  • A more direct Roman example is their own writings about their enemies, especially the Celtic/Gallic 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 archaeological evidence (ritually killed corpses) to back up some human sacrifice at least, though it may well have been exaggerated.
    • One weird part of the exaggerated lurid tales of Human Sacrifice ascribed by Romans to their enemies (Carthage, Celts, Germans) is that it has overshadowed the fact, mentioned by Livy and Pliny the Elder that the Romans themselves practised human sacrifice and ritual murder. After defeat at Cannae, the Romans sacrificed two Gauls and two Greeks (both were married couples and likely slaves) by burying them alive in the Roman Forum. Livy insists that this was the last time it happened but Pliny states it was only banned decades later in 97 BCE, which must mean that it was a lot more widespread and regular and such phrases smacks like Suspiciously Specific Denial. Thanks to the Romans getting Historical Hero Upgrade with Nostalgia Filter in later Europe, you often find novels like Salammbô demonize the Carthaginians by mixing in a bunch of human sacrifice cults but not pointing out that Romans did the same after Cannae.
    • Likewise there is evidence that the Romans did see other forms of execution as ritual murder. For instance, deformed infants were left "exposed" (and sometimes dumped in trash heaps), and Vestal Virgins who were "unchaste" were buried alive in stone pillars. It's also argued that Gladiator Games evolved from earlier sacrificial rituals as did some lurid forms of execution such as tossing people to lions (Christians most famously but others also). To say nothing of the Triumph, in which prisoners had their throats slit at the steps of Jupiter's temple. But almost none of this shows up in Crystal Spires and Togas inspired works on Roman history.
    • A rather more specific example is Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War. The man literally went to war in Gaul, won it, and wrote a history book about it. Needless to say, it is very flattering towards the Romans in general and their dashing commander in particular, and there is a long and involved debate in the historian community about how much of the Commentaries are actual historical fact and how much is stuff Julius made up to make himself look good. Even minor details from Caesar's life are difficult to judge; for instance, it's reported that while he was imprisoned by pirates, he constantly threatened said pirates before later hunting them down and crucifying them. There's a good argument that his claim of being a Defiant Captive is nothing more than a Badass Boast spread by Caesar himself after his release.
  • The only contemporary account of the Battle of Thermopylae to survive is by Herodotus, who came from a Greek town ruled by 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, and the destruction of Persepolis. 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 probable. This often can depend on where they come from.
  • In many cases, it was also a case of history being written by those who could write, period or sheer dumb luck as to what 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, it is essentially handed down to us in the writings of two Athenians, Thucydides and Xenophon, the latter of whom incidentally fought for Sparta against Athens. Whether the Spartans wrote or not, we don't know, since, after their defeat at the Battle of Leuctra, they decayed and folded under Alexander. All of our information about Sparta comes from the Athenians, which considering it was a representative government of some kind and so filled with political competition and partisan grudges does provide a lot of sophisticated insight into that conflict.
  • Records of the Three Kingdoms was an unusual case. Very loosely novelized as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Records was compiled by Chen Shou, who was an official in a losing side (Shu), before being commissioned by the Jin Dynasty to compile a history of the era. As a result, many historical characters from all three sides (Wu and Shu, who lost and Wei, the victor before being replaced by Jin) were treated fairly evenhandedly. The demonisation of Wei and lionization of Shu began later. As a side note, Chen himself was noted to be extremely stringent with his sources. Thus, Records was infamous for being brief as Chen left out material whose sources he was not absolutely sure of. The annotations by Pei Songzhi more than a century later greatly expanded the work.
  • 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. The justification was that the rightful emperor was chosen by the Mandate of Heaven, so if the old ruler had any serious problems with his (or her, on one occasion) reign, he had clearly lost divine favor through his own actions and the new emperor was destined to depose him and take over as the true emperor.
    • One notable exception is the Zi Zhi Tong Jian (Chinese: 資治通鑑, "Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance"), compiled by a team led by Sima Guang. Tongjian covers a time period of more than 1300 years, and Sima Guang had little motive or interest in intentionally defaming dynasties which fell centuries before his time. As he clearly stated in the preface, the objective of Tongjian was to teach emperors on governance.
