The first season of the Netflix German series, “Barbarians,” takes us back to 9 AD when the tribes of Germania united under one banner and fought a war against the oppressive Roman Empire. Created by Andreas Heckmann, Arne Nolting, and Jan Martin Scharf, the series makes us privy to the internal politics of the tribes and their strife toward justice. “Barbarians” Season 1 shows us the kind of exploitation that the tubes had to suffer through the years until a few rebels decided to shake the foundations of the Roman empire and put an end to their tyranny. So, let’s see how the locals, who never dared to raise a finger against the mighty Romans, decided to wage war against the greatest military force of all time.
‘Barbarians’ Season 1: Plot Summary – What Happens In The German Series?
The tribes of Germania had learned to live a subdued life because they were aware of the fact that they couldn’t fight the mighty Roman Empire. To have a chance against the Romans, it was imperative that they combined their forces. The Romans knew that the tribes had so many internal conflicts with each other that they could never unite under one banner. There were also people like Segestes, belonging to the “Cherusci tribe,” who were faithful to the Romans and believed that nothing good could come out of rebelling against the mighty empire. But unlike Segestes, his daughter, Thusnelda, wanted to escape this life of servitude. The tribes often had huge difficulty in paying the heavy taxes that were levied on them by the Romans. But no one was there to hear their grievances. If they didn’t abide by what was told to them, heavy punitive measures were taken by the Romans. Segestes wanted Thusnelda to get married to the Reik of the Chatti tribe, named Hadgan. The matrimonial alliance looked more like a financial arrangement, where Segestes had set the bridal price at five mares. Everybody told Thusnelda that she was lucky to get married to a Reik, but she loved somebody else. She loved her childhood friend, Folkwin Wolfspeer. But Thusnelda knew that her father would never allow her to get married to a common swordsman, as it wouldn’t give him any political or financial advantage. The Romans had appointed a new governor of Germania, and a small troop had been sent to inform the Cherusci tribe about the same.
Senator Publius Quinctilius Varus was a ruthless man, and he wanted the tribes to pay 20 cows and 50 containers of grain as a tribute. Segimer, the Reik of Cherusci tribe, knew that they had to do something about this injustice and oppression. He wanted to wage war against the Romans. Segestes told him that the tribes, like always, would not be able to resolve their issues and unite under one banner. But Segimer wanted to at least try. So, he called a meeting of the Reiks as he wanted to know their opinion. Aldarich from the Marsi Tribe, Hadgan of the Chatti Tribe, and Gernot from the Bructeri tribe were among the several others who attended the meeting. Once again, the tribes couldn’t come to a conclusion. Once again, they were not able to unite. The Romans came back and trespassed on the houses of Cheruscis to look for anything else that they might be hiding. The barbarians, as the Romans called them, had given all that they had but were still falling short of what the Romans expected. The commander of the battalion demanded Segimer kiss the eagle scepter in order to prove his allegiance to the empire. The Reik felt insulted. Thusnelda came to a halt in the middle of her father’s speech. The commander wanted to teach her a lesson. Thusnelda’s younger brother couldn’t see his sister getting beaten by the Romans. He came in between and got severely hurt. Thusnelda took her brother to a sorceress, who she hoped would conjure some magic and save him. Ansgar was saved, but he became mentally unstable. Nobody knew what had happened to him. But the sorceress knew that Thusnelda had some connection with the higher power, as her brother had almost touched death and had been reborn once again.
Together with Folkwin Wolfspeer, Thusnelda made a plan to steal the eagle scepter from the Romans. The eagle scepter was sacred to them, and Thusnelda knew that if they were able to achieve the feat of stealing it then somewhere, it would hurt the sentiments of the brutal Romans and, secondly, send out a message that the Roman empire was not infallible. They were able to steal it successfully. The Romans were shocked that a tribe dweller had the audacity to enter their camp and steal from them. Varus wanted to find the scepter, but he knew that it was a delicate situation. The Romans were able to rule successfully because the tribes could never unite and fight for a cause. He didn’t want to do anything that would allow them to undermine the authority of the empire and, in turn, provoke a rebellion. Arminius, Varus’ adopted son, asked him to give him a few Germanic mercenaries, as he had a plan in mind, and he also had an idea about who was behind the theft. He had found a wolf’s tooth locket lying on the ground, and he knew whom it belonged to. Varus told him to go and meet Adjunct Prefect Talio, a man who worked for the Romans, but still had a lot of contempt for them.
Arminius, also called Ari reached the Cherusci settlement, and it was then that we came to know that he was the son of Reik Segimer, and the best friend of Thusnelda and Folkwin. Segimer had given both his sons to the Romans. He didn’t want to do it, but he gave them because he thought that it would bring peace to their kingdom and the Romans would stop oppressing the people. Berulf, a Cherusci, was present at the scene when Ari killed his uncle, Gernot Rotbart, the Reik of the Bructeri tribe. Berulf and Ari entered into a scuffle, but Folkwin came in the middle and saved his friend’s life. Ari took the eagle scepter and escaped. Ari was doing it for the well-being of the Cherusci community. He was doing it to save his people because he knew that as soon as the Romans got wind of it, they would come and wreak havoc on the whole tribe. Segestes had told Varus that Folkwin had stolen their sacred eagle standard. The Romans came, and when they were unable to find Folkwin, they killed his whole family. When Folkwin found out about it, he was distraught. Seeds of vengeance were sown inside him. He had always disliked the Romans, but now he wanted to avenge the death of his family. Ari gave the scepter back to Varus and requested to redeploy him to Rome or to any other part of the kingdom. Varus told him that he would do so after Ari had accomplished one last task: he wanted Ari to find and kill Folkwin. He wanted to set an example and send a strong message to the others that whoever went against the Roman empire would meet their fateful end.
