Locusta: Connoisseur of Murder

Ancient Rome; a hotbed of corruption and blood soaked treachery. Where even the bonds of family did not guarantee one’s safety for assassination. Power, the only currency and language accepted; was an all consuming obsession that one could never have enough of. Just like  a criminal organisation, when a ‘problem’ would arise. Someone would be called to ‘take care’ of said nuisance. In Ancient Rome, if you were in power and wanted a rival disposed of. One called upon the services of Locusta.

With the disappearance of her name from the history books. Little is know about Locusta’s early life. She was born in Gaul (now part of France) and was born in poverty. Cultivated and studying an impressive knowledge of herbs, plants and their ‘properties’. Once in Rome, Locusta discovered a market for her ‘speciality’. People in need of ridding themselves of problematic people, but wishing to have the deed done discretely. Traditionally, poisoning has been seen a ‘woman’s crime’. Mostly this due to the more ‘passive nature’ of the act of poisoning someone. Less confrontational and messy then stabbing or shooting someone. Once the toxin has been consumed, someone argue that the poison does the killing, not the poisoner. Admittedly, it is a pretty sociopathic excuse but it is a common belief. Via word of mouth, Locusta gained a reputation of being the go-to girl for any quiet killing. Her skills and notoriety reached the imperial family themselves.

If history does choose to remember Locusta, it would be her pivotal role in the assassination of Britannicus. Not so well known historically speaking. Likely due to the fact that he dies before really achieving anything of note (or notoriety). But his relatives were highly memorable. His step-mother was Agrippina the Younger, a highly manipulative queen who aspired to great power herself. His step-father was Emporer Claudius and his step-brother. Nero. Since Claudius’ death in 13 October 54 AD, as the biological child of the dead Emporer. Britannicus was a real threat to Nero’s chances to become Emporer. It must be noted that Claudius was poisoned himself, some say by Locusta herself. However, this is just a theory. Rumour has it that Locusta was arrested for the crime, but Nero freed her. With the intention of using her ‘services’ on his step brother. After a failed attempt on Britannicus’ life in February 55 AD, Locusta finally succeeded in her ‘task’. Making it appear that Britannicus suffered from an epileptic fit. Now she has truly have the favour of two of the most powerful people in the Roman Empire, The queen mother and the Emporer himself.

Not to excuse Locusta’s crimes. It should be pointed out that for a peasant woman, there were few options to acquire wealth and influence. They were not permitted to vote, own land, Women were given very little rights and opportunities for independent success. So for a woman of her rank, Locusta enjoyed the rare luxury of holding not just power in her own right. But the ultimate power; the power of life and death. In addition to her powerful allies, she acquired wealth and all of the trapping of success. Nero gave her a grand villa and Nero even sent students to her so that they too can carry her ‘work’. Having the Emporer as a friend is an excellent way of staying clear of prosecution. Having been arrested several times for poisoning, Nero managed to have the charges dropped. However, Locusta’s luck ran out. When Nero died in 69 AD (as a side note, Nero DID NOT play the fiddle whilst Rome burnt. The fiddle had not even been invented), her protection was gone. With the new Emporer Galba at the head; and  with the special poisoning kit gifted to Nero by Locusta herself. Her fate was sealed and she was publicly executed (contrary to popular myth, she was not raped to death)

Locusta was by no means unique, there were a few other famed female killers. Candidia and Martina were her unofficial colleagues in crime. Som have even described Locusta as the first female serial killer. Not sure how true this is but it does have a nice ring to it.

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One comment

  1. I had absolutely no clue! Crazy.

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