    • One unusual example was Tang Taizong Li Shimin, who "adjusted" the history of the founding of the Tang, in order to downplay the achievements of his father, Tang Gaozu Li Yuan, and elder brother Li Jiancheng, the former crown prince, during this period.
  • Because the idea of racial superiority was a widely held belief at the time, in the early days of archaeology a lot of historical achievements of non-white peoples were either ignored, downplayed, or were theorized to actually be done by white people. The ancient city of Great Zimbabwe is probably the most infamous example of this, to the point where the Rhodesian government in the 1960s and 70s censored archaeologists who said it was built by blacks. In time a lot of these racist ideas were discarded.

    Real Life - Class/Groups 
  • 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 or members of the peasant classes. Indeed, the development of sociology in the 19th Century led to what came to be called in the 20th Century as "history from below" with the intention of correcting and deconstructing the victor's history.
    • Karl Marx was the first to challenge what we call "the Great Man" idea of history by insisting that most historical events such as changes of Kings or battles between one dynasty or another were meaningless to the vast majority of the subject peoples on either side and that real history was changes in means of productions and social classes. Historians following on from Marx such as Fernand Braudel devised the concept of the "longue duree" which more or less put geography, trade, and economic activity into focus.
    • In the case of The Roman Republic, the reputations of the groups known as "populare" such as the Gracchi, Marius, Cinna, Clodius Pulcher, and Caesar while not entirely made into heroes are more nuanced and even positive today. Except for Caesar, no writings of theirs survive since they were brutally murdered and pretty much no one writing after them could be entirely fair to them. Some have also tried to balance the writings dismissal of "the Mob" in such works. This extends to the Middle Ages where peasant uprisings and revolts in the Black Death and other slave rebellions in the colonies are seen very differently today than they were in that era.
    • 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. Likewise, during The Golden Age of Piracy, 25% of all pirate crews were runaway slaves joining the pirate crews at a time when slavery was totally legal and profitable and most of the sailors in the English navy were denied meritorious advancement, and a lot of them were press-ganged, poor men kidnapped from England and forced to work crappy jobs. Oh, and Blackbeard never killed anybody and accepted a pardon, when he was attacked by Glory Seeker officers who attacked him while and he and his crew were drunk to elevate their reputation and in a modern legal sense, one would argue that Blackbeard was a victim of extra-legal vigilante execution and denied due process.
  • Knights, although they both won and lost various wars, so this is more on them as a social/political class. Sure, the Knight in Shining Armor existed, even in the Middle Ages, but even within the surprisingly broad guidelines of chivalry, there were many knights who were essentially mercenaries dignified by horse, armor, and a noble title. Some of them were particularly infamous for being brutal to the common folk. One of these was Edward the Black Prince, who was scrupulously honourable in the treatment of his noble prisoners, including French King John the Good, even giving John permission to go home at one point, as well as delaying the Battle of Poitiers for a day to allow both sides to discuss the battle and Cardinal Périgord to plead for peace, but nevertheless favoured the chevauchée strategy, which is essentially short-hand for Rape, Pillage, and Burn for reasons of strategic expediency.
  • Since most of world history has been very patriarchal, women were mostly written out of history. And if they ever came to power or were seen as influential, well they are demonized, made into The Vamp, subject to male Psychological Projection. Many historians have started correcting or qualifying the Lady Macbeth reputations of Livia Augusta, Theodora among many others.
  • Seeing that most of Western history has been written by Christians naturally you're going to get a very Christian centered view of history:
    • All the Roman emperors who persecuted Christianity? Why, naturally they were all perverted, decadent, and cruel leaders. Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion in the Roman Empire? Well, naturally he was a good and noble man whom we shall remember as Constantine the Great even if he murdered his own wife and son and persecuted Pagans. That makes him "Equal to the Apostles" since he submitted to a deathbed conversion and helped the Church. The women of the Roman Empire who risked their lives and happiness to back the Church before it was cool and raised their children to be Christians and so increased their numbers, at a time when the poor preferred Mithraism and Manicheanism? Obviously they aren't "Equal to the Apostles".
