From antiquity onwards, chroniclers have reported cases of agitation or stupor sometimes associated with terrifying nightmares. Responses during the impact of a traumatic experience have attracted attention: terror, confusion and disorganized behaviour during the fire of Rome; the numbness of Patroclus, and loss of bowel and bladder control among warriors. The same applies to the most obvious post-traumatic responses: the recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of Gilgamesh, the dreams of battle in De Natura Rerum and the dissociative episodes concerning Marius. Although symptoms of re-experience are perfectly described, the long-term dissociative symptoms and their somatic components are also the object of unequivocal anecdotes. The scientific reading of the historical studies of a clinical and seemingly isolated fact contributes towards the establishment of modern psychotraumatology. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.