PTSD in History: From Uruk to Baghdad

  • Philippe J. BirmesEmail author
  • Eric Bui
Reference work entry


The historical evolution of the concept of psychological trauma is relevant to the establishment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a syndrome. Exposure to overwhelming terror can lead to troubling memories, which has been a central theme in the literature since the time of Gilgamesh. The isolated anecdote thus evolved into a clinical entity whose medical and psychiatric complexity underwent large-scale development during and immediately after World War I. The scientific integration of the traumatic stress entity included three main steps: (i) a scientific interest created by clinical anecdotes, (ii) the integration of a syndrome when the observable scientific facts can be reproduced using reliable criteria, and (iii) a pathogenic specificity corroborating the fundamentals of the clinical observation.


Antiquity History Stress Trauma Traumatic dreams Traumatic neurosis Vietnam War 


  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-III). 3rd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 1980.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV). 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 1994.Google Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.Google Scholar
  4. Barker ER. Caregivers as casualties. West J Nurs Res. 1989;11:628–31.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Barrois C. Les Névroses Traumatiques. 2eth ed. Paris: Dunod; 1998.Google Scholar
  6. Birmes P, Arrieu A, Payen A, Warner BA, Schmitt L. Traumatic stress and depression in a group of plane crash survivors. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1999;187:754–5.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Birmes P, Brunet A, Carreras D, Ducassé JL, Charlet JP, Lauque D, Sztulman H, Schmitt L. The predictive power of peritraumatic dissociation and acute stress symptoms for posttraumatic stress symptoms: a three-month prospective study. Am J Psychiatry. 2003;160:1337–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Birmes P, Escande M, Moron P, Schmitt L. L’hystéro-neurasthénie dans les Leçons du Mardi du Professeur Charcot: opposition à la névrose traumatique mais anticipation du trouble de stress post-traumatique? Ann Med Psychol. 2005;163:336–43.Google Scholar
  9. Birmes P, Daubisse L, Brunet A. Predictors of enduring PTSD after an industrial disaster. Psychiatr Serv. 2008;59:116.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Birmes P, Bui E, Klein R, Billard J, Schmitt L, Allenou C, Job N, Arbus C. Psychotraumatology in antiquity. Stress Health. 2010;26:21–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bower GH, Sivers H. Cognitive impact of traumatic events. Dev Psychopathol. 1998;10:625–53.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Brewin CR, Andrews B, Rose S, Kirk M. Acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder in victims of violent crime. Am J Psychiatry. 1999;156:360–6.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Briole G, Lebigot F, Lafont B, Favre JD, Vallet D. Le Traumatisme Psychique: Rencontre et Devenir. Paris: Masson; 1994.Google Scholar
  14. Brunet A, Weiss DS, Metzler TJ, Best SR, Neylan TC, Rogers C, Fagan J, Marmar CR. The peritraumatic distress inventory: a proposed measure of PTSD criterion A 2. Am J Psychiatry. 2001;158:1480–5.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Bui E, Tremblay L, Brunet A, Rodgers R, Jehel L, Véry E, Schmitt L, Vautier S, Birmes P. Course of post-traumatic stress symptoms over the 5 years following an industrial disaster: a structural equation modeling study. J Trauma Stress. 2010;23:759–66.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Céline L-F. Voyage au bout de la nuit. Paris: Gallimard; 1952.Google Scholar
  17. Charcot JM. Cas d’hystéro-neurasthénie survenue à la suite d’une collision de train chez un employé de chemin de fer âgé de 56 ans. In: Trillat E, editor. Jean Martin Charcot: L’hystérie. Paris: L’Harmattan; 1998. p. 133–42.Google Scholar
