Did ancient warriors suffer PTSD too? Texts reveal that battles 3,000 years ago left soldiers traumatised by what they saw

  • UK researchers have found signs of PTSD up to 3,000 years ago
  • They say soldiers experiencing horrors of the battlefield is not just a phenomenon of modern warfare
  • The earliest reference had been from the Battle of Marathon in 490BC
  • But scientists traced mention of ‘shell shock’ back to 1,300 BC

Ancient warriors armed with swords and spears from 3,000 years ago suffered from shell shock just like modern soldiers, according to a study.

Soldiers who experienced the horrors of the battlefield and were left with post traumatic stress disorder is not a phenomenon of modern warfare, say the researchers.

An analysis of ancient texts shows PTSD became common considerably earlier than previously believed, although the symptoms were explained away as ‘the spirits of those enemies whom the patient had killed.’

© Gustavo Tomsich/CORBIS - UK researchers have found signs of PTSD up to 3,000 years ago. They say soldiers experiencing horrors of the battlefield (stock image shown) is not just a phenomenon of modern warfare. The earliest reference had been from the Battle of Marathon, 490BC. Pictured is a Mycenaean Vase decorated with Bronze Age warriors

The earliest reference had been from the Battle of Marathon 490BC but scientists traced mention of ‘shell shock’ back to 1,300 BC in ancient Mesopotamia

The study, published in Early Science and Medicine, said that while modern technology has increased the effectiveness and types of 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,’ the researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Anglia Ruskin University wrote.

‘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.’

Previously, the first documented instance of PTSD was Greek historian Herodotus’ account of an Athenian spearman called Epizelus who lost his sight against the Persians in 49O BC at the Battle of Marathon and whose ‘psychogenic mutism’ followed.

But it now appears much earlier traumas were suffered in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, during the Assyrian Dynasty between 1300 and 609 BC.


  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety caused by very stressful or frightening events.
  • They may include military combat, terrorist attacks, assault, natural disasters, road accidents or witnessing violent deaths.
  • PTSD can develop immediately after a disturbing event, or can emerge months or years later.
  • It’s thought that one in three people who have a traumatic experience are affected by PTSD,NHS Choices say.
  • Sufferers often relive the event through nightmares or flashbacks and can feel isolated, frightened or guilty.
  • Symptoms, including difficulty sleeping, can be persistent and severe enough to impact on a person’s day-to-day life.
  • PTSD is currently treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) as well as antidepressant medication.

The study said that while modern technology has increased the effectiveness and types of weaponry, 'ancient soldiers facing the risk of injury and death must have been just as terrified of hardened and sharpened swords.' Shown is a stock image of a US servicemen returning home from Iraq in 2006

ritings uncovered from the time mention the King of Elam’s ‘mind changed’, meaning he became disturbed. The researchers argue he may have been suffering from PTSD.

Trauma was also suffered by soldiers, with the male population of Assyria called upon to fight in battles in every third year during their military service, also possibly the cause of post traumatic stress disorders.

But the researchers said people would have found it difficult to diagnose these traumas and to treat sufferers accordingly due to a lack of understanding.

Clinical psychologist Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, of Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, said: ‘For many years it has often been stated the first documented evidence of post traumatic symptoms dates back to the Battle of Marathon, as chronicled by the historian Herodotus.

‘This paper, and the research on which it is based, demonstrates post traumatic psychological symptoms of 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. There really is nothing new under the sun.

‘Especially significant is this evidence comes from the area known as the cradle of civilisation and, of course, the site of much recent conflict including the recent Gulf and Iraq Wars in which many British service personnel were involved.’

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About briandmahan

Following a catastrophic automobile accident several years ago, I began suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was hit by one of two cars that were racing on the 10 freeway in Los Angeles. And, although I walked away from the accident, I began to have several FULL-BLOWN panic attacks a day (I didn’t even know they were panic attacks; I just thought I was going crazy). But, after just a few sessions with a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, my anxiety and panic attacks ceased and I haven't had one in 9 years. In fact, my life changed so dramatically and quickly, I decided to train in the same technique. Upon completing a three-year training program studying Somatic Experiencing, the work of Peter Levine, PhD., my self-obsessed passion for healing and personal transformation shifted. I've been blessed to be able to help and assist other survivors of unresolved past traumatic events, who suffer from PTSD, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Depression and Stress to feel safe, joyful and to take take control of their lives again. And, now, I consider that car wreck to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It’s my passion for the past 9 years to share my story, experience, and know-how with others, like you, who may simply have been trying to heal with the wrong approaches. (You can’t heal a toothache by getting a massage.) I am not a psychologist, a medical doctor or a spiritual healer. I am a trauma survivor. And I have come to understand that PTSD, anxiety, panic, stress and depression are physiological conditions more so than they are psychological disorders. I hold retreats, workshops and free seminars, focused on establishing a sense of safety and re-awakening embodiment through healing stress and trauma. I also offer one-on-one sessions both face-to-face for local clients and by Phone and SKYPE for clients nationwide and internationally.
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