Locusta the Poisoner—Ancient Rome’s Deadliest Assassin,

Perhaps the most feared woman in the ancient world, Locusta was a first century AD assassin who offered her services to wealthy and powerful Roman patricians, politicians, and military leaders.  So infamous were her deeds that her career was detailed by Juvenal, Seutonius, Cassius Dio, and Tacitus.  Born in Gaul (modern day France) Locusta was raised by her mother to be an herbalist, a healer who specialized in using medicinal plants and herbs. However, her career abruptly changed when she moved to Rome in search for greater opportunities, she found that her skills could put to much more lucrative uses killing people rather than healing.  Rome was rife with political intrigue, and skilled assassins were in high demand.

Locusta intensely studied poisonous plants, becoming a “master poisoner” in short time.  She knew of scores of different poisons; poisons that could bring about a heart attack, poisons that could cause a stroke, poisons that affected the nervous system, even poisons that would make it seem like the victim had died of something completely natural, such as the flu or plague.  For several years, Locusta hired out her services to wealthy patrician families and powerful politicians, or whoever was the highest bidder. In 54 AD Locusta was approached by Agrippina, wife of Emperor Claudius, with perhaps the biggest and most important job of her career; to assassinate the Emperor himself.  Agrippina wanted her son from another marriage to be Emperor, and thus Claudius had to go.  On October 13th, Locusta infiltrated Claudius’ palace, distracting a guard by placing a laxative in his drink.  She then tainted a dish of mushrooms, Claudius’ favorite dish, with strychnine.  Claudius consumed the poisoned mushrooms.  A few hours later, he began suffering strong stomach cramps, then he began foaming at the mouth and convulsing. Agrippina appeared to attempt to force Claudius to vomit the poison by sticking a feather down his throat.  Of course, the feather was also poisoned by Locusta with a potent toxin.  Emperor Claudius died a short time later.

When Nero came to throne, he made Locusta his personal assassin.  Among another of her famous hits was the poisoning of his brother, Britannicus, whom he felt threatened his rule.  Between 55 and 68 AD, Locusta was responsible for removing a number of Nero’s rivals and enemies.  Of course, Nero was not a popular Emperor, and after the burning of Rome he was stripped of his titles and declared an enemy of the state by the senate.  After Nero’s suicide Rome fell into a chaotic civil war as Roman generals and warlords fought for control over the empire.  One of these generals, a short reigning Emperor named Galba, despised Locusta because of her former status as Nero’s chief assassin.  On January 15th, 69 AD, Locusta was dragged from her home into the streets of Rome, and was publicly executed.

cosmofex  asked:

There's something i've been curious about: How do you come up with the magic-scientific terminology? Because I have previously looked up "claudication" and it turns out it's a medical term for leg cramps which, unless i'm missing steps in the logic chain, doesn't lead to "worldgate" easily. Is it just what sounds nice and sciency or is it based on actual terminology? (also confusing is online dictionaries "use in a sentence" using YW quotes, which don't match meanings, so it's not super helpful)

I really have to find a little time in the next little while to get the new installation of the Errantry Concordance kickstarted. (The old one had to be removed because it was constantly under attack by hackbots of various kinds trying to use it to house links to counterfeit Viagra.) (sigh)

Anyway: Most wizardly terminology in the YW universe is derived either from (broadly) scientific terminology or (more narrowly) medical terminology twisted slightly out of shape and/or subverted to my own purposes. Almost all terms are derived from Latin or Greek roots and assembled in ways consistent with the ways in which scientific terms are formed. (I took Latin in high school because I knew it to be a primary language of science and felt sure I’d be wanting it in college. The Greek came along with that more as a gateway into the ancient classics than anything else, but it too gets used routinely in scientific terminology.) I prefer to use genuine scientific concepts and terms to generate wizardly ones, because (a) I enjoy it and (b) I am lazy. Why waste time and energy making terms up when so many real ones are  lying around just waiting to be used? …But also: wizardly terms constructed using valid scientific usage sound more real. And the more truth you add to a lie, the stronger it gets. :)

