“Ancient Aliens,” the popular sci-fi meme, has yet to produce solid proof that extraterrestrials ever interacted with humans. Yet Unidentified Flying Objects have a surprisingly ancient history. The earliest UFO sightings were reported by Roman historians Livy, Orosius, Seneca, Plutarch, Pliny, and Josephus. The ancient sightings have been classified by a NASA scientist according to the standard UFO categories devised by astronomer J.A. Hynek (1972): Close Encounters of the First (no physical evidence), Second (physical traces), and Third Kinds (occupants observed).
The parallels to modern UFO sightings are eerie. For example, in 217 BC, numerous witnesses in Rome watched a group of “shiny round shields of polished bronze” moving across the sky. At the same time in the countryside east of Rome many people reported seeing mysterious “forms of men completely dressed in shining white.” Three years later, people in northern Italy saw something like a large white marble “altar in the sky” accompanied by human shapes clothed in brilliant white.
In 154 BC, more “flying shield-like disks” appeared. One night in 104 BC, people of two Italian towns watched as “flaming spears and oblong-shaped shields rushed at each other” in a kind of aerial “battle.” In 100 BC, a very large, round shield-shaped object traveled across the sky. In 91 BC, a huge fiery disk was accompanied by sonic boom-like sound. Later that same day, people in Spoleto watched a UFO’s vertical approach and take-off, as a great “gold-colored ball rolled down from the sky toward earth, then rose up again.” In 74 BC, thousands witnessed a large, flaming object of “molten silver” crash land between two armies on a Roman battlefield in Turkey. The object was shaped like a large storage jar with a pointed bottom, something like a nose-cone. In Rome, 43 BC, “a spectacle of missiles and weapons and shields was seen to rise from the horizon up to the sky, with a loud clashing noise.”
A Close Encounter of the Third Kind reported in AD 150, with a “spacecraft” hovering and landing, is uncannily similar to the 1977 Hollywood movie. On the main road from Rome to Capua, on a sunny day, an immense UFO about 100 feet across appeared overhead and moved downward. This object was flat and curved, like a huge “piece of pottery” or “potsherd.” The top of the object had “many colors” and shot out fiery rays of light. The UFO landed, raising a cloud of dust, and an occupant emerged, described as something like a “maiden clad in white.”
The astronomical meteorologist who analyzed these Roman reports in Classical Journal (2007) notes that the “UFO phenomenon, whatever it may be due to, has not changed much over two millennia”: disk, elongated, or sphere shapes; metallic, brilliant colors and materials; smooth, erratic, or hovering motions; the object often vanishes. Whether these are extraordinary atmospheric effects, astronomical phenomena, or extraterrestrial encounters, the persistence of consistent details over thousands of years seems to point to something real observed by many witnesses over time, something that we do not yet understand.