  18. Choy T, de Bosset F. Post-traumatic stress disorder: an overview. Can J Psychiatry. 1992;37:578–83.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Classen C, Koopman C, Hales R, Spiegel D. Acute stress disorder as a predictor of posttraumatic stress symptoms. Am J Psychiatry. 1998;155:620–4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Crocq L. Les Traumatismes Psychiques de Guerre. Paris: Editions Odile Jacob; 1999.Google Scholar
  21. Daly RJ. Samuel Pepys and post-traumatic stress disorder. Br J Psychiatry. 1983;143:64–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Davidson JRT. Posttraumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder. In: Kaplan HI, Sadock BJ, editors. Comprehensive textbook of psychiatry, vol. 1. 6th ed. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins; 1995. p. 1227–36.Google Scholar
  23. Ferenczi S. Deux types de névrose de guerre (Hystérie). In: Oeuvres Complètes, Tome II. Paris: Payot; 1970. p. 238–52.Google Scholar
  24. Freud S. Beyond the pleasure principle. New York: Liveright; 1928.Google Scholar
  25. Friedman MJ. Post-Vietnam syndrome: recognition and management. Psychosomatics. 1981;22:931–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Friedman MJ. Finalizing PTSD in DSM-5: getting here from there and where to go next. J Trauma Stress. 2013;26:548–56.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Froissart J. The haunting of Sir Peter. In: Chronicles, book three (1386–8) (trans: Brereton G). London: Penguin Books; 1978. pp. 275–79.Google Scholar
  28. Fullerton CS, Ursano RJ. The other side of chaos: understanding the patterns of posttraumatic responses. In: Fullerton CS, Ursano RJ, editors. Posttraumatic stress disorder. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press; 1997. p. 3–18.Google Scholar
  29. Gersons BP, Carlier IV. Post traumatic stress disorder: the history of a recent concept. Br J Psychiatry. 1992;161:742–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Glass AJ. Psychiatry in World War II, Vol. I (1966), Vol. II (1973). Washington, DC: Office of the Surgeon General; (1966–1973).Google Scholar
  31. Grinker R, Spiegel JP. Men under stress. Philadelphia: Blakiston; 1945.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Harvey AG, Bryant RA. Two-year prospective evaluation of the relationship between acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder following mild traumatic brain injury. Am J Psychiatry. 2000;157:626–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Hastings M. Baron de Marbot. In: Hastings M, editor. Military anecdotes. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1985. p. 196–9.Google Scholar
  34. Herodotus. Book six. In: The histories (trans: De S’elincourt A, Marincola JM). London: Penguin Books; 1996. pp. 325–71.Google Scholar
  35. Homer. The Iliad (trans: Rieu E). London: Penguin Books; 1950.Google Scholar
  36. Janet P. L’automatisme Psychologique. Paris: Alcan; 1889.Google Scholar
  37. Keller T, Chappell T. Historical perspective: the rise and fall of Erichsen’s disease (railroad spine). Spine. 1996;21:1597–601.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62:593–602.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Latham R, editor. The Shorter Pepys. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1985.Google Scholar
  40. Lôo P, Lôo H, Galinowski A. Le Stress Permanent. 2nd ed. Paris: Masson; 1999.Google Scholar
  41. Lucretius. Book four: sensation and sex. In: On the nature of the universe (trans: Latham RE, Godwin J). London: Penguin Books; 1951. pp. 95–128.Google Scholar
  42. Maldonado JR, Spiegel D. Trauma, dissociation, and hypnotizability. In: Bremner JD, Marmar CR, editors. Trauma, memory, and dissociation. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press; 1998. p. 57–106.Google Scholar
  43. Marmar CR, Weiss DS, Metzler T. Peritraumatic dissociation and posttraumatic stress disorder. In: Bremner JD, Marmar CR, editors. Trauma, memory, and dissociation. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press; 1998. p. 229–52.Google Scholar
  44. McFarlane AC. Individual psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 1994;17:393–408.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Micale M. Charcot and les névroses traumatiques: historical and scientific reflections. Rev Neurol. 1994;150:498–505.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Nemiah JC. Early concepts of trauma, dissociation, and the unconscious: their history and current implications. In: Bremner JD, Marmar CR, editors. Trauma, memory and dissociation. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press; 1998. p. 1–26.Google Scholar
