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Caius Maxentius

Psychology of Legionnaries

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I know few ancient texts commented a great deal on rank-and-file men in any detail, but I've often wondered about how the legionnaries coped with the kind of life they had to lead. After Marius, killing became the life's work of a professional soldier, and between the harsh discipline and the kinds of battle experience they had, I wonder how severely post-traumatic stress disorder haunted these men. Or did most of them build thick enough skins to sleep ok at night?

 

I also wonder how they would have interacted socially with civilians during downtime. Was such social contact even commonplace?

 

Has their been any research on legionnaries' psychological lives?

They coped because...

 

a ) They had no choice

b ) Their conditions were probably no worse on balance than where they came from

c ) The legions were organised with a supportive familial structure embedded in it (the contubernae "Close Friends")

d ) It was possible to bribe their way out of most of the bad things

e ) Discipline in peacetime was often remarkably laz

f ) Post Traumatic Stress is not caused by violence (which some men enjoy and the majority cope with) but the sudden noises and suprises of modern war which our nervous system is not evolved for.

g ) Social interaction with civilians was a very much on the side of the legionaries. Romans moaned about how larcenous they were, and how violent they could be if the crime was reported. Besides, like all soldiers ancient and modern, all they wanted to do was gamble, have sex, and get blind steaming drunk.

Edited by caldrail

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f ) Post Traumatic Stress is not caused by violence (which some men enjoy and the majority cope with) but the sudden noises and suprises of modern war which our nervous system is not evolved for.

 

Thats exactly why I necroed this thread a year after the last post was made.

 

This post should show my questions.

 

http://www.unrv.com/forum/topic/9275-psychology-of-legionnaries/page__view__findpost__p__122459

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f ) Post Traumatic Stress is not caused by violence (which some men enjoy and the majority cope with) but the sudden noises and suprises of modern war which our nervous system is not evolved for.

 

Thats exactly why I necroed this thread a year after the last post was made.

 

This post should show my questions.

 

http://www.unrv.com/...post__p__122459

 

I've had, unfortunately, extensive experience with PTSD, those who are diagnosed with suffering from it & am acquainted with docs treating it at the VA PTSD clinic in Seattle where the returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are beginning to flood the place.

 

It's not as simple as sudden noises and surprises (though that can certainly be a part of it; think WWI & bombardment in the trenches coupled with the chance nature of getting hit). One thing that's common among those returned from Iraq and Afghanistan isn't so much the intensity but the sustained hyper-awareness, adrenalin, etc., needed to conduct constant daily operations for 12 month deployments. Most pre-modern armies had a more rythmic (for lack of a better word) tempo of ops; winter quarters, spring campaign season and so on.

 

The classic Hollywood/popular concept of a shell-shocked troop unable to go back to the front is only the most extreme case. Most diagnosed with it can cope with combat well enough and it's only after returning to home station that it 'kicks in'. Being unable to fit back into civilian society or maintain a 'normal' human relationships (usually with spouse, civilian friends or family) seems to be the main kind of symptom along a spectrum of mild-moderate-even moderate/severe cases.

 

I'm only guessing but I'd imagine there were a few of what we'd diagnose as PTSD in legions--maybe as a result of some traumatic survival of a near-route, losing most of your comrades in battle or perhaps subjected to a sustained siege--but many of the symptoms like anger and hyper-violence would have fit in with the rougher nature of their era so as not to have made it as distorted a set of behaviors as it does in our time.

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I think you're wrong. The Romans have not once, as far as I'm aware, ever mentioned anyone suffering from problems associated with military trauma. Clearly the ancient battlefield was not a pleasant place (Ammianus Marcellinus depicts what the reader might expect to see) but even he doesn't tell us that people were suffering mentally afterward.

 

That doesn't mean that some individuals weren't haunted by their experience, bad dreams and guilt so to speak, but that isn't post traumatic stress.

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I think you're wrong. The Romans have not once, as far as I'm aware, ever mentioned anyone suffering from problems associated with military trauma. Clearly the ancient battlefield was not a pleasant place (Ammianus Marcellinus depicts what the reader might expect to see) but even he doesn't tell us that people were suffering mentally afterward.

 

That doesn't mean that some individuals weren't haunted by their experience, bad dreams and guilt so to speak, but that isn't post traumatic stress.

 

They are symptoms of PTSD by the definition and criteria used here in the states by the Veterans Admin hospitals. The definition is--to be honest--very broad. By the criteria in the link below it's possible some suffered, by your criteria above of classic 'combat shock' it's almost certain they didn't.

 

Note: I should add this is the same DSM-IV is used to diagnose PTSD in spousal & child abuse cases. I've used the same criteria when I do pro-bono for veterans navigating admin courts to get resolution on disabilities.