Re claudication: The word goes back, originally, to the Latin claudo- root that means to shut or block something up. It also later came to mean a limp or lameness secondary to what was seen in ancient times as a blockage of local blood supply. This is also where the Emperor Claudius got his common appellation, by the way: Claudius is a second name, almost more a nickname than anything else – and too easily translatable as “Gimpy”. He limped from childhood, secondary to a dystonic / movement disorder from which he suffered his whole life and which caused some members of his family (and the public in general) to think of him, and treat him, as if he was mentally deficient – which he definitely was not. (The forensic medical people are still arguing over what was responsible for this disorder: possibly cerebral palsy or a childhood neurological insult via something like infectious encephalitis. See this article for what look like the best conjectures so far.)

…Whatever: where were we? When I was studying nursing, the term claudication was in general use to describe a narrowing or constriction of blood vessels (up to the point of obstruction, anyway, at which point other terminology cuts in). So when I started thinking about the concept of giving wizards a little portable pocket in spacetime, the word “claudication” naturally suggested itself, and “temporospatial” seemed an unavoidable add-on.

Therefore the entry in the Concordance defines claudication as:

A pinching or obstruction in some structure or medium through which another medium is normally meant to pass or flow freely. In wizardly usage, a constriction – normally artificial, but occasionally natural – in the structure of space, or (in the case of temporospatial claudications) of spacetime.

The most frequent casual usage for the term describes a small, “pinched-off” volume of space. Since space is already amenable to this kind of pinching (a much gentler version of which manifests itself as gravity), many wizards use one of these to keep personal belongings in. A claudication can be “hooked to” or associated with a specific mass – usually the wizard’s own body – so that it permanently follows the wizard around and is always within reach.

The definition for temporospatial claudication is a bit more specific:

Any pinching or constriction that affects both a volume of space and a segment of time or timeflow. Usually a temporospatial claudication is artificially induced, but there are occasional incidences of the effect in nature. (Black holes, for example, can sometimes have temporospatial claudications associated with them.)

The term is also used to describe a small pinched-off volume of spacetime kept for wizardly purposes. (SYWTBAW, et al)

So there you have it. Thanks for asking!

Statue of the Roman emperor Claudius (r. 41-54 CE) as the god Jupiter.  Claudius is shown wearing the corona civica, a crown of oak leaves awarded by the Senate to those who had saved the lives of Roman citizens.  Unknown artist; 1st cent. CE, with restorations to the torso in 1800 by Valerio Villareale.  Found at Tindari in the province of Messina, Sicily; now in the Regional Archaeological Museum “Antonio Salinas,” Palermo.  Photo credit:  © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons.

andquitefrankly  asked:


Ooh! Let’s see, here are some of my favourite bits of classical trivia (I know no other trivia). I should warn you that my idea of amusing trivia is quite… esoteric :’) (A couple of these are a little gruesome)

