Combat stress disorders and their treatment in ancient Greece

Yulia Ustinova, Etzel Cardeña

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Every disorder is embedded within multiple sociocultural aspects, and in mental disorders they acquire paramount significance. Nonetheless and despite the cultural diversity of ancient and modern societies, the consistency of psychiatric reactions to combat stress throughout history is remarkable. The situation in ancient Greece was quite different from the contemporary one. Hippocratic physicians turned a blind eye to a series of worrying conditions they could neither explicate nor treat, but enlightened laypeople noticed mental disorders disregarded by physicians and even looked for ways to assuage them. In ancient Greece, fear, panic, and ensuing short-term psychological consequences were well-known to military men who tried to prevent them by some methods that are considered to be efficient even today. Nonetheless, long-term mental disorders following exposure to battle were almost entirely ignored. The 5th century BC sophist Gorgias seems to be the only author who discussed their nature. Combat-related mental disorders existed more than 2000 years ago, as they do today, and the idea that they could be prevented by means of social conditioning proved to be false. The fact that some modern therapeutic approaches appear to have been used in Greece is reassuring: it suggests that modern Western attitudes to psychological treatment of trauma are not entirely culturally dependent, but rely on universal human processes and may therefore be applied to the treatment of trauma with patients from different cultural traditions. Awareness of the persistence of combat psychological trauma in history may provide insights to different professionals: historians may identify and comprehend allusions to combat trauma in their sources, while mental health professionals may use ancient history to broaden their understanding of the effects of trauma and related treatment.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)739-748
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2014


  • PTSD
  • ancient Greece
  • combat stress
  • diagnosis
  • treatment

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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