 

Here is the criteria used by the VA from the DSM-IV: LINK

 

Of course the topic is just speculation not historical fact. As long as one understands the difference no harm, no foul.

Edited by Virgil61

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These days one hears allot of posttraumatic stress and depression symptoms in soldiers returning from war. Now i would imagine that 2000 years ago the traumatic experience of one on one battle must have been much greater then it is nowadays. Are there any works on stress and depressions in the ancient warfare world? Or are we now all just whimps and back then people could coupe just much better? Were long serving soldiers considered strange or crazy people with strange behaviour?

 

cheers

viggen

 

Googling I found a few, surprisingly more than I thought existed. A lot of them seem to use characters from ancient literature such as Juvenal and Aristophenes and those below.

 

I went ahead and ordered the three books below, they look intriguing enough. Guess they'll go in my book queue.

 

Melchior, A. 'Caesar in Vietnam: Did Roman soldiers suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?' Greece & Rome 58.2 (2011).

 

Philippe J. Birmes, Psychtraumatology in Antiquity, Stress and Health Vol 26 issue 1 ]2001]

 

Menachem Ben-Ezra, Traumatic Reactions from Antiquity to the 16th century: was there a common denominator?, Stress and Health Vol 27 Issue 3 [2010]

 

Another classicist's commentary on the above article and others; http://drjonathaneat...roman-army.html

 

Lawrence Tritle, From Melos to My Lai: War and Survival

 

Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam Compares and analyzes scenes from the Illiad with the experience in Vietnam.

 

Jonathan Shay, Odysseus in America Uses the Odyssey and Vietnam to compare homecomings.

 

Edited by Virgil61

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Since the Romans don't mention the symptoms you want to discuss, it doesn't look to me like it was a big deal if they ever encountered them at all. In any case, I stand by my original point. Human beings are naturally aggressive animals (some more than others of course) and thus the odd spot of violence wouldn't usually have any long lasting effect (apart from any bad injuries or noses put out of joint). Modern warfare is different. There's much less security in numbers, a heightened sense of individual vulnerability, more intensive methods of inducing desirable behavioural characteristics during training irrespective of long term effects, and a great deal more suprise and sudden noise. Ancient and modern are two different battlefield enviroments. I can't go into too much detail because I'm already bending forum rules.

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True, but the essential point is that fighting as such is a natrual activity for human beings, or at least, one they adapt to. The local high street on a staurday night will prove that. The battlefield is a more terrifying prospect for many people although clearly some people rather enjoy the experience. Melee battle is something people tend to recover from relatively easily. What causes the heightened psychological problems are sudden loud noises and the constant potential for unseen enemies in mordern warfare. Human beings haven't evolved to cope with the artifical enviroment of the modern battlefield - it's a noticeable problem that soldiers suffer the consequences of training and experience. basically, the Romans don't talk about shell shock because there were no shells on the ancient battlefield.

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First page of this thread, minus Caldrail's posts, made me nearly shit myself.

 

Just no. No...no no no no no no.

 

Caldrail, whether he is aware of it or not, is echoing Du Picq. This is a good thing, I havent met anyone beneath the rank of captain who even paused in recognition that the name was important. My copy ended up in permanent dusty display in the colonels office to trick people into thinking he reads and is very knowledgeable.

 

You only need to go to Airborne School in Columbus, Georgia Monday mornings during the introduction speech to figure out how PTSD works, the 507th are masters at exploiting it to break off guys prone to it.

 

Everyone is sat in the bleachers on the far side of the field across from jump towers. One of the cadre is standing infront of you, doing his skit. One is being prepared at the bottom of the jump tower to be towed up, you see him go way up in the air, and is released, floating down, landing. Another goes up, there is a technical problem, and they try to fix it..... once fixed , he is released, parachute doesnt work, and he falls screaming until he impacts..... people come running over. Dead.

 

My reaction.... sucks to be him. How do I avoid that.

 

What is interesting is the most bad assed, aggressive bullies from basic dropped out that moment. They gave a impressive array of excuses, like their dad wanted them to become a Ranger, but it wasnt really their dream, etc.

 

The faux testosterone level definately dropped after that day, and I didnt come into contact with it again until they marched us up to ranger batt where everyone was suddenly full of shit again.

 

The guys most full of shit were the ones worst effected in Iraq. Certain exceptions.... the guy who did the friendly fire was always mellow. He became withdrawn afterwards. The guy with PTSD from before joining the army, losing his family, openly worship satan as a result, was promoted to head of the scouts (in a arctic airborne unit) but managed himself otherwise, ane earned most peoples respect save a couple. Those few framed him for murder, and he looked the part, and the army was looking for scapegoats to do a"A Few Good Men" shit for the liberal angst back home.