  • Ancient Greek had a pitch accent (i.e. the pitch of the syllable went up or down depending on the accent). This mattered, because once during a performance of a tragedy, an actor got the pitch accent wrong and said ‘weasel’ instead of ‘calm sea’ and we are still laughing about it 2000 years later
  • Once during a battle between Argos and Sparta, the Argive generals told their troops to do whatever the Spartan herald shouted. The Spartan generals figured this out and ordered their troops to attack when the herald shouted ‘have breakfast’
  • The tyrant Polycrates of Samos was so lucky in everything that he did that his friend Amasis, king of Egypt, advised him to get rid of the thing he valued the most. This was a golden and emerald ring (?????). Polycrates threw it into the sea. Soon afterwards, it turned up in the belly of a fish that a fisherman had caught and presented to Polycrates. Amasis said, ‘That’s it, you’re too lucky, I’m cutting off our friendship before the gods screw you over.’
  • The tyrant Peisistratos of Athens married an aristocratic girl in order to form an alliance with her family, but he thought the family was cursed, so he would only have sex with her ‘not in the customary way’ and I still do not know what this means because my Greek history tutor was the most awkward person ever and would not tell me
  • An Ancient Greek word for ‘extravagant dandy’ was ‘someone who is obsessed with fish’
  • The Greeks described the sea as ‘wine-dark’
  • Socrates didn’t wash 
  • Hippocleides doesn’t care
  • The great Greek general Pericles was mocked because he allegedly allowed his mistress to boss him around in bed
  • It is 100% true that Plato published a serious piece of work criticising Aeschylus for making Achilles top and Patroclus bottom
  • This is the what the Greeks came up with to explain intersex people: Hermaphroditus, son of Hermes & Aphrodite, was born a boy but attracted the attentions of a rather obsessive girl who tried to force herself on him. Fortunately for her, they were in a magic spring and she prayed to be joined to him always, so they were joined together in one body that was part male and part female
  • In Cyprus, the goddess Aphrodite was represented with both male and female sex organs
  • Alexander the Great used to get foreign kings to line up their favourite prostitutes and then he would make a big show of walking along the line and acting disinterested
  • Allegedly, Alexander met the cynic philosopher Diogenes and asked if there was anything he could do for him. Diogenes said, ‘Get out of my sunlight.’ Alexander said, ‘If I were not Alexander, I would wish to be Diogenes,’ and Diogenes replied, ‘If I were not Diogenes, I would also wish to be Diogenes.’
  • The Roman playwright Terence, considered by later writers to be the best example of ‘pure literary Latin’, might have been an African immigrant and is widely thought to have been a slave
  • Julius Caesar annoyed the populace of Rome because he used to answer his mail during the races
  • Cicero was told to change his name because it meant ‘chickpea’ and he responded that he would make it the most glorious name in Rome
  • It is 99.9% likely that it is actually the case that Cicero was not let in on the assassination of Caesar because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut
  • Caesar once said, ‘I know I am the most hated man in Rome, because Cicero hates me, and God knows Cicero is easy to please’
  • Cicero and his brother Quintus seemingly spent an alarming amount of time chasing Cicero’s secretary around, asking for kisses
  • The poet Vergil (Vergilius), for sadly modern-esque reasons, was nicknamed ‘Parthenias’ (which renders itself quite nicely as something like ‘Virginia’)
  • Augustus nagged all his poet friends to write an epic about him, and when Vergil said he would do it, Propertius published a poem saying ‘THANK THE GODS: someone else is doing it - and it’s pretty good btw you should read it when it comes out’
  • The poet Ovid was exiled for a ‘poem and a mistake’ and we STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS
  • The emperor Augustus was teetotal and lame in one leg
  • As part of his propaganda against Augustus, Mark Antony claimed that Augustus singed off his leg hair
  • Augustus responded that Mark Antony was a drunken hooligan. Antony wrote a pamphlet defending himself, entitled ‘On the subject of my drunkenness’. To me this is one of the greatest losses of antiquity
  • The emperor Tiberius was obsessed with pears and cucumbers
  • The emperor Claudius allegedly ordered for his third wife to be executed, then got so drunk that he had to ask why she was not at dinner
  • Claudius had a son who died when he threw a pear core in the air, tried to catch it in his mouth and choked
  • Augustus complained that Tiberius used words in their strict etymological sense (or used literal equivalents of phrases that were used in a non-etymological sense), and the emperor Hadrian, when reading about this, commented, ‘It sounds like Augustus was not very well educated if he chose his words according to their usage and not their etymology.’
  • The emperor Galba is the only Roman male who is explicitly said to have had a sexual preference for adult males (i.e. of his own age) and not boys
  • Hadrian and his wife went travelling with Hadrian’s lover Antinous and an aristocratic woman named Julia Balbilla. At a tourist site in Egypt, Julia Balbilla carved a poem in the style of Sappho on a famous statue. One of my history professors said that this suggests Hadrian’s wife was a lesbian and they covered for each other
  • The historian Tacitus was a keen hunter. His friend Pliny went hunting one day and sent him a letter, ‘You won’t believe it, Tacitus, I went hunting, and I enjoyed it! I took all my books and I sat in the shade by the nets and it was so peaceful, I got so much done. You should try it!’

