Antedating Quote "history is written by the victor" (1919)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 14 21:40:29 UTC 2009

YBQ has listed under Modern Proverbs (pg 527) the saying "History is
written by the survivors" and mentions the variants "History is
written by the winners" and "History is written by the victors".

The YBQ citation is dated 1931. Here we present a 1919 citation
written by a German Admiral after the WWI defeat. The context
indicates that the saying is already known in Germany.

Citation: 1919, My Memoirs Volume I by Grand Admiral Von Tirpitz, page
254, Dodd, Mead, and Co., New York.

… it could be taken as a proof of the saying that history is written
by the victor …

Here is a more of the context:

THERE are many who declare that the German Empire would have been able
to obtain a proper friendly relationship with England, and that it was
only neglect on the part of German policy, and particularly the
building of our fleet, that destroyed this prospect. If ever this idea
were to establish itself in German minds, it could be taken as a proof
of the saying that history is written by the victor; and in this
present case the vanquished would be cheating in order to be able to
pay allegiance to the Anglo-Saxon hegemony in its historical

The ADS list archive has a 2004 post about this quote that contains
some later citations.

The "Quote Verifier" by Ralph Keyes discusses the expression and
contains some later citations.

Encarta Book of Quotations has a 1972 citation spoken by Alex Haley.

I could not find the quote at Popik's website.


The American Dialect Society -

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