  47. O’Brien LS. The history of PTSD. In: O’Brien LS, editor. Traumatic events and mental health. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1998. p. 6–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pepys S. September 1666. In: Grifith T, editor. The Concise Pepys. Ware: Wordsworth Editions; 1997. p. 429–47.Google Scholar
  49. Pinel P. Traité médico-philosophique sur l’Aliénation Mentale. Paris: Brosson; 1809.Google Scholar
  50. Sandars NK. The search for everlasting life. In: Sandars NK, editor. The epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin Books; 1972. p. 97–107.Google Scholar
  51. Semprun J. L’Ecriture ou la Vie. Paris: Gallimard; 1994.Google Scholar
  52. Shakespeare W. Act I. Sc. iv. In: Romeo and Juliet. Paris: Flammarion; 1992. p. 70–9.Google Scholar
  53. Shakespeare W. Act V. Sc. i. In: Macbeth. Paris: Flammarion; 1993. p. 246–55.Google Scholar
  54. Shalev AY. Stress versus traumatic stress. In: Van der Kolk BA, McFarlane AC, Weisaeth L, editors. Traumatic stress. New York: Guilford Press; 1996. p. 77–101.Google Scholar
  55. Shalev A, Tyano S. Les mécanismes de confrontation. Une nouvelle conception pathogénique et thérapeutique du syndrome du combattant. Psychol Med. 1986;18:2183–6.Google Scholar
  56. Solomon Z, Benbenishty R, Mikulincer M. The contribution of war-time, pre-war and post-war to self efficacy: a longitudinal study of combat stress reaction. J Trauma Stress. 1991;4:345–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Steel Z, Chey T, Silove D, Marnane C, Bryant RA, van Ommeren M. Association of torture and other potentially traumatic events with mental health outcomes among populations exposed to mass conflict and displacement: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2009;302:537–49.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Stein DJ, Chiu WT, Hwang I, Kessler RC, Sampson N, Alonso J, Borges G, Bromet E, Bruffaerts R, de Girolamo G, Florescu S, Gureje O, He Y, Kovess-Masfety V, Levinson D, Matschinger H, Mneimneh Z, Nakamura Y, Ormel J, Posada-Villa J, Sagar R, Scott KM, Tomov T, Viana MC, Williams DR, Nock MK. Cross-national analysis of the associations between traumatic events and suicidal behavior: findings from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. PLoS One. 2010;5:e10574.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  59. The Younger Pliny. To Cornelius Tacitus. In: The letters of the Younger Pliny (trans: Radice B). London: Penguin Books; 1969. pp. 170–173.Google Scholar
  60. Tomb DA. The phenomenology of post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 1994;17:237–50.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Turnbull GJ. A review of post-traumatic stress disorder. Part I: historical development and classification. Injury. 1998;29:87–91.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Ursano RJ, Fullerton CS, Epstein R, Crowley B, Kao TC, Vance K, Craig KJ, Dougall AL, Baum A. Acute and chronic posttraumatic stress disorder in motor vehicle accident victims. Am J Psychiatry. 1999;156:589–95.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Van der Hart O, Brown P, Van der Kol BA. Le traitement psychologique du stress post-traumatique de Pierre Janet. Ann Med Psychol. 1989;147:976–82.Google Scholar
  64. Van der Kolk BA, Weisaeth L, Van der Hart O. History of trauma in psychiatry. In: Van der Kolk BA, McFarlane AC, Weisaeth L, editors. Traumatic stress. New York: Guilford Press; 1996. p. 47–74.Google Scholar
  65. Wilson JP. The historical evolution of PTSD diagnostic criteria: from Freud to DSM-IV. J Trauma Stress. 1994;7:681–98.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Woodham-Smith C, editor. Florence Nightingale. New York: Atheneum; 1983.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire du Stress Traumatique/LST (EA 4560); CHU de Toulouse, Hôpital de PsychiatrieUniversité de Toulouse; Université Paul Sabatier-Toulouse 3ToulouseFrance
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryMassachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations