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Thursday, June 24, 2021


Barbarians | Official Trailer | Netflix

The Barbarians is a short series (six 45 minute episodes) about the Germanic people's revolt against the Roman Empire in 9AD. (9AD! Haven't seen much about that period.) It's not a bad show. One of the advantages of telling a story from long ago and far away is that we don't have a lot of details on people's customs, so storytellers have a lot of leeway in how it's presented. Did they really dress like that? Were weddings really like that? Who knows? Bits of it have undoubtedly been tweaked for modern audiences, but the basis is real, to wit, one Arminius, leader of the pack:

Arminius (18/17 BC – 21 AD) was a Roman officer and later chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci tribe who is best known for commanding an alliance of Germanic tribes at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, in which three Roman legions under the command of general Publius Quinctilius Varus were destroyed. His victory at Teutoburg Forest would precipitate the Roman Empire's permanent strategic withdrawal from Magna Germania.[1] Modern historians have regarded Arminius' victory as one of Rome's greatest defeats. As it prevented the Romanization of Germanic peoples east of the Rhine, it has also been considered one of the most decisive battles in history, and a turning point in world history.

Born a prince of the Cherusci tribe, Arminius was part of the Roman friendly faction of the tribe. He learned Latin and served in the Roman military, which gained him Roman citizenship and the rank of a Roman knight. After serving with distinction in the Great Illyrian Revolt, he was 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.

In the aftermath of the battle, Arminius fought retaliatory invasions by the Roman general Germanicus in the battles of Pontes Longi, Idistaviso, and the Angrivarian Wall, and deposed a rival, the Marcomanni king Maroboduus. Germanic nobles, afraid of Arminius' growing power, assassinated him in 21 AD. He was remembered in Germanic legends for generations afterwards. The Roman historian Tacitus designated Arminius as the liberator of the Germanic tribes and commended him for having fought the Roman Empire to a standstill at the peak of its power.

During the unification of Germany in the 19th century, Arminius was hailed by German nationalists as a symbol of German unity and freedom. Following World War II, however, Arminius was omitted from West German textbooks due to his association with militaristic nationalism; the 2,000th anniversary of his victory at the Teutoburg Forest was only lightly commemorated in Germany. - Wikipedia

Magna Germania in the early 2nd century AD, by Alexander George Findlay

We've only watched 5 of the six episodes and while they are leading up to the big battle, I don't think they are going to squeeze it into episode 6. I think we will probably have to wait for season 2 for that.

Thusnelda at the Triumph of Germanicus, by Karl von Piloty, 1873

Several of the main characters like Thusnelda and Segestes are historical figures, if you go by WikipediaSegimer is a bit dubious.

Modern statue representing Tacitus outside the Austrian Parliament Building

Most of our information about this era seems to come from Tacticus (c. AD 56 – c. 120). I wonder if this where we got our word 'tactical'. 

P. S. Apparently the word Triumph comes from the Roman Empire's victory celebrations.

P. P. S. They did squeeze the battle into episode 6. It's appropriately barbaric.


SpearWolf said...

Apparently he was still a popular hero in the 1830s. The town of Hermann, MO was named after him by the German settlers who founded it. (Hermann=Germanic name of Arminius)

Tam said...

Arminius: The man who kept indoor plumbing on the far side of the Rhine for another millennium.

Chuck Pergiel said...

Thank you Tam for putting things in perspective.