    • Charlemagne, who is credited with Christianizing Europe in the 6th and 7th century. In Western history books, he is hailed as a hero, the Catholic Church praises him too, but the fact of the matter is that his troops invaded several European regions to forcibly convert pagans to Christianity. Thousands of people were massacred in order to obtain this goal (4,000 Saxons were killed for refusing to become Christians at Verdun, in one infamous incident, which is more people than were killed by the historically vilified Spanish Inquisition over the course of three and a half centuries) and those kept alive were naturally very willing to accept him as their new king and Christianity as their new faith.
    • The very atheistic Friedrich Engels ironically wrote a popular book that revised the German Reformation and made Thomas Muntzer a real hero while labeling Martin Luther as a collaborator and Sell-Out. Muntzer was a true Christian who wanted more rights for peasants while Luther was a cunning man on a power trip whose rebellion against the Church was driven by personal ambition and ended when he founded the right royal backers, by which time Muntzer was executed and Luther wrote a missive about how that guy was a total loser. In East Germany, Muntzer was celebrated as an Icon of Rebellion while West Germans championed Luther, though no longer as an uncritical great man.
    • It's only in the 20th Century, for fairly obvious reasons, that Christian persecution of Jews (alternatively condoned and opposed but never entirely discredited until the latter half of the 20th Century) began to be applied to the whole of the Church history. Kings, emperors, priests, reformers and popes came to be measured on how kind and fair they were to minorities. The otherwise corrupt Pope Alexander VI came to be seen as A Lighter Shade of Gray since he was religiously tolerant, while the likes of reformist Protestant Martin Luther came to be seen as a Politically Incorrect Hero for his very bigoted tracts (which were cited by the Nazis).
    • That Christians were executed for their religion by Romans 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. Seeing that Nero persecuted Christians and Rome became Christian only a few centuries later it's not difficult to see that his legacy has made him a lot more evil than he might have been in real life. 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. This began with Constantine, then continued with other emperors, and even some leading Christian saints openly advocated this.
    • The last pagans in Europe were made to convert after Christians had conquered them.
    • All the explorers and missionaries in European colonies who converted the local African, Latin American, Asian and Australian tribes to Christianity are also remembered as good, well-intentioned people. In reality, while some were indeed good people with good intentions, they also invaded civilizations that had existed centuries before them and had the audacity to tell the locals that they were primitive people who needed to be guided by European colonials and change to their faith because theirs was just ridiculous. Others were worse, being involved with the slave trade and such nice things as the "Stolen Generations" in Australia (forcibly removing mixed-race children from their homes), or the horrible boarding schools for indigenous Americans, forced labor on Spanish missions, etc.
  • Of course with the greater secularism of history in the last two hundred years or so and the fact that Christianity is no longer the dominant belief in charge, it becomes necessary to counter some anti-religious and anti-Christian views, especially in the case of regimes that did promote an anti-religious viewpoint or use past propaganda for persecution. Nobody wins or loses forever after all:
    • For instance, while Christianity at various points was involved in anti-semitism, it was never a total and complete policy by the Church. During the First Crusade, Catholic Bishops and other priests risked their lives to protect Jews from the Rhineland pogroms, and they did it without extortion of conversion. Anti-semitism actually increased with the decline of Church power over that of Kings (which many thinkers associated with "modernity"). The likes of Edward I, King Philip IV (who moved The Pope from Rome to Avignon and crushed the Templars), and the Crown of Castile-Leon were the ones who expelled Jews from England, France, and Spain, and all three regimes are considered important in centralizing the Kingdom-Nation-State. The ghetto was invented in the very cosmopolitan and sophisticated Republic of Venice. Likewise, the deist Voltaire was a vicious anti-semite.
    • As for conversion and missionary activities, in cases of traditionalist societies such as India and Japan (cf, Silence), "conversion" is always regarded as "forced" and that Christian communities are really "Hindus waiting to be brought back". The idea that lower caste people were genuinely attracted to the egalitarian nature of Christianity (and Islam or Buddhism before it), that they would want to reject the casteist aspects of Hinduism out of religious freedom, naturally doesn't enter into this discourse. Even the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, while peaceable and tolerant, projected this vision about Indian conversion while modern secular nationalism notes that while it was driven by imperialism, there was genuine authentic feeling among some groups, and these new converts were not necessarily well treated by the missionaries themselves (who largely used them to bridge a path to royal patronage) but they valued the faith and the message of Christ more than the people who represented it. This may have even predated Christianity - it's theorized that Buddhism was mostly destroyed in India because they advocated abolition of the caste system, causing many lower-caste people to convert and earning the violent anger of the establishment.