 

The hardest thing about PTSD is our individual misconceptions and cultural misconceptions do not line up with our psychological reality. Our rhetoric and identity in roll playing soldier and victim is very deceptive. Its make believe, something we embrace everyday in our lives.

 

Where does PTSD take place outside of killing? Rape. What happens to attractive women repeatedly raped? They hate their beauty, turn against it. They change their identity, their rituals, how they rollplay in society.

 

How about the homeless. Many current and former homeless crack under mere discussion of homelessness, exhibiting all the symtoms of PTSD. The situation doesnt even need to be present, the ideal is enough to throw them into tantrums.

 

The sound and din of battle isnt the cause of PTSD. If it was, we would have teenage boys hiding under their beds everytime a deathmetal song plays.

 

Its a conditioned response that triggers a behavior related to a larger situational scheme. If it was the small matter of the light and sound, then people would get it in basic training on that firing line where explosives are going off, tracers overhead, and your crawling under wire. If that was the case, they would just camp us out there all night till those prone to snapping would do so.

 

Luckily, it doesnt work so simply. It means conditioned response is but a aspect, and not the whole , of PTSD.

 

Lucky, because it means we can train to avoid it, to cope with it, to use it to become better.

 

The hardest aspect of Cynicism wasnt giving up my material possessions..... you get used to it. It wasnt the hardship. Wasnt the weather. It was the morning after a storm, in the most intensely beautiful of settings, when I realised I had at that point no future. A literal point of no return. I would become a scavenger of worms and grubs in tatters., unable to shave or become employed, have a wife, etc. After 2 years.... snap.

 

It was giving up finally on one identity that caused the crush of overwhelming dread and bereavement. I became afflicted horribly.

 

By the end of the day, I had sorted the issues through. Intellectualized who I was, what I was to do, in the kaleidoscope of my experiences. That night was the best for me. That morning was the worst.

 

Its extremely hard to get guys to confront themselves. Even if the eye to self analysis is there, we are.still holding onto something. The cause of our insanity is that little bit of sanity we arent even aware we are clutching to. However, it become obvious afterwards our whole life was measured by it. It might very well be the one thing that keeps you alive, but it can also destroy you.

 

Its not the easiest thing to come into contact with either.

 

Did anyone get the point of the Shawshank Redemption?

 

Yes, the Romans got PTSD. We know this from the brains they had, and the psychological effects such formations had up until the 19th century. Same hardwired brains, same tactical aims, same results.

 

Its just Pavlov ringing the bell.

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But not the same battlefield. Whilst some Romans probably suffered psychology, we can't know to what extent because no-one discusses it before WW1, during which the acentuated effect of artillery bombardment made such trauma all too obvious. However, my studies from the AWI reveal no attention to psychological effects of battle either, despite the presence of considerable risk (indeed, there's a lot of literature that stresses the courage under fire but none about those who were affected after the war).

 

The young are always more resilient than the old, there are always those less prone to stress effects than others, and there are always those who enjoy the battlefield and its risks. The fact that modern armies are able to identify recruits at risk is neither here nor there. In fact, it merely highlights the attention to these problems that our modern warfare demands, problems made all too clear in WW2.

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Most grunts "Shoot to miss?" I assure you you are grossly misinformed,unless you are referring to something called  " supressive fire" in order make it easier for other infantrymen to maneuver more unharrassed .

I can pretty much guarantee that ever since the first troglodyte picked up a stone and bashed someone in the head from a hostile tribe,there have been men staring blankly into the void trying to avoid awkward conversations with civilians trying to pry alcohol fueled war stories out of them etc.

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Most grunts "Shoot to miss?" I assure you you are grossly misinformed,unless you are referring to something called  " supressive fire" in order make it easier for other infantrymen to maneuver more unharrassed .

I can pretty much guarantee that ever since the first troglodyte picked up a stone and bashed someone in the head from a hostile tribe,there have been men staring blankly into the void trying to avoid awkward conversations with civilians trying to pry alcohol fueled war stories out of them etc.

Your assurances are outweighed by the available information. The inability of raw troops to exercise incisive shooting was a phenomenon noticed by combatants in World War Two, who relied on large numbers of low quality troops in many cases poorly trained. The British and Americans sought to counter this by teaching their soldiers to 'hate' the enemy, with no great result. Modern techniques for achieving the right mental condition to commit to battle evolved from the mid war onward and these days are so well well practised that many have expressed concerns about the inability of trained soldiers to adapt to civilian life.

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Ummm... what?

 

The inability to adapt many have to "civilian life" has nothing to do with the training we recieved.

