The Phantom Ships
Titus Livius Patavinus, known to us as Livy, was a great historian of the Ancient world, who wrote an epic chronicle of Rome. In fact, he was something of a celebrity academic of his day - the Roman equivalent of Simon Schama. His writings on Rome include a fascinating account of "many prodigies" spotted in 214 BC, including "phantom ships" that were apparently "seen gleaming in the sky". UFO-ologists still debate whether this was intended as a literal observation or an ominous metaphor.
The Battle Flame
The celebrated Roman historian and essayist Plutarch also chronicled some very strange, UFO-related goings-on. On the subject of a battle in 74 BC between a Roman army and the forces of King Mithridates VI of Pontus, he wrote how "with no apparent change of weather, the sky burst asunder and a huge, flame-like body was seen to fall between the two armies. In shape it was most like a wine-jar, and in colour like molten silver." Thousands of onlookers, including King King Mithridates VI himself, confirmed the truth of the story.
Chariots In The Sky
We can turn to another account by an eminent, ancient scholar: Titus Flavius Josephus, who gave a now-famous description of a "miraculous phenomenon, defying belief" in the first century AD. Almost apologetically, he wrote that "what I am about to relate would, I imagine, have been deemed a fable, were it not for the narratives of eyewitnesses". And we can't blame him, given that the phenomenon itself involved "chariots and armed battalions hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities".
One curiously recurring aspect of UFO sightings is "angel hair", a sticky substance left behind by the apparent aliens. The phenomenon of angel hair has been around since at least 196 AD, when historian Cassius Dio recounted how a "fine rain resembling silver descended from a clear sky upon the Forum of Augutus". He actually collected some of the bizarre material and used it to plate some bronze coins. He reported that "they retained the same appearance for three days, but by the fourth day all the substance rubbed on them had disappeared."
The Nuremberg Spectacle
Something very strange lit up the sky over Nuremberg in April 1561. According to a contemporary account, daybreak saw the heavens fill with garishly vivid objects, from "blood-red semi-circular arcs" to dark balls of "black ferrous colour" which started rushing back and forth and "fight among themselves". Eventually they fell onto the earth and "wasted away" with "immense smoke." Many citizens testified to seeing this "UFO battle" which was later commemorated in a woodcut engraving.
The Thunderous Washbasin
Among the great treasures of academic literature are the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. These annual records chronicled Korean life for centuries - an immense achievement by any measure. And among its pages is a startling account of a UFO which appeared in September 1609 in "clear and cloudless skies". It was described as looking like a "washbasin" but made a "thunderous sound" as it flew through the sky as swiftly as an arrow before disappearing into sparks.