There are few figures from history as well-known as Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, who became the king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon in 336 BC at the age of 20. Throughout the course of his rule, he would forge one of the largest empires in history, stretching from Greece to northwestern India, in addition to carving out a reputation as an undefeated military might and one of history's greatest and most successful military commanders, as well as gaining the status of being one of the most influential figures on Western civilization. There have been many tales of Alexander the Great’s numerous exploits and conquests, to the point that he has become an almost legendary, larger than life figure, and one of the strangest of these is the time his army was supposedly harrassed by UFOs.
A very early report of a bizarre battlefield encounter with something very unusual in the sky supposedly happened in 329 BC, during one of Alexander the Great’s many military campaigns. At the time, the army was advancing on an enemy city, and there was an enormous procession of elephants, horses, and men ready for war. According to the account, as they attempted a nighttime river crossing at the Jaxartes River in Central Asia, now known as the Syr Darya, the army was dive-bombed and menaced by “two great silver shields, spitting fire around the rims,” that so frightened them and panicked the animals that they postponed the crossing until the next day. The account originally came from Macedonian historian Aleksander Donski, who passed it along to the famed UFO researcher and author Frank Edwards, who wrote of it in his book Stranger than Science, but there has been some skepticism as to its veracity because there is no other known source for the story. Edwards would write of the account:
Alexander the Great tells of two strange craft that dived repeatedly at his army until the war elephants, the men, and the horses all panicked and refused to cross the river where the incident occurred. What did things look like? His historian describes them as great shining silvery shields, spitting fire around the rims… things that came from the skies and returned to the skies.
Did any of this really happen? There has been a lot of discussion and debate on the account, and while it has been held up by some in the UFO community as a genuine account of ancient UFOs, there has of course been a lot of skepticism aimed at it as well. Historian Spencer McDaniel has written of it:
Edwards does not cite any sources for any of these claims and it is unlikely that he ever had any. His assertion that Alexander’s army supposedly saw “great shining silvery shields” in the sky does not even remotely resemble any statement in any surviving ancient source about Alexander. This claim is probably completely made up. The ancient sources about Alexander’s campaigns do mention “silver shields,” but not in the context of anything that could reasonably be construed as having anything to do with UFOs.
Unfortunately, this is a common feature among much of Frank Edwards’ work, which often includes many bizarre and spectacular cases that very often are given no sources and no way to independently verify them. Did any of this really happen or not? Another similar account from around the same time period was given by Italian UFO researcher Alberto Fenoglio, who gives an account that supposedly happened in 332 BC, in the midst of Alexander the Great’s Siege of Tyre, during his campaigns against the Persians. The account reads:
The fortress would not yield, its walls were fifty feet high and constructed so solidly that no siege-engine was able to damage it. The Tyrians disposed of the greatest technicians and builders of war-machines of the time and they intercepted in the air the incendiary arrows and projectiles hurled by the catapults on the city. One day suddenly there appeared over the Macedonian camp these ‘flying shields’, as they had been called, which flew in triangular formation led by an exceedingly large one, the others were smaller by almost a half. In all there were five. The unknown chronicler narrates that they circled slowly over Tyre while thousands of warriors on both sides stood and watched them in astonishment. Suddenly from the largest ‘shield’ came a lightning-flash that struck the walls, these crumbled, other flashes followed and walls and towers dissolved, as if they had been built of mud, leaving the way open for the besiegers who poured like an avalanche through the breeches. The ‘flying shields’ hovered over the city until it was completely stormed then they very swiftly disappeared aloft, soon melting into the blue sky.
Once again, there are no known ancient sources for this account, leaving us to wonder just how much veracity it has. Indeed, it has been suggested that Fenoglio may have based this purported account on the one in Edwards’ book. Once again, McDaniel gives a scathing review of the case, and says of it:
The only ancient passage that even vaguely resembles anything close to what Fenoglio describes occurs in Quintus Curtius Rufus’s Histories of Alexander the Great 4.3.25–26. Curtius writes:
'Indeed, [the Tyrians] were heating with much fire bronze shields, which, having been filled with heated sand and boiling dirt, they were suddenly hurling from the city walls. And no plague was feared more than this; for when the burning hot sand penetrated between the armor and the body, by no power could a man shake it out and, everything it touched, it burned. And [the soldiers], throwing away their weapons and tearing to pieces everything that could protect them, stood open to injuries, unable to retaliate.'
I suppose that this passage does technically mention flying shields during the siege of Tyre, but the shields are actual, literal shields made out of the bronze and they are only “flying” because the Tyrians are throwing them at Alexander’s soldiers from the walls of the city. This passage is clearly talking about defensive siege warfare, not UFOs in any sense. It is possible that Fenoglio may have read Edwards’s claim about Alexander having seen “great shining silvery shields,” he may have gone searching for a source, and he may have found some version of the passage from Curtius describing the Tyrians hurling shields during the siege of Tyre. Then, it is possible that he may have badly misinterpreted the passage to make it about UFOs. I, however, suspect that it is more likely that Fenoglio never read any of Curtius’s work, he made up the whole story about Alexander seeing flying shields during the siege of Tyre purely as an embellishment on Edwards’s earlier story, and his description just happened to bear a vague resemblance to something Curtius actually described.
Despite the complete lack of any identifiable sources, the story of Alexander the Great and his UFOs has managed to work its way into the lore, and will pop up from time to time in discussions on ancient UFO sightings. It is a shame that there is little to corroborate any of it, and is likely a fabrication or very loose and twisted interpretation of historical events, but it is all a damn strange story all the same.