With Ancient Roman history you never know who to root for because:

1.) So many people have the same name making rooting for a particular hero or heroine very difficult

2.) Everyone important dies a horrible death at a young age

3.) The survivors become the villains or quickly fall victim to rule 2.

It feels like practically everyone in the Judo-Claudian family was murdered and usually by a family member’s hands! Did no live to old age and die peacefully in their sleep besides Livia Drusilla and Octavia Minor? 

Now I see why there are so few big book and tv series about Ancient Rome–all the main characters die before you’re even halfway through the story, so you’re constantly having to replace them with a new generation of characters. Game of Thrones isn’t that confusing and it has a cast of hundreds of characters! At least they all have different names…

actual confession: the Low Budget Anime men, aka hetalia, helped me get a distinction for my history a-levels. by that, i don’t mean ‘oh em gee i read all the comic strips and watched the episodes!! ww1 is about a man hiding in a tomato box’ or ‘who needs history textbooks when you have hetalia X3 c’

by that, i do mean that i had 5 billion topics, dates, events and important figures to memorise, understand and argue about if i wanted to meet my conditional offer to a Certain University. it was an overload of information, not to mention all the other subjects i had to study for at the same time, including maths, which lol, had been a trainwreck. so, to make it interesting and memorable because i’m a very visual person memory-wise —i produced what was basically an entire comic strip of my notes :^) rewrote facts about the potsdam and yalta conferences as alfred and ivan sniping while arthur sat in a wheelchair in the background (shrinking britannia! make way for the american century!). the berlin blockade was ivan attempting to throttle ludwig. the marshall plan was alfred smugly hooking europe up to an IV and raining dollar bills down on them. they were sloppy and snappy doodles that weren’t always presented in the most tasteful manner— but this was just for my own consumption—and it did the job, which was to make the huge volume of information i had to absorb and synthesise stick in my memory. 

and i guess, it’s sort of a metaphor for why i engage with the series and fandom. it’s not about being uncritical of the original canon (far from it. fandom is so often about rewriting and reinterpretations, yeah?), but about taking and running with the concept of national personifications to humanise history. the idea of national personifications is ancient (there’s a roman carving of the emperor claudius manhandling britannia in some sort of dramatic and rather crass metaphor for Pax Romana, which is like, the first time britannia ever appears in world art). the idea of putting a human face to the large, amorphous mass of the nation- an imagined community- is something many people have found compelling for a very long time. it’s completely understandable that some do not want to engage with the series at all. it is undeniable fandom has problems that we all try to work on. but i certainly feel that for a number of us? the reason we’re still here in low budget anime men hell? because of the template it gives us to put a human face to large, chaotic grand narratives and thereby make them comprehensible. (and the bonus of getting to draw historical fashion, i mean. fascinating.)

Day 4: Claudius

A while ago I read someone refer to Claudius as “the stupidest emperor.” If anything is evidence of falling prey to contemporary biases, that is for sure. Claudius was not a trained politician, nor a general of any ability, which according to Roman tradition made him probably the worst possible choice to lead the empire. (Sure, Caligula had been young and inexperienced, but at least he was the son of Germanicus!) Worst choice he may have been, but he was also the only choice. Claudius: Emperor by process of elimination. 

Being shut away for the vast majority of his life turned Claudius into the kind of emperor you might expect. He was a scholar, and more interested in infrastructure than combat. His one real foray into war ended rather bloodlessly–though not without plenty of bragging rights to go with it. My favorite thing about Claudius is that he was a linguist–he could read ancient Etruscan, and he cared about the purity of Latin. He tried to slow or halt the pronunciation creep that was happening at the time, and went so far as to introduce a few new letters to the alphabet! Fortunately or unfortunately, they didn’t stick. 

But being shut away had some pretty severe negative consequences too, most obviously in that he had no idea how to be in love. It seems like such a mundane problem for an emperor to have! And yet, while we can’t know for sure, the consensus is that it lead directly to his death. 

Claudius Wasn’t Perfect (Really).

