Netflix’s new 2020 German historical drama series “Barbarians” is worth the binge. A mini-series that takes place over six episodes portrays a fictional account of events leading up to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, in 9 AD, in which 3 Roman legions led by Governor Varus, were ambushed and destroyed by German barbarian tribesmen.

The story begins during the Roman occupation of Magna Germania in 9 AD, where the Germanic tribes oppressed by the empire’s heavy taxes and demands for tribute, attempt to form a unified German resistance. However they are constantly hampered by petty in-fighting between the tribal chieftains, and the aspirations of certain tribesmen desiring peace with Rome. We see Arminius, born a prince of the Cherusci tribe, Arminius was a hostage of the Roman Empire as a child. Raised in Rome, he was drafted into the Roman military at an early age, during which he was granted Roman citizenship and became a Roman soldier. Arminius served with distinction in the Great Illyrian Revolt and he was later sent to Germania to aid the local governor Publius Quinctilius Varus in completing the Roman conquest of the Germanic tribes. While in this capacity, Arminius secretly plotted a Germanic revolt against Roman rule, which culminated in the ambush and destruction of three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest. The show tells us the about the events that transpired leading to the ambush in Teutoberg Forest.

Arminius’s returns to Germania to help Publius Quinctilius Varus maintain order in the region, but upon seeing the atrocities inflicted by Roman soldiers on his former people, he becomes the new chieftain of the Cherusci tribe, and starts a rebellion by finally uniting the tribes with the help of Thusnelda and Folkwin Wolfspeer, his two best friends during childhood. The fictional and dramatized version of the story begins here as many of the events are exaggerated to paint a picture for the sake of the story, although Thusnelda became Arminius’s wife later.

The show is enjoyable for the reason that it seems more authentic than the American versions portraying the Roman era. Here no one speaks the Queen’s English, rather the Germans stick to speaking German and the Romans speak Latin. It goes without saying that watching the show in anything but the original German/Latin mix will make the entire experience significantly less enjoyable. Just put on subtitles and resist the urge to change the audio to English or a different language.

As mesmerizing as having the characters speak only Latin and German is, that’s not the thing that makes Barbarians a show that I can’t stop binge-watching. The language surprise would soon wear off if it weren’t for the characters and the story. If you liked The Last Kingdom, a Netflix original that gives you the tale of the birth of England with an unusual twist, then Barbarians should be on your radar as well. It’s certainly the kind of entertaining Netflix original series that can will keep you occupied for a few days (unless you binge watch it in a day like I did and then cry yourself to sleep, for being greedy). If you love history, you’ll love Barbarians. It covers a part of Roman history which isn’t usually covered in most American or British based television shows or movies, covering the Roman era. A defeat to the mighty Roman Empire, a battle that changed the course of history, halting the eastward expansion of the Roman Empire and established the Rhine as the frontier of Rome for centuries to come.

Characters are fascinating including the character of Thusnelda, played by German actress Jeanne Goursaud with a grim determination and fiery disposition, who yearns to break free of her father, who wants to sell her for five horses and to secure a powerful alliance (that sounds familiar) and bristles against the shackles put on her simply due to her gender (a lot of politically correct, subtle attack on gender norms despite it being a historical drama by Netflix). It is Thusnelda who comes up with the plans to humiliate the Romans, Thusnelda who embraces a canny political marriage in defiance of her father and at the crucial moment, Thusnelda who keeps the tribes together and gives Arminius a fighting chance against the Roman legions (all this is fictional and a way for Netflix to push current day gender campaigns, in a historical epic). Aside from these obviously fictional but fascinating character portrayals, the show remains highly accurate historically.

Rounding out the triumvirate of Arminius and Thusnelda is Wolfspeer (a truly, gloriously ridiculous name) played by 29-year-old German actor David Schütter. Schütter’s Wolfspeer, who was invented out of thin air for the show, with his fashion model good looks, reminds one of Vikings’ Ragnar Lothbrok. With historical sources being a bit sketchy about when Arminius began thinking of betraying Rome (from the very beginning of his time as a hostage, some speculate), Wolfspeer exists as just one giant plot device: to give Arminius a reason to turn his back on Rome and to provide plot tension when Arminius and Thusnelda hook up.

Like many shows or films of its ilk (which some derisively dub swords-and-sandals flicks), Barbarians is filled with sex, spears and bloody sacrifices. But rather than go for a sensory overload like Spartacus, Barbarians goes the Game of Thrones route in terms of focusing on character development rather than big clashes.

The show also takes plenty of liberties with history and plays around with its timeline: Arminius was certainly not ‘adopted’ by the Roman governor, the political match between Arminius and Thusnelda took place a few years after the events of the series and the climactic battle occurred over a period of four days rather than just a few hours. Barbarians does not break any new ground, its decent production values, top-notch acting and compelling characters (for the most part) makes it well worth your next binge.


Get over your hatred of subtitles and watch this show on Netflix today !! It is well worth the inconvenience.

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