    • The likes of Edward Gibbon and the French Revolutionaries and other secular advocates (such as Gore Vidal and Salman Rushdie), and later Communist intellectuals, have sometimes voiced a view that Ancient Rome or pagan cultures were more tolerant and superior than Christian and Islamic societies that followed. And of course, more liberated sexually. Pre-Christian Rome was a varied society, but it was an incredibly nasty one with horrible punishments for "unchaste" Vestal Virgins (they were buried alive in public in a stone chamber). Children who were deformed were exposed and dumped in garbage and female infanticide was ripe in Arabia until the Prophet Muhammed personally shut it down. Likewise, Augustus more or less promoted Roman Socialist Realism and passed laws criminalizing adultery and would exile people for their sexual conduct in ways that even Victorians would see as a bit much, old bean. And the Ancient Greeks were far more into homoeroticism than the Latins, who while not opposed tended to frown upon it, and indulged in gay-bashing as invective (cf., Julius Caesar) at least when someone supposedly had been the "bottom" in a relationship (which the Romans regarded as "womanish" - they were quite sexist, as were the Greeks in general, something Christians are blamed for but hardly began). Funnily enough, the pagan Romans accused Christians of engaging in secret orgies (as did the Christians against the pagans, or rival sects). Clearly, the attitude was generally opposing liberal sexual mores (some Roman emperors and other prominent figures were accused - in many cases probably falsely - of these things as well, claimed as a mark of their low character).
  • The case of various Native American nations in North America. Whereas the predominant view was of "civilized" European people bringing 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. In fact, evidence exists that North America actually had a very large native population before foreign illnesses brought over from Europe wiped out the vast majority of the people living there. By the time the settlers showed up for good, there were very few people left to resist them compared to before. It actually works the other way as well. A popular view of pre-Columbian Native Culture is one of great nobility and peace. While individual tribes may have been somewhat peaceful, tribes fought each other just as much as European states did and for the same reasons. One way to tell is by common tribal name. If the common name was given by the tribe itself, it likely means "the people" or something similar. If given a name by Europeans, it often refers to a nearby natural characteristic (lake, waterfall, etc...). If named by another tribe, there's a very good chance it means something close to "enemy". For instance, "Apache" possibly is from a Zuni word meaning "enemy". They call themselves the Indé. Some civilized groups, such as the Aztec,note  had a vast empire with cities, client states, brutal wars of conquest, and massive human sacrifice. Although they were likely outliers in terms of their violence, other indigenous civilizations also existed. However, diseases brought by the Europeans struck them most, as they had dense populations, while more dispersed and isolated groups were spared (initially at least). The plains tribes are often given the most focus in the US because they were the last to be conquered and forcibly put into reservations. Overall though, indigenous peoples in the Americas greatly varied, like everywhere else. Fictional depictions often gloss over the diversity (and conflicts). In fairness though, little is known of many groups, particularly the ones wiped out in the aforementioned pandemics.

    Real Life - Other Events and Figures 
  • Inverted with the chronicles of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England in the mid to late-5th century. All known records dating to the time of the Saxon migrations into the British Isles were written either by the Britons themselves, or historians sympathetic to the Britons (read: Christian monks and chroniclers). The main source dating to the period was Gildas, whose work was openly hostile and formed the basis of even the later Anglo-Saxon historians such as Bede. The Saxons themselves didn't begin keeping written records until a couple centuries later (the time of Bede). The Anglo-Saxons, therefore, received a significant Historical Villain Upgrade (especially once they got tied into Arthurian myth).
  • 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. There's a nuance to this because 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.
  • 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 and of course Romantic xenophobic nationalism (which is the time when the Romanians started thinking fondly of Vlad) has a way of sanding off the rough edges of the past.
  • Richard III is a good example. While he wasn't the nicest guy around, he was also not the monster that the dynasty that succeeded him portrayed him as, either, as the modern research shows. It doesn't help that William Shakespeare was with the Tudors on this issue. The discovery of his remains in early 2013 and evidence of his death in battle served to reignite the debate over his Historical Villain Upgrade, and in 2015 he was given a royal burial.
