It was indeed on that very narrow strait which parts Europe from Asia,
at Europe’s furthest extremity, that the Greeks built Byzantium. When
they consulted the Pythian Apollo as to where they should found a
city, the oracle replied that they were to seek a home opposite to
the blind men’s country. This obscure hint pointed to the people of
Chalcedon, who, though they arrived there first and saw before others
the advantageous position, chose the worse. For Byzantium has a fruitful
soil and productive seas, as immense shoals of fish pour out of the
Pontus and are driven by the sloping surface of the rocks under water
to quit the windings of the Asiatic shore and take refuge in these
harbours. Consequently the inhabitants were at first money-making
and wealthy traders, but afterwards, under the pressure of excessive
burdens, they petitioned for immunity or at least relief, and were
supported by the emperor, who argued to the Senate that, exhausted
as they were by the late wars in Thrace and Bosporus, they deserved
help. So their tribute was remitted for five years.

In the year of the consulship of Marcus Asinius and Manius Acilius
it was seen to be portended by a succession of prodigies that there
were to be political changes for the worse. The soldiers’ standards
and tents were set in a blaze by lightning. A swarm of bees settled
on the summit of the Capitol; births of monsters, half man, half beast,
and of a pig with a hawk’s talons, were reported. It was accounted
a portent that every order of magistrates had had its number reduced,
a quaestor, an aedile, a tribune, a praetor and consul having died
within a few months. But Agrippina’s terror was the most conspicuous.
Alarmed by some words dropped by Claudius when half intoxicated, that
it was his destiny to have to endure his wives’ infamy and at last
punish it, she determined to act without a moment’s delay. First she
destroyed Lepida from motives of feminine jealousy. Lepida indeed
as the daughter of the younger Antonia, as the grandniece of Augustus,
the cousin of Agrippina, and sister of her husband Cneius, thought
herself of equally high rank. In beauty, youth, and wealth they differed
but slightly. Both were shameless, infamous, and intractable, and
were rivals in vice as much as in the advantages they had derived
from fortune. It was indeed a desperate contest whether the aunt or
the mother should have most power over Nero. Lepida tried to win the
young prince’s heart by flattery and lavish liberality, while Agrippina
on the other hand, who could give her son empire but could not endure
that he should be emperor, was fierce and full of menace.

It was charged on Lepida that she had made attempts on the Emperor’s
consort by magical incantations, and was disturbing the peace of Italy
by an imperfect control of her troops of slaves in Calabria. She was
for this sentenced to death, notwithstanding the vehement opposition
of Narcissus, who, as he more and more suspected Agrippina, was said
to have plainly told his intimate friends that “his destruction was
certain, whether Britannicus or Nero were to be emperor, but that
he was under such obligations to Claudius that he would sacrifice
life to his welfare. Messalina and Silius had been convicted, and
now again there were similar grounds for accusation. If Nero were
to rule, or Britannicus succeed to the throne, he would himself have
no claim on the then reigning sovereign. Meanwhile, a stepmother’s
treacherous schemes were convulsing the whole imperial house, with
far greater disgrace than would have resulted from his concealment
of the profligacy of the emperor’s former wife. Even as it was, there
was shamelessness enough, seeing that Pallas was her paramour, so
that no one could doubt that she held honour, modesty and her very
person, everything, in short, cheaper than sovereignty.”

This, and the like, he was always saying, and he would embrace Britannicus,
expressing earnest wishes for his speedy arrival at a mature age,
and would raise his hand, now to heaven, now to the young prince,
with entreaty that as he grew up, he would drive out his father’s
enemies and also take vengeance on the murderers of his mother.

Under this great burden of anxiety, he had an attack of illness, and
went to Sinuessa to recruit his strength with its balmy climate and
salubrious waters. Thereupon, Agrippina, who had long decided on the
crime and eagerly grasped at the opportunity thus offered, and did
not lack instruments, deliberated on the nature of the poison to be
used. The deed would be betrayed by one that was sudden and instantaneous,
while if she chose a slow and lingering poison, there was a fear that
Claudius, when near his end, might, on detecting the treachery, return
to his love for his son. She decided on some rare compound which might
derange his mind and delay death. A person skilled in such matters
was selected, Locusta by name, who had lately been condemned for poisoning,
and had long been retained as one of the tools of despotism. By this
woman’s art the poison was prepared, and it was to be administered
by an eunuch, Halotus, who was accustomed to bring in and taste the

All the circumstances were subsequently so well known, that writers
of the time have declared that the poison was infused into some mushrooms,
a favourite delicacy, and its effect not at the instant perceived,
from the emperor’s lethargic, or intoxicated condition. His bowels
too were relieved, and this seemed to have saved him. Agrippina was
thoroughly dismayed. Fearing the worst, and defying the immediate
obloquy of the deed, she availed herself of the complicity of Xenophon,
the physician, which she had already secured. Under pretence of helping
the emperor’s efforts to vomit, this man, it is supposed, introduced
into his throat a feather smeared with some rapid poison; for he knew
that the greatest crimes are perilous in their inception, but well
rewarded after their consummation.
The Annals by Tacitus