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Alexander the Great was not the first to see them nor was he the first to find them troublesome. He 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 the 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.
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.
Furthermore, they [the Tyrians] would heat bronze shields in a blazing fire, fill them with hot sand and boiling excrement and suddenly hurl them from the walls. None of their deterrents aroused greater fear than this. The hot sand would make its way between the breastplate and the body; there was no way to shake it out and it would burn through whatever it touched. The soldiers would throw away their weapons, tear off all their protective clothing and thus expose themselves to wounds without being able to retaliate.
(From Heckel, W. and Yardley, J. Alexander the Great: historical texts in translation, 2004, p. 147)
A machine can be constructed for submarine journeys, for seas and rivers. It dives to the bottom without danger to man. Alexander the Great has made use of such a device, as we know from Ethicus the astronomer. Such things have been made long ago and they are still made in our days, except perhaps the flying machine…
Immediately after that the sky grew very black and dark, and from the dark sky there came burning fire. The fire fell to the earth like a burning torch, and the whole plain was burning from the fire’s flame. Then men said that they thought it was the anger of the gods which had fallen upon us. Then I ordered old clothing to be torn up and used as a protection against the fire. After that we had a quiet and peaceful night, once our difficulties assuaged.
(Orchard, Andy. Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf Manuscript, Cambridge, 1995, p. 245)