Victors and Vanquished in Europe

Lionel Royer, Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar (in -52), 1899. Oil on canvas. Musée Crozatier, Le Puy en Velay.


The distinction between the victors and the vanquished, arising from the many conflicts which have marked European history, has not been stable over the long-term. The perception that both groups have of victory and defeat is not linear. The postures of different groups are constructed, with memorial traces varying based on the period. The figures of the victor and the vanquished have evolved based on their confrontation with events and accounts. The enemy—whether absolute or conventional—becomes hereditary, affected by stereotypes that shape its identity. The explanation for defeat is inseparable from the person of the traitor and the discourse on betrayal. It therefore seems appropriate to explore defeat, running counter to a history which is often built on victories, or even on defeats transformed into triumphs. Victor-heroes stand alongside vanquished-martyrs. Surrender and enemy occupation of territory call for revenge. Beyond their actual content, peace treaties are interpreted in varying fashion by the vanquished and the victors. The resulting territorial recompositions create minorities of the vanquished among the victors.