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Achilles - The Tendon and the Hero of the Trojan War

Dr Sampurna Roy MD


The Achilles tendon is the strongest, largest and thickest tendon in the human body and plays an important role in the biomechanics of the lower extremity.

It is also known as tendo calcaneus or calcaneal tendon.

It is 15 cm long and begins near the middle of the leg.


 Click on the image

It is an extension of the calf muscles gastrocnemius, soleus and plantaris.

Achilles tendon attaches gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles to the calcaneus (heel).

The blood supply of the tendon is from the peroneal and posterior tibial arteries.

Achilles tendon disorders include tendinosis, paratenonitis, insertional tendinitis, retrocalcaneal bursitis, and frank rupture.

Rupture of Achilles' Tendon:

Patients present with pain and swelling in the posterior aspect of the ankle.

This injury is most common in middle-aged men and though it can occur during games and severe exertion, it often happens as a result of trivial stumble.

The sensation of rupture is mistaken for a blow on the back of the leg.

Such ruptures occur because the tendon is ischaemic and weaker than normal.

The rupture occurs 3 cm above the insertion of the tendon to the calcaneus.

Early suture of Achilles' tendon followed by immobilization of the ankle in a plaster cast for 6 weeks gives excellent results.

Death of a great Trojan war hero Achilles -

Achilles was a great Greek hero in the Trojan war, about which Homer wrote in Iliad. Before he was born his mother Thetis, who was a sea nymph, was warned that his son would die young.

She made an unsuccessful attempt to make her son immortal.

When he was a baby, she carried him to the river Stynx whose magical water were supposed to give protection from all wounds and diseases and dipped him in it.

But the waters did not touch one part of Achilles' body, the heel by which his mother held him.

This vulnerable portion of the human body is known as 'Achilles heel'.

Thetis dipping the infant Achilles into the river Styx  wikimedia commons

What actually killed the glorious hero Achilles in the Trojan war?

According to mythology a poisoned arrow pierced the one part of of Achilles' body that water of the Styx had not touched - his heel, and he died from the wound.

Photograph of the statue of Death of Achilles  wikimedia-commons

Some interesting medical articles have been published explaining the death of Achilles. According to the authors the death of the Trojan hero could be due to the following reasons.

- Poison and infection -  It is likely that the arrow which killed Achilles was smeared with poison or infectious agents - Example - Botulinum toxin, Curare,  Clostridium perfringens and Yersenia pestis.

The tip of the arrow could have been made of metal, like lead.  

Wound infection with subsequent gangrene and osteomyelitis may have caused Achilles' death.

Death due to tetanus is another possibility.

- Excessive bleeding: The posterior tibial artery lies in close proximity to the Achilles tendon.

It is possible Achilles was suffering from hemophilia and bled to death.

- Pulmonary embolism, atelectasis and pneumonia during post injury period could have lead to his death.

- Some other interesting suggestions by Dr Lee and Dr Jacobs in the article "The Man, the Myth, the Tendon" are metabolic, immunologic, psychiatric and evolutionary causes.

A brave hero committing suicide due to post-traumatic depression could be a possibility.

He was the bravest and most daring hero in the Trojan war.

In my opinion it is most likely that an arrow smeared with poison was the main cause of his death.

Other posts:

 Joy of walking in the Hills:Walking is the healthiest of all outdoor activities

"Brr! It's so cold outside"- Human body responses to cold and hypothermia

Falling Sick in the Mountains - Pathology of Altitude Related Illness.

Struck by Lightning - Pathology of Lightning Induced Injuries



Achilles heel: the death of Achilles in ancient myth.

Achilles (the man, the myth, the tendon)

Achilles' death: anatomical considerations regarding the most famous trauma of the Trojan war

The nature of water: Greek thought from Homer to Acusilaos

Homer . The Iliad. Barnes and Noble; 1970.


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Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)







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