Around 200 years before Christianity reached Rome, it was a savage place in the upper circles. Locusta (d. AD 68) earned the title as “Ancient Rome’s Most Accomplished Poisoner.” She is remembered for “multa scelerum fama,” or a great reputation for crime.
It is believed she began life around the first century in Gaul, or modern-day France. She grew up in a household that paid careful attention to the herbs and substances in the natural world. By the time she reached Rome in adulthood, she was an expert. She made a career assisting nobles with the “problems,” including Agrippina the Younger, the fourth wife of Emperor Claudius. It was during this era that 150 noble Roman ladies were convicted of poisoning.
Agrippina considered her husband, Claudius (10 BC to AD 54), to be an issue. Claudius became Emperor of Rome after his nephew Caligula was murdered. The Emperor had recently named their son, Nero, as his heir. Nothing was set in stone, and Claudius had three other wives and several sons.
Unable to think of any other way to solidify her son’s claim, she consulted Locusta for the solution to her problem. Locusta delivered a highly effective poison and Agrippina was free of her worry by AD 54.
Time passed, but Locusta’s reputation eventually caught up to her. She was apprehended for purveying poison and condemned to death in AD 55. Nero heard and immediately thought of his competitor, Britannicus. Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus (AD 41 — AD 55) was also a son of Claudius, by his wife Valeria Messalina. Despite being named heir, he saw Britannicus as a rival and possible usurper.
Locusta prepared a poison for Nero and gave it to him. The poison was ineffective and Nero physically beat her for the mistake. She brewed another concoction, twice as strong, and it finally worked.
Nero rewarded her with wealth, power, and an estate. He promised to set up a school where she could teach her recipes and her techniques for poisoning to others. She was pardoned of all crimes.
Unfortunately, all her knowledge and formulas were destined to be lost to time. As soon as Nero died, Roman Emperor Galba condemned her to die during his reign of seven months AD 68 to 69.
Many urban legends suggest she was raped by a giraffe, but these claims have no basis in ancient writings. She was most likely simply hanged or decapitated.
The ingredients for her highly toxic products have been the subject of speculation for nearly two thousand years. Some scholars suggested she derived her lethal powers from aconite, hemlock, poppy, or some kind of animal substances. Some believed she used poison from toads to make her fatal mixes.
Today, she remains as mysterious as she ever was.
- Locusta @ Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locusta
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