Human Disasters Ancient Roman Poisoner Locusta Part 1

About the ancient Roman poisoner Locusta, biography and history of the woman responsible for numerous murders including that of Emperor Claudius.



Never was there a more prolific or more efficient poisoner than the notorious Locusta of ancient Rome. A woman of infinite inventiveness and titanic cruelty, she personally poisoned hundreds, including personal enemies and foes of the imperial court, who often commissioned her services. And through the apprentices who learned the mysteries of poisoning in her special school, she was responsible for nearly 10,000 deaths.

Emperor Claudius I was no doubt the most illustrious of Locusta's victims. In 48 A.D., Agrippina, the cunning and malevolent 33-year-old niece of the bachelor sovereign, embarked on a long, irresistible seduction of her uncle aimed at winning power for her son, Domitius Ahenobarbus, later to be known as Nero. Despite the widely accepted proscriptions against incest, Claudius got the Roman Senate to approve his marriage to Agrippina "for the good of the State."

To pave the way for young Domitius's accession to the throne, Agrippina first had to cast disfavor, on Claudius's own son, Britannicus. This she did by marrying Domitius to Octavia, Claudius's daughter. The double tie of son-in-law and stepson brought Domitius, whose name was now officially changed to Nero Claudius Caesar, close to Claudius and pushed Britannicus to the outer fringes of power and influence. Next, Agrippina had to eliminate the reigning king. Enter Locusta.

Agrippina met with the poisoner and, according to the historian Tacitus, ordered from her a large portion of poisonous mushrooms. The mushrooms were served to the 64-year-old emperor in a stew. Almost immediately Claudius began to gasp and sputter and lose his power of speech. He was seized with racking abdominal pains that bent him double, and finally he staggered from the table to his bed, where he tossed and turned all night, delirious with pain. In one version of the story, Claudius began retching up the poison, but Locusta, always the unruffled professional, was ready with a second dose, which she gave him, either mixed into a gruel or possibly in an enema. Yet another version has Claudius taking an unexpected turn for the better; Locusta then summoned the physician Xenophon, Agrippina's friend, under the pre-text of trying to induce Claudius to vomit by tickling his throat with a feather. But the feather had been dipped by Locusta in a lethal poison. Whatever the precise details, Claudius was dead by daybreak and Nero was crowned emperor. The year was 54 A.D.

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