'Barbarians' True Story: The Real History Behind the Netflix Show

Barbarians (Barbaren), streaming now on Netflix, tells the story of a section of Roman history that may not be well-known by those outside of Germany. The Netflix show, which is topping the streamer's TV chart in many countries right now, tells the story of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, a real-life skirmish which took place around 9 CE, which saw the Germanic people fighting off the Romans, who were trying to turn more of the country (then known as Germania) into part of the Roman Empire.

In this real historical event, the Germanic forces were able to destroy three Roman legions, preventing Roman emperor Augustus from conquering the land east of the river Rhine.

Key to this victory was a very Hollywood development, helping to explain why the events have been adapted into a series. The Germanic forces were led by Arminius, a one time Germani who had been sent to Rome as a youth and used his knowledge of Roman strategy to betray the Romans and secure victory for Germania—a real moment of history not too dissimilar to the plot of Martin Scorsese's The Departed.

In Barbarians, Laurence Rupp plays Arminius, and he is not the only character from the real history to also appear in the Netflix show. His wife Thusnelda (played by Jeanne Goursaud) also existed, though her real relationship with Arminius was more problematic.

barbarians netflix true story
'Barbarians' on Netflix is based on real historical events. Netflix

In the show, Thusnelda is a childhood friend of Arminius who then becomes his wife. In the real history, peer Tacitus' Annals, Arminius abducted her from her pro-Roman father five years after Teutoburg Forest during one of the battles between Rome and Germania that followed that fight. She would give birth to Arminius after being recaptured by the Romans, and they are not believed to have been reunited.

Other real people who appear in Barbarians include Publius Quinctilius Varus (Gaetano Aronica), who led the legions who were killed after being ambushed at Teutoburg Forest. After this military embarrassment, caused by him putting too much trust in the betrayer Arminius, he took his own life, after which time, Arminius cut off his head and sent it to a king in Bohemia with the intention of forming an alliance.

Also real are Germanic nobleman Segestes (Gaetano Aronica) and Arminius' father Segimer (Nicki von Tempelhoff).

Characters like Folkwin Wolfspeer (David Schütter), Berulf (Ronald Zehrfeld) and Irmina (Eva Verena Müller), meanwhile are fictional, and meant to represent the real Germanic fighters who must have been part of the battle. As all of our major surviving sources for what happened in at Teutoburg Forest are Roman (or Roman-affiliated like the Greek 2nd and 3rd century author Cassius Dio), the names of many of the major Germanic players in the battle have gone unrecorded.

Barbarians is streaming now on Netflix.