Mesopotamian texts over 3,000 years old reveal that post-traumatic stress disorder can be as old as the struggle itself.
Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD causes a range of symptoms, including nightmares, flashbacks, depression and hyper-alertness, and affects some survivors of traumatic events.
Researchers studying ancient Assyrian texts in Mesopotamia dating back to 1300 BC. and 609 BC. – translated and assembled by JoAnn Scurlock and Burton Andersen in their 2005 book, Diagnoses in Assyrian and Babylonian Medicine – found references to ancient soldiers affected by symptoms that sound remarkably similar to our current understanding of PTSD.
Walid Khalid Abdul-Hamid, an honorary lecturer in psychiatry at Queen Mary University in London, and Jamie Hacker Hughes, director of the Institute for Veterans and Families at Ruskin University in England, published their findings in the journal Early Science and Medicine.
How does ancient PTSD manifest itself?
In an interview with James Gallagher, from BBC News, Hacker Hughes a explicat:
“The types of symptoms after the fight were very clear what we would now call symptoms of post-traumatic stress.”
“They described hearing and seeing ghosts talking to them, which would be the ghosts of the people they killed in battle – and this is exactly the experience of modern soldiers who have been involved in melee combat.”
Until now, the earliest texts thought to refer to PTSD came from the Greek historian Herodotus, who described the battle of the Marathon in 490 BC, after which an Athenian fighter suffered hallucinations and blindness.
However, the diagnosis of diseases in ancient texts is not without difficulties. And this is because our understanding and ability to describe the disease is so culturally dependent.
Also, as the authors acknowledge in the paper, “it is difficult for us to rule out other explanations, such as the neuropsychological signs of some lesions,” which in themselves may be related but are still distinct from PTSD.
In any case, as Hacker Hughes explained to BBC News, “as long as there was civilization and as long as there was war, there were post-traumatic symptoms. It’s not a 21st century thing. “