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The Most Famous Surrenders in History

Updated May 15, 2019 16.5k views14 items

Most surrender ceremonies in history are nothing more than a few officers signing a document around a table. But sometimes, the end of a military conflict is marked with more than that. British armies have long had elaborate rules for what happens when a battle ends, including the playing of certain music and marching with flags. Likewise, major treaties are often marked with fanfare or celebrations.

The two most famous surrender ceremonies in history are likely the two that marked the end of World War II in Europe and Japan, respectively. But while the German surrender was a utilitarian affair, with just a few officers signing a treaty (twice, as it turns out), the Japanese surrender involved historical flags, huge shows of force, and a massive flyover by thousands of airplanes.

Here are some of the more famous surrenders in history, or times when a military commander particularly distinguished themselves by their conduct to a beaten enemy.
  • Photo: Iocanus / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Egyptian-Hittite Peace Treaty

    Likely signed sometime in 1259 BCE, the Egyptian-Hittite peace treaty is the oldest known written peace treaty in history. It was probably negotiated by representatives of both Egypt and the Hittite Empire, and the two monarchs never met face to face. While there is no record of a ceremony to go along with the signing, there is text in the recovered versions of the treaty that includes descriptions of elaborate figures and seals carved into the tablets given to the other side.
  • Photo: Francisco Pradilla Ortiz / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Surrender of Granada

    The 10 year war between Spain and the independent Muslim Sultanate of Granada ended in early 1492 with the Sultan offering his surrender to Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. In a luxurious ceremony that ratified a peace treaty with dozens of clauses, the Sultan's entourage rode by Ferdinand and Isabella on horseback, kissing their hands. But the Sultan himself was not required to, and he gave the key to the city of Granada to the monarchs without humiliation. The treaty was violated several years later.
  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Surrender of Jerusalem, 1187

    After holding out as long as possible against the forces of Saladin, Crusader leader Balian surrendered the city, making it clear that his defenders would rather destroy the city than let it be destroyed. Saladin gave Balian generous terms, allowing ransoms to be paid for the freedom of inhabitants, and preventing any massacres from occurring. Balian formally handed the keys to the Tower of David to Saladin on October 2, 1187.
  • Photo: John Trumbull / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    British Surrender at Yorktown

    The combined French and Colonial American armies laid siege to British forces at Yorktown for nearly a month, smashing its defenses with repeated artillery barrages and infantry charges. British commander Lord Cornwallis agreed to surrender on October 17, 1781, and a formal ceremony was held two days later.

    The British requested that their usual surrender ceremony take place, involving pageantry, flag waving, and shouldered muskets. General Washington refused, and instead, the British infantry marched with their muskets upside down, and attempted to destroy them. Cornwallis refused to attend the ceremony, and Washington, as per custom, refused the sword of the British second-in-command.