  • 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. He'd also won the throne by defeating Duncan in battle, rather than through murder and betrayal (Macbeth was not his retainer), while his wife is barely mentioned in history — there's no indication of her doing anything like Lady Macbeth. However, James I, whom Shakespeare made the play for, claimed his descent from Banquo, so Macbeth became a horrible villain.
  • 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, despite the fact that he was, among many other things, considered friendly with Jews in the time of the Reconquista.
  • 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.
  • 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. However, authors also point out that Columbus, while obviously not a good person, might also have been on the receiving end of a smear campaign by rival Spanish nobles who exaggerated and demonized him to ruin his reputation.
  • 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 a minor footnote in the long history of the Anglo-French wars and the longer list of insurrections against Britain (of which the American Revolution would not even be the biggest or the costliest). As it is, Britain still exists, so you will still get the view that the war was just a glorified squabble over taxation policy.
  • The French Revolution.
    • 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. Of course to some this overlaps with Historical Villain Downgrade because people act as if their fault was stupidity and not active malice when they are clearly guilty, as seen in many surviving documents, of fomenting a civil war and trying to unleash a foreign army on their own subjects. However, after the Bourbon Restoration, the people who judged the King guilty were called regicides, and they were made into saint-like beings with their flaws played down and made into "tragic figures".
    • Maximilien Robespierre is the biggest casualty of this. He was a popular leader, beloved by the French public up to and during the Reign of Terror. He campaigned for minority rights, extending the right to vote to Protestants, Jews, and French Blacks, supported education for women. He also abolished slavery in 1794 and planned schemes for wealth redistribution. He was by no means the sole dictator of the Reign of Terror, though many of the death warrants were directly signed by him. Nevertheless, once he started to speak out against the corruption of the Committee they went against him, had him guillotined, and tarnished his reputation for all time. To this day, there is no street in Paris with his name on it or any major monument except in working-class areas such as Marseilles.
    • The Jacobin party as a whole were vilified as extremists by the Girondins and Royalists who succeeded to power after Thermidor and had prime positions under Bonaparte, so much so thatg Jacobinism has become a byword for a With Us or Against Us attitude in politics. The Jacobins were not innocent, but the Girondins were engaged in high-level corruption and behind the scenes dealing with Austria and England. They later declared a war against Austria, which Robespierre denounced as a Bread and Circuses move to divert away from the reforms they had consistently failed to uphold, and when the early phase of the war had started going against France, leading to Austria coming in hair's breadth of occupying Paris, the Jacobins supported by the Paris crowd went in open insurrection to protect the Revolution and the French people. It was the Jacobin party that led France to victory in the early stages of the Revolutionary Wars thanks to their open meritocracy, their culling of aristocratic nobles and royals from army positions, and introduction of Conscription.
  • For some reason, Napoleon the master propagandist is considered a reliable witness of the era he helped shape, so his lapidary judgments on his contemporaries often take up a disproportionate amount of place. Even when he talks about his Republican rivals or potential rivals (Hoche, Desaix, Moreau, Kléber...). Of course, Napoleon did win over them.
    • The most common misconceptions about Napoleon, namely his height (The Napoleon) comes from the success of English propaganda and the rise of the Anglophone. It is a fact that Napoleon was of average height for his timenote  and no historian has found conclusive proof that Napoleon was driven to conquest because of insecurity regarding his height. On the flip-side, it should be noted that Napoleon published his memoirs a mere few years after his defeat, and it became an instant best-seller and cemented his legend, so even though Napoleon lost, he did write his own take on history, a highly self-centered and self-pitying one at that, but equally influential nonetheless.
    • The discourse of The Napoleonic Wars itself. The British argue that they were defending and liberating Europe from a tyranny, conveniently forgetting that they were the ones who first broke the Treaty of Amiens and started the war, after refusing to honor the terms of the original agreement (removing ships from Malta) and that they were themselves an Empire. Napoleonic supporters emphasize his meritocracy, modernization, secularization (liberation of Jews from ghettos) while ignoring the fact that he brought back slavery after Revolutionary France had abolished it, and the large scale colonisation and War for Fun and Profit that underpinned Napoleon's administration.
