white flag

A.D. 25 - 220

The white flag is an internationally recognized protective sign` of truce or ceasefire, and request for negotiation. It is also used to symbolize surrender, since it is often the weaker military party which requests negotiation. A white flag signifies to all that an approaching negotiator is unarmed, with an intent to surrender or a desire to communicate. Persons carrying or waving a white flag are not to be fired upon, nor are they allowed to open fire. The use of the flag to surrender is included in the Geneva Conventions. The improper use of a white flag is forbidden by the rules of war and constitutes a war crime of perfidy. There have been numerous reported cases of such behaviour in conflicts, such as fighters using white flags as a ruse to approach and attack enemies, or killings of fighters attempting to surrender by carrying white flags. Many times since the weaker party is in a decrepit state, a white flag would be fashioned out of anything readily available, like a t-shirt or handkerchief. The most common way of making a white flag is to obtain a pole and tie two corners of a sheet of cloth to the top of the pole and somewhere in the middle.
The first mention of the usage of white flags to surrender is made during the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D 25–220). In the Roman Empire, the historian Cornelius Tacitus mentions a white flag of surrender in A.D. 109. Before that time, Roman armies would surrender by holding their shields above their heads. The usage of the white flag has since spread worldwide.

*1 http://www.realitynet.org/sie_batik
*2 press release "Brabants bont in Afrika" http://www.volkenkunde.nl/, National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, Holland

source: wikipedia