Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a fairly new disorder, at least in name. Prior to actual diagnostic criteria was a syndrome that seemed to follow war, mass killings, and rape/abuse, and people were said to be “shell-shocked” to describe certain changes in their behavior.
However, researchers say they have unearthed evidence that says warriors suffered from PTSD years ago — it may be as old as civilization.
A team from Anglia Ruskin University made the discovery after analyzing accounts of battle from soldiers fighting in ancient Iraq or Mesopotamia.
Translated documents showed the soldiers were traumatized by “ghosts they faced in battle,” found the researchers. This correlates well with the experience of “flashbacks” that happen in those with PTSD, which was first used to diagnose soldiers returning from Vietnam.
Battle was common and perhaps more brutal during the Bronze Age, when combat was hand-to-hand, and soldiers did not have advanced technologies like today, nor any resources to deal with intense feelings of anger, survivor guilt, sadness, and confusion that frequently haunts people after traumatic events. Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes told the BBC that the symptoms are exactly what describes PTSD today.
“The sorts of symptoms after battle were very clearly what we could call now post-traumatic stress symptoms. They described hearing and seeing ghosts talking to them, who would be the ghosts of people they’d killed in battle – and that’s exactly the experience of modern-day soldiers who’ve been involved in close hand-to-hand combat.”
Professor Hughes provided evidence that PTSD dates to the Assyrian Dynasty in Mesopotamia between 1300 B.C.E. and 609 B.C.E. During that time, males left their families for three years to join the war, went back home and stayed for a year, then repeated the cycle until they were deemed too ill, injured, or old to fight. Hughes said that the changes in brain chemistry are consistent with what we see today.
“This paper, and the research on which it is based demonstrates that post traumatic psychological symptoms from battle were evident in ancient Mesopotamia… Well before the Greek and Roman eras, before the time of Abraham and the biblical Kings, David and Solomon, and contemporarily with the time of the Pharaohs.”
PTSD is a serious condition as it frequently leads to violence or suicide if untreated, and it’s probable that ancient warriors had no way to diagnose nor treat the disorder, leading to much duress on families and communities.