Contrary to popular belief the first serial killer Locusta of Gaul was not sentenced to be raped to death by a giraffe.
Even so her life story is quite fascinating without her fabricated outlandish execution:
- She holds the title of history’s first recorded serial killer by poisoning thousands in mid-first century C.E.
- She poisoned for pleasure and for gain, eventually becoming one of the most preeminent poison masters in Rome.
- In C.E. 54 she was hired by Agrippina to supply a poisoned plate of mushrooms to murder Emperor Claudius so that her son Nero could take the throne.
- In C.E. 55 Emperor Nero saved her from execution and pardoned her for all past murders in exchange for poisoning his step brother Britannicus.
- For her service Nero gave her a grand villa and sent students to her to learn this deadly art.
After Nero’s suicide “Locusta the Sorceress” was sentenced to death by Emperor Galba in 69. According to ancient texts she was “led in chains through the whole city and then to be executed” – Cassius Dio, 63.3.
So where does this Giraffe rape story come into play? Researcher and wiki editor Stevensaylor gives us the following information:
“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.”
While this highly detailed statement may “sound” factual, it is not. (And, interestingly, it does not appear in the second edition of Newton’s book.) Apuleius cannot be the source, because nowhere does Apuleius refer to Locusta; in The Golden Ass, Apuelius does tell the tale of a woman poisoner condemned to be mounted by an ass (not a giraffe), but the woman in a fictional character, not Locusta. Nor do we have any clue about the precise date of Locusta’s death.”
So that’s how these things get started. History is filled with such fallacies driven by man’s desire to spin a tall tale.
Always check your sources!
Locusta’s career is described by the ancient historians Tacitus (Annals 12.66 and 13.15), Suetonius (“Life of Nero”, 33 and 47), and Cassius Dio (61.34 and 63.3). Juvenal also mentions Locusta in Book 1, line 71 of his Satires.
Image: A Roman Emperor (Claudius). Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema OM RA (1836-1912)