Available on Netflix, Barbarians retraces in its own way the famous battle of Teutoburg through the fate of three heroic characters. Did they really exist? Warning, spoilers.
Warning, spoilers. The following paragraphs reveal spoilers for the Barbarians series. If you don’t want to know anything, don’t read on.
In the vein of Vikings, The Last Kingdom and historical epics, Barbarians is an ambitious and bloody German series which traces the events around the historic battle of Teutoburg, also called the “disaster of Varus”, which pitted several Germanic tribes against three Roman legions led by Governor Varus. The “barbarian” forces are led by Arminius, a Germanic officer who received Roman military training, an asset which enabled him to anticipate the tactics of the Roman army.
The creators of the Netflix series, Andreas Heckmann, Arne Nolting and Jan Martin Scharf, took care to surround themselves with historians to create a coherent historical framework but they did not hesitate to take some liberties for the dramaturgy of the series. The character of Arminius, played by Laurence Rupp, did exist and actually played this determining role in the battle of Teutoburg. Infiltrated into the Roman military system, Arminius even obtained Roman citizenship and the rank of knight. If Arminius is indeed the son of Segimer, leader of the Cheruscan tribe, the soldier was not adopted by Varus as shown in the series.
The Germanic warrior Thusnelda, played by the Franco-German actress Jeanne Goursaud, also existed, but there is absolutely no written record of her involvement in the Battle of Teutobourg. She was also not a childhood friend of Arminius and did not marry him to rule the Germanic tribes with him. The reality is more cruel since Arminius kidnapped her after the Varus disaster and took her as his wife. Finally, Folkwin Wolfspeer, played by David Schütter, is a totally invented character and his romantic relationship with Thusnelda was created from scratch for the needs of the dramaturgy of the series.