Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Locusta, The Poisoner

by | May 19, 2012 | 6 comments

by Anna Kathryn Lanier


Tired of waiting for rich Uncle Tom to kick the bucket?  Ready to take over the throne, but daddy just won’t die?  Upset with your wife for cheating? Then you need to call Locusta, Profession Poisoner.

From the Roman province of Gaul (France), Locusta moved to Rome, where assassinations were a dime a dozen.  Retained by royals, she managed to never be charged with murder or spend much time in jail.  Her death sentences were often commuted or dismissed outright.


Locusta is best known for her association with Empress Agrippina the Younger, who married her Uncle Claudius, who became Emperor when his nephew was murdered by his own officers.  Agrippina was his fourth wife and she had been accused of killing her previous husband by poisoning him. During her marriage, she was able to persuaed Claudius to give preference to her own son Nero, over his son Brittanicus. But Agrippina wasn’t so sure Claudius would keep his word. So, when her son was 17, she contacted Locusta.  On October 12, 54 A.D. the women fed him mushrooms, one of his favorite foods. However, the poison didn’t kill him, it only made him sick. To succeed in the murder, he was given a fatal dose of poison via a feather down his throat.


 Nero is said to have claimed that mushrooms must be the food of the gods, since Claudius had become a god by eating them.


Once Nero was on the throne, he decided to hire Locusta to take out his step-brother, Brittanicus—who could challenge him for the throne.  In an ingenious move, Locusta poisoned Brittanicus at dinner, in front of family, friends and the official food tester. Nero was so pleased with her success that he gave her a full pardon for any and all poisons she may have committed as well as choice real estate. He even sent clients her way.


It is reported that Locusta was responsible for 10,000 deaths—although that number may be exaggerated. To insure that her ‘profession’ carried on after her death, she set up a school for poisoners.  Her graduates went on to be quite successful in their field.


By 68 A.D., Rome was fed up with Nero’s cruelty, extravagance and greed. He was ordered to be killed the old-fashion way: beaten to death with iron rods.  He, however, beat them to the punch, not by poison, though. He stabbed himself in the throat, but botched the job (much as had been done with his step-father) and begged his private secretary to finish him off.


With Nero’s death, Locusta’s luck ran out.  The next emperor, Galba, had her and several other poisoners executed.


Works Cited

4,000 Years of Uppity Women by Vicki León

 365: Great Stories from History by W.B. Marsh & Bruce Carrick

 For further reading:




Anna Kathryn Lanier

Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester 


  1. Angelyn

    That Locusta would bring the best covered dish for our women’s auxiliary.

    Great post!

  2. Ally Broadfield

    I just checked the yellow pages and didn’t see a school for poisoners listed. Perhaps this is just the opportunity I was looking for to bring in a little extra money.

  3. Caroline Clemmons

    Sounds like a good online workshop topic, Anna Kathryn. I am fond of poison for my characters and am always interested in reading about it. I’m sure the book you mentioned is a fun read.

  4. Anna Kathryn Lanier

    Angelyn, LOL. But would you eat it the mushroom dish? She poisoned Nero’s step-brother with a glass of water….

  5. Anna Kathryn Lanier

    4000 years of uppity women is a great book. So is 365: Great Stories in History. Ally, you gotta wonder if the police would let you open such a school, lol. Carolyn, I really don’t know enough about the subject to do a workshop on it, lol.

  6. Ella Quinn

    That was interesting. Thanks for the post.



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