Thursday, September 22, 2011

Locusta, Ancient Roman Serial Killer – 69 AD

EXCERPT (1851 source): Then the ancient Roman poisoner, Locusta, who lived in the time of the Emperor Nero, and whose name and memory are justly condemned to infamy, invented poisons that would either kill in an hour or at periods varying from a day to six or twelve months. Nay, she could produce death by the smell of a nosegay, and many an aromatically poisoned flower has proved a precursor of the tomb.

[“Poison and Poisoning.” The Wisconsin Daily Patriot (Madison), Sep. 21, 1851, p. 2]


EXCERPT (1857 source): This poison [a plant-based poison mentioned by Theophrastus “which could be regulated in such a manner as to cause death in two or three months, or at the end of a year, or even two years.”] was much used at Rome about two hundred years before the Christian era. At that period several persons of distinction died the same year, and of the same distemper. An inquiry was set on foot, and a maid-servant gave evidence against some ladies of the first families, v, Lo, she said, prepared and distributed poison; and above on hundred and fifty of them were convicted and punished. As so many had acquired this destructive art, it could not be suppressed; and we find in Roman history abundant proofs that it was continually preserved and frequently employed. Sejanus caused such a poison to be administered by an eunuch to Drusus, who gradually declined as by a consumptive disorder, and at length expired. Agrippina, being anxious to get rid of Claudius, but afraid to despatch him suddenly, and yet not wishing to allow him sufficient time to make new regulations respecting the succession to the throne, made choice of a poison which should deprive him of his reason and gradually consume him. This she caused to be prepared by an expert poisoner named Locusta, who had been condemned to death for her infamous actions, but saved, that she might be employed as a state engine. The poison was given to Claudius in a dish of mushrooms, but owing to his irregular manner of living it did not produce the desired effect. It had to be assisted by some of a stronger nature. This Locusta prepared the poison with which Nero despatched Britannicus, the son of Agrippina, whom his father, Claudius, wished to succeed to the throne. As this poison produced only a dysentery, and was too slow in its operations, the emperor compelled Locusta, by blows and menacing her with death, to prepare in his presence one more potent. It was first tried on a kid; but, as the creature did not die till the end of five hours, Locusta boiled the poison a little longer. It was next tried on a pig, which it instantaneously killed; and by this poison Britannicus was despatched. At this service Nero was delighted; he pardoned Locusta, rewarded her liberally, and gave her pupils, whom she had to instruct, in order that an art so valuable to kings and emperors might not be lost.

[“Poisoners and Slow Poisoning,” Frank Leslie’s New Family Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1, Sep. 1857, pp. 60 ff.]


Although the story of Locusta’s bestial execution has received a good deal of currency in recent decades, it seems that the ancient sources do not support the bestial rape and death my maukling story.

Here is an excerpt from a discussion of the question on Quora:“Was Locusta really raped to death by a giraffe?”

This legend of Locusta being raped to death by a specially trained giraffe is a myth. As per wiki editor stevensaylor (Talk:Locusta)

"So far as I know, all the authentic, original ancient sources about Locusta are now cited in the article. (If you know of any other citation, please add.) These references contain all we know about Locusta. Previous material included in this article from dubious secondary sources (various books about serial murderers, mostly) included some egregiously false information that seems to have been fabricated by modern authors.
Regarding the "urban myth" that Locusta was sentenced to rape by giraffe, the earliest such claim I find is in The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Michael Newton, first edition ONLY, which states:

"As described by Apuleius a century later, Locusta's execution was timed to coincide with one of the frequent Roman festivals - probably the Agonalia (for Janus), held on January 9. On orders from Galba, Locusta was publicly raped by a specially trained giraffe, after which she was torn apart by wild animals."

Full article:  [Sudipto Karmakar, “Was Locusta really raped to death by a giraffe?” Quora, Sep. 13, 2015]


Here is a version of the execution that has been challenged by researchers:

Wikipedia: Locusta was a Roman serial killer during the 1st century AD.Locusta was born in the Roman province of Gaul. In AD 54, she may have been hired by Agrippina the Younger to kill the Emperor Claudius, possibly with a poisoned dish of mushrooms. In 55, she was convicted of poisoning another victim. When Nero learnt of this he sent a tribune of the Praetorian Guard to rescue her from execution. In return for this she was ordered to poison Britannicus. She succeeded on her second try, Nero rewarding her with immunity from execution while he lived, rewarding her with a vast estate and even sending students to her. Seven months after Nero's suicide, Locusta was condemned to die by Galba in January 69. Apuleius described her life and she is mentioned by Suetonius. Juvenal also mentioned Locusta in Book 1 of his satires.


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