On This Day – 13 October AD 54

The unlikely emperor Claudius, who had become emperor on the 24th of January AD 41, was poisoned by order of the empress Agrippina, so that her son Nero could accede to the throne.

The empress Agrippina, wife of Claudius and mother of Nero, is said to have employed Locusta to supply poisoned mushrooms and a poisoned feather to ensure that her son Nero would become emperor.

Agrippina found Locusta who had recently been condemned for poisoning and enlisted her to help prepare a suitable poison. Agrippina was aware that if she used a poison that acted immediately, the fact that the emperor had been poisoned would be clear for all to see; whereas if the poison left the emperor lingering too long, he might realise what had happened and ensure his son Britannicus was made the next emperor.

Agrippina and Locusta poisoned Claudius with his favourite dish. The emperor’s mushrooms were infused with a slow-acting poison by Locusta (Tac. Ann. 12.66). Whilst the emperor was suffering from the effects of the initial poisoning his loving wife, getting nervous by an apparent recovery, tickled the back of his throat with a feather to help him purge whatever had made him feel ill. The feather she used had been coated in a fast-acting poison, ending the hapless Claudius’ life with Agrippina all the while looking the dutiful and loving wife.