Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Assyrian soldiers

Assyrian King Ashurbanipal's brutal campaign against Elam in 647 BCE is recorded in this relief. Image: ShauniWikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Assyrian King Ashurbanipal's brutal campaign against Elam in 647 BCE is recorded in this relief. Image: ShauniWikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Researchers have uncovered evidence from Mesopotamian sources, of Assyrian dynasty (1300–609 BC) soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Previously, the first documented instance of PTSD was thought to be Herodotus’ account of the Athenian spear carrier Epizelus’ psychogenic mutism following the Marathon Wars in 490 BC.

Spirits of the dead

An open access paper entitled Nothing New Under the Sun: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders in the Ancient World, co-written by Anglia Ruskin University’s Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes and Dr Walid Abdul-Hamid, Consultant Psychiatrist at the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, shows that the Mesopotamians believed that the symptoms were caused by the spirits of those enemies whom the patient had killed in battle.

Texts uncovered from the time mention that the King of Elam’s “mind changed”, meaning he became disturbed, pointing to the likelihood of him suffering from PTSD.

Trauma was also suffered by the soldiers, with the male population of Assyria called upon to fight in battles every third year.

Terrifying experience

The researchers state that while modern technology has produced very effective targeted weaponry,  “ancient soldiers facing the risk of injury and death must have been just as terrified of hardened and sharpened swords, showers of sling-stones or iron-hardened tips of arrows and fire arrows. The risk of death and the witnessing of the death of fellow soldiers appears to have been a major source of psychological trauma.”

“Moreover, the chance of death from injuries, which can nowadays be surgically treated, must have been much greater in those days. All these factors contributed to post-traumatic or other psychiatric stress disorders resulting from the experience on the ancient battlefield.”

Read the paper: Nothing New under the Sun: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders in the Ancient World