PTSD in Mesopotamia

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My research for Under the Same Blue Sky on shell shock (PTSD) in World War I uncovered constant references to generals and politicians being themselves shocked, shocked by the number of afflicted soldiers. Really? You send men into battle, enduring horrific conditions, and expect all roses and tra-la? A recent article by James Gallagher in the BBC Health News points to instances of PTSD recorded 3000 years ago. Here’s the article.

Post-traumatic shock “evident 1300 years ago

The team at Anglia Ruskin University analysed translations from ancient Iraq or Mesopotamia. Accounts of soldiers being visited by “ghosts they faced in battle” fitted with a modern diagnosis of PTSD. The condition was likely to be as old as human civilisation, the researchers concluded.

Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes, a former consultant clinical psychologist for the Ministry of Defence, said the first description of PTSD was often accredited to the Greek historian Herodotus. Referring to the warrior Epizelus during the battle of Marathon in 490BC he wrote: “He suddenly lost sight of both eyes, though nothing had touched him.” But Prof Hughes’ report – titled Nothing New Under the Sun – argues there are references in the Assyrian Dynasty in Mesopotamia between 1300BC and 609BC.

In that era men spent a year being toughened up by building roads, bridges and other projects, before spending a year at war and then returning to their families for a year before starting the cycle again.

Prof Hughes told the BBC News website: “The sorts of symptoms after battle were very clearly what we would 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.”

A diagnosis and understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder emerged after the Vietnam War. It was dismissed as shell shock in World War One. Prof Hughes said: “As long as there has been civilisation and as long as there has been warfare, there has been post-traumatic symptoms. It’s not a 21st Century thing.”

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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3 comments on “PTSD in Mesopotamia
  1. Anonymous says:

    Pamela,
    My father was in London during the bombings. He couldn’t not be in the house if my mother vacuumed. Th noise was too much. Also, he was terrified of baths and only sponged himself off every day.
    Monique

  2. What a weight of pain and memory your father must have carried. What courage to go on. Thank you for sharing.
    Pamela

  3. […] shell shock, now called PTSD, isn’t new, it ravaged millions of soldiers and their families during and after WWI. In my novel, a gardener […]

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