Magazine article Times Higher Education

Retrospective Diagnosis Suggests PTSD Was Not an Ancient Affliction

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Retrospective Diagnosis Suggests PTSD Was Not an Ancient Affliction

Article excerpt

A historian compares the US infantryman and the Greek foot soldier. Matthew Reisz reports

Were ancient Greek warriors the relentless killing machines we find in popular culture or did they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder just like their modern counterparts?

The dispute goes back to the aftermath of the Vietnam War, says Jason Crowley, lecturer in ancient history at Manchester Metropolitan University, when traumatised veterans were sometimes accused of being "morally weak or part of a decadent generation". One of the responses was to claim that soldiers have been psychologically damaged by war since the dawn of time, and that "if Achilles could suffer from PTSD, anyone could suffer from it".

Many scholars, as Dr Crowley puts it in his forthcoming paper "Beyond the universal soldier: combat trauma in classical antiquity", have now retrospectively diagnosed ancient Greek fighters as "traumatised by their experiences of war". In order to test the validity of this idea, he decided to compare the American infantryman with the Athenian hoplite.

Both, the paper acknowledges, shared the same "grim task to close with and kill the enemy". Both found combat "intensely frightening" and notable for "physical hardship". Yet in every other respect their experiences were utterly different.

American infantrymen grew up in a society based on "Christianised norms and values, stressing peace, mercy and the sanctity of human life". They largely "served in military units comprised of complete strangers" and often had to fight round the clock for extended periods. …

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