 

Rather, its adapting to a radical change from a hybrid Meritocracy/Good Old Boy in the military, where everyone has a place and purpose that is dictated by logic, governed by necessity; everyone has pluralustic identities subdivided across specialty and echelons your unit belongs to, your every deed good and bad is recorded, and a uniformed sense of community is fostered upon you. You always belong to a proud, unique unit who have heroes in its history that you can live up to, and women are easy to come by, due to material needs being relatively stable and plentiful enough.

 

A Veteran doesn't have this, beyond living off the fumes of pass glory. Its very rare to find a veteran living deep in the forest like Rambo, it happens, I've seem it happen, done it myself to a degree. Most don't do that, as most veterans don't have a decent survivialist background and training sufficient to pull that off, including most infantry.

 

Most of the guys who don't make it actually do make it to a large degree, they do indeed successfully integrate partially, but fail in other respects. Simply put, in their cases.... they don't die, they are trained to withstand hardship to a high degree, and have bivouac in the military, not much difference in being a urban hobo.

 

Secondly, able bodied young men receive the least assistance, when homeless, and understand the logic of government well enough, having once been part of it, to understand when a system is stacked against them. They don't receive much in assistance, and the assistance they can recieve through the VA here in the states can be rather leathal, whose policies I gave personally witnessed leading to mass suicide (I am not exaggerating, US Vets at Barbers Point at a very high suicide rate for its imprisoned success stories, the program was absolutely rotten, guys were jumping out of windows to end it).

 

The underlining reasons for every veteran failing to adapt is highly diverse, as they are each complex individuals. They are more visible to society because of their background, and we keep track of them in a impersonal manner via statistics. No matter what accomplishments I do, for the rest of my life, I'm a veteran. If I cure cancer, a Veteran cures Cancer, but if I'm homeless, or imprisoned, get cancer, lose a limb, marry 20 times, buy land.... I'm also a veteran and someone is keeping tabs.

 

No one notices the non-veteran guys who can't adapt, until they are caught and imprisoned, and we only care about they as far as recidivism goes. They can succeed or fail, and get to belong to categories belonging to other legal fictions that subdivide their humanity, and asserts their identity in parts.... Is he a black drug user? Is she a transgendered homeless person? Is he a homeless Christian? Is he a alcoholic native american?

 

 

If you get to be a part of one of these groups, and only some are voluntary to join, others you must be born into, money exists out there, as well as organizations, to help you get out of your rut. Not nearly enough for everyone.... but some. But you gotta be part of that group.

 

If you are not, your screwed. They few guys with PTSD and Rambo training able to hike out into the woods and live in a log and eat catipillars know what they are doing, and aid agencies rarely bother them. The rest get screwed because they are veterans, and are told to go to the VA cause the government will take care of them, as normal aid agencies have to puck and choose who to take care of. VA can't competently help them, so they are more or less subcontracted out, and this subcontracting has a lot of horror stories. This is assuming that even happens, most just don't get help. They get the run around till they leave frustrated.

 

Vets just get noticed more. Its easier to trace our conclusions, but everyone on the flipside of the wheel of fortune experience this breakdown. Just differs for each, as society if very complex, and our personality type, or thinking style, determines how we examine our prior ideological assumptions with the current crisis. A lot of diversity is inherent in this, and there isn't a cure all simple solution. Its easy to confuse the appearance of uniformity the military enforces on troops with equality in outlook, thought, and free time. Even marines, Jarheads.... are highly complex individuals, educated, and differ in their ambitions and outlook in life. You take away their chain of command, units, safety net.... their individuality shows in how they live. They can have very different lifestyles and pursuits over the course of their life. But in our statistical assumptions, that uniformity in the military erases everything, makes everyone the same. Equal starting points. Its a bad way to approach this. They aren't clones hatched in a lab, grown on base then released as civilians after service.

 

I absolutely fail to understand how understanding troop moving procedures work, and battle drills, hand eye coordination, produces guts unable to adapt. Fairly simple stuff, no different from mowing the yard or fly fishing, or making glass. Its a learnable skill. Kids learn it playing games even.

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The inability to adapt many have to "civilian life" has nothing to do with the training we recieved.

On the contrary. It's the root cause. In order to make soldiers more efficient on the battlefield they are now dehumanised in a more subtle manner than simple bullying and shouting as was sufficient in prior ages. The problem is that modern western soldiers are not de-conditioned on release. As it happens earlier this year I was chatting to a younger veteran and mentioned this aspect. He agreed. He also pointed out that the instincts he had learned via training were in his words "difficult to turn off".

 

 

 

A Veteran doesn't have this, beyond living off the fumes of pass glory.

You will find that historically veterans tended to get ignored when the war was done. Some Romans got quite up tight when arguments started. One story has a senator ripping open his toga when giving a speech to dramatically point at his war wounds, telling his audience that he had fought for Rome, since they obviously needed reminding that his war record made huim a valuable member of society.

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