There is another interesting thing that I would care to address that is rather amusing. I feel that media and books like I, Claudius tend to portray Claudius as someone who ‘saved’ the empire after Gaius (Caligula) died or ‘perfect’ or ‘pitied’ because everyone looked down on him. Many seem to feel that he’s just an innocent cinnamon bun that needs protection, etc. Yes, Claudius was forced to step into the role of emperor. People also looked down on him and his wives were horrible to him, but it’s important to note that Claudius wasn’t perfect.

1. He once had people executed in the ‘old-fashion’ style and had it all set up, but then had no executioner. So, waited until dusk for the man to arrive from Rome. (Suetonius. Claudius, 34)

2.  Demanded that all people who fell by mistake at the Games should have their throat slit and so he could watch them die. (Suetonius. Claudius. 34) 

3. He married his niece. I don’t care who says that Agrippina the Younger seduced him and that maybe true, but he agreed to marry her. Not only this, but he persuaded the patricians of Rome it was okay. (Suetonius, Claudius 26.)

Yes, Claudius did many wonderful things for the city and people of Rome, but it’s important to remember he wasn’t perfect. He is a claudian after all and their family was known for good and evil; and I think that Claudius was a bit of both. 

Thank you for reading. 

As much as I love I, Claudius (book and mini-series), I do have a few problems as a history lover:

1.) The female characters are either diabolical sluts or completely glossed over.

2.) The male characters are either innocent victims or complete evil.

3.) Caligula was hardly as crazy as this show and pop culture would have you believe. It’d be great to see a more measured depiction of him in a book or series some day.

4.) It makes Claudius too perfect to the point of re-writing history to make him the nicest guy that ever lived. I’d love to see another series featuring Claudius that doesn’t shy away from his darker side.

But still, I really like this series and I’m very surprised that a show this old has this much nudity. 

I also love Brian Blessed in this, even if his Augustus isn’t historically accurate. He’s just so happy and nice! How can anyone watch him and not fall in love with his performance? 

Vipsania Agrippina is such a tragic figure, and I often wonder how she felt as the course of events in her life unfolded. Many of the most dramatic anecdotes seem tied up in legend, so it’s difficult to parse out exactly what happened after her divorce-by-force. 

BASIC BIO: (36 BC - 20 AD) Vipsania Agrippina is best known as the first wife of the Roman emperor Tiberius. The accounts suggest that their marriage was a happy and affectionate one, which did not matter much when her mother-in-law Livia encouraged her husband to divorce her in favor of a more lucrative match. Tiberius went along with the idea, but was more or less emotionally destroyed by the whole thing. A historical anecdote mentions that after the dissolution of their marriage, Tiberius saw her on the street and followed her, a weeping mess. Though they both remarried, Vipsania was buried with Tiberius and his family.

WANT MORE? OF COURSE YOU DO: Look, there isn’t much out there. Vipsania appears briefly in the 1970s series I, Claudius, and some guy wrote a novella about her that can be purchased online via PayPal. I’m a sucker for romantic tragedy and love her in spite of the gaps in her story.

A Roman Emperor (Claudius), Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1871

This scene depicts the aftermath of the assassination of Caligula and his wife Caesonia. A Praetorian guard by the name of Gratus is said to have found Claudius, uncle to Caligula, cowering behind a curtain fearing that he too would be killed off.

Instead of killing Claudius, the Praetorian delcared him princeps and took him under their protection. He would later be made emperor.

A heart-shaped box of chocolate is a sign of love, a symbol — and often tool — of romance, and an intrinsic part of Valentine’s Day.

From at least the time of the Aztecs, chocolate has been seen as an aphrodisiac. So it’s reasonable to assume that it has been connected to love’s dedicated day of celebration for many centuries. But, that isn’t the case.

The roots of Valentine’s Day are ancient but far from clear, and likely originated in the pagan Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. Those Romans, though, exchanged not candies but whippings — part of a complicated fertility ritual that began with sacrificing a goat and dog.

This morphed into a tamer Christian feast day in A.D. 496, when Pope Gelasius I commemorated a martyred saint, Valentine. Or saints. In the third century, the Roman emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on Feb. 14th, albeit in different years.

How Chocolate Became A Sweet (But Not So Innocent) Consort To Valentine’s Day

Illustration: Alex Reynold/NPR