  • The Spanish nobleman the Duke of Alva enjoys a good reputation in Spain, but in Belgium and the Netherlands he is remembered as an evil man who came to their country in the 16th century to persecute everyone who resisted the Spanish occupation and burn Protestants at the stake. Since the Dutch won the Eighty Years' War against Spain he and king Philip II of Spain are naturally seen as villains who were justifiably defeated.
    • The Spanish in general have a term called "Black legend" where they note that writers of The Enlightenment such as Voltairenote  as well as English writers tended to paint Spain as autocratic, backward, medieval and generally less enlightened than the Northern European nations. English writers made much of the New World colonization and treatment of indigenous peoples and likewise exaggerated the early bloody years of The Inquisition to a period stretching for centuries. In actual practice, the Inquisition executed fewer people in its entire period (it ended during Napoléon Bonaparte's invasion) than the numbers killed in the reign of Elizabeth alone and practiced none of the witch burnings which were active in the Protestant nations, but the famous Cate Blanchett biopic will give you the opposite impression.
  • The Vikings are another exception. The Norse (i.e. the Scandinavians) had a somewhat limited literary culture and therefore didn't create many contemporary accounts about themselves, and the few they did leave behind were usually pretty laconic. While their descendants did eventually write their history, it was 200-300 years later, well after the introduction of Christianity and its associated writing culture, and their accounts are considered mostly semi-legendary. The vast majority of contemporary accounts were written by monks, many of whom were victims of Viking raids, and Arab travelers. In conclusion, history is not always written by the winners, and when it's written by the losers they are very bitter about the winners.
  • The Spanish American Wars of Independence in the early 19th century will usually get this treatment. It was a glorious war between The Empire (Spain and the royalists) and La Résistance (the South Americans fighting for their freedom). But initially, it was a Civil War between the supporters of the factions that sought to rule Spain when the king was captured by Napoleon. One example may be Manuel Belgrano, sent from Buenos Aires (modern Argentina) to fight against the royalists in Asunción (modern Paraguay). For Argentine history, Belgrano was a model of virtue and moral values, akin to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. For Paraguayan history, Belgrano was a ruthless expansionist conqueror, akin to Attila the Hun.

    Real Life - Military Historiography 
  • 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 some of William Shakespeare's plays) and what people remember are the three great victories of Crécy, Poitiers (Maupertuis), and Agincourt, while even the French hardly remember their resounding victories at Patay (where the dreaded English longbowmen sustained crippling losses), Formigny, and Castillon (the latter smashed any hope for the English to ever control French soil again) that allowed them to eventually win the war, preferring to focus on tragic heroine Joan of Arc, who heard God, had the dauphin Charles crowned as King Charles VII in Reims, relieved Orléans from its siege and was treacherously sold to the English-allied Burdgundians and executed on a pyre.
    • 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. 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 Battle of Tours/Poitiers during the Arab Islamic wars of expansion was inflated by Frankish historians as the pinnacle battle that prevented the conquest of Europe by the Islamic armies. Arab scholars of the post-battle period rarely mention this defeat, but do often describe a more important one: the monumental failure to capture Constantinople, capital of the surviving Roman Empire. Even moreso because The Prophet Muhammad himself had designated the conquest of that city as one of Islam's primary objectives; it took another 700 years and another dozen failed sieges before the Ottoman Turks actually managed to do it in 1453. The Arab army that the Franks faced at Tours was a much smaller expeditionary force that was already 4000 miles from their homeland when they crossed the Pyrenees.
    • The Crusades was a huge deal for the Crusaders but for the Saracens and Arabs, well until recently it wasn't any big deal. Arab historians of the Middle Ages called it "the Frankish Wars" and saw it as a minor regional offshoot to the ongoing great game between Shia powers, Turks, Byzantines and other groups. For them, it was not the big serious thing it was for the Christian knights. The biggest threat for them was the Mongols in the East and Baibars, the man who defeated the Mongols and set them back was their Icon of Rebellion, not Saladin, who most of them didn't even know about. It was only in the 19th and 20th Century, in response to European colonialism, that the Arabs looked at the Crusades and they drew their view from Western historians like David Hume and others who in The Enlightenment came to see it as the Old Shame of Europe. This was mostly driven by Arab nationalists who wanted to counter the demonization of racist imperialist propaganda, who naturally were keen to bring up the time when the Europeans were closer to the uncouth psychotic barbarians that they now painted them as.