The Bructeri Tribe Betray Folkwin
Thusnelda wanted to bury the family members of Folkwin who had been killed by the Romans. Both Segimer and Thusnelda have been deeply affected by the recent events. The thing that was eating Thusnelda even more was that her own father was behind all of this. In his greed for power, he was not able to see what was right and what was not. He just wanted to be the Reik of the tribe, and for that, he was ready to do whatever the Romans demanded. Meanwhile, Berulf told Folkwin that maybe they could hide for a while with the Bructeri tribe. Berulf’s mother was a Bructeri, and his father was a Cherusci. He knew the new Reik of the tribe, and he was quite certain that they would be welcomed there. Kunolf, the chief of Bructeris, did welcome them, but he had his hidden agendas and ulterior motives. He had informed the Romans about Folkwin, who came hunting for him in the night. Berulf gave his life, saving his friend, and the Romans once again couldn’t catch Folkwin. Golmad, who was a well-respected individual in the Bructeri tribe, had condemned the actions of his chief, Kunolf, openly. He had told him that it was believed that Thusnelda was a seer of sorts who had a connection with the gods. Golmad feared the betrayal of the guests had the power to anger the gods, but he couldn’t do anything about it until Kunolf was alive.
Together with others, Folkwin escaped from the Bructeri settlement. He went to the Dark Lands, often referred to as the lands of the undead. It was an area in the middle of the forest where nobody ever went. People believed that there were dark spirits that existed there. One of his companions, named Luco, was petrified at the mere sight of the cursed land. He didn’t go inside with them, and then later, bumped into Ari and his battalion on his way and told them about Folkwin’s whereabouts. He didn’t do it because he wanted to go against his friend, but he was so scared and traumatized by everything that he didn’t feel that he had any other option. The Romans found Folkwin, but at the very last moment, Ari changed sides and killed all his colleagues before they could lay a finger on his friend. Ari might have sworn his allegiance to the Roman empire, but he was still a Cherusci. He was still Folkwin’s friend. He was still the son of Segimer, who had spent all his life serving his clan. Thusnleda was also able to locate them. She told Ari to fight alongside them. But Ari was a pragmatic man. He knew that he couldn’t do that. He knew that his whole life would be turned upside down if he took such a step. He was not mentally prepared to wage an all-out war against his so-called father, Varus. He had been asked to get the severed head of Folkwin. He knew that Varus had no clue how Folkwin looked. So, he cut the head of another barbarian and made his way back to his camp.
‘Barbarians’ Season 1: Ending – The Cherusci Defeated The Romans
Varus had a different plan in mind with respect to his adopted son, Ari. He wanted Ari to become the chief of the Cherusci tribe, though he knew that it wouldn’t be possible unless and until his father died. So, he went and coerced Segimer to make way for his son. Segimer was a wise man who always thought about the betterment of the realm. He knew that the cruel Romans wouldn’t let him live in peace and would harass his tribe too. He believed in his son Ari. He hoped that maybe things would be better once he led the tribe. Segimer gave his life and hoped that his death would stir the souls of the men and urge them to unite their banners and put an end to the tyranny of the Romans. Meanwhile, Folkwin had a plan in mind. He knew that the Bructeri community was one of the most religious tribes. He knew that he could use their fears and beliefs against them. Thusnelda had created a reputation for herself as a seer. He told her to manipulate the Bructeri into believing that they needed to unite their tribes. They went inside the Bructeri camp, but Kunolf didn’t buy into their lies. He became aggressive, and Folkwin killed him in the spur of the moment as he was hurting Thusnelda. Folkwin was able to convince Golmad and others to unite and fight against the Romans. Meanwhile, Ari had taken over the position of his father. Segestes’ ambitions were deeply hurt as he thought he could seize power after the death of Segimer. He didn’t know that the Romans had orchestrated everything as they wanted to make Ari, whom they considered their own, the chief of the Cherusci tribe.
After assuming the position of the Reik, Ari immediately sent a messenger to the Bructeri settlement, as he knew that Folkwin was there. Ari had a plan in mind. He wanted to lead the Roman forces into an ambush. He knew that he would have to take each and every step with a lot of caution. Ari told Folkwin to hide in the forests until things had settled. He got married to Thusnelda to strengthen his claim to the throne and make the Romans believe that he was devoted to their cause. Varus trusted him blindly, and Ari wanted to take advantage of that fact. Varus had given Ari a task. He had told Ari to take the children of the chiefs of the different clans as hostages. He also bestowed upon him the title of knighthood for his selfless service to the Roman empire. Ari knew how to use the situation to his advantage. He saw an opportunity in the order given by Varus. He knew that maybe he could unite the tribes. He knew that he could fulfill his father’s wish. He took the children of the Rieks by telling them that the governor, Varus, had ordered him to do so but never gave them to the Roman empire. He wanted to teach the tribes a lesson. He wanted to show them the mirror. He made them privy to their helplessness. He showed them how they agreed to do something that they didn’t like, because of the fear that was instilled in their hearts and minds. He made them realise that the only way they could tackle this problem was by uniting their forces. It made the chiefs change their mind. They were all ready to follow Ari into the battle.
Ari and Thusnelda got the news that Folkwin had been caught by the Roman forces and burnt alive. But it was not true. Folkwin was alive and was held captive in the Roman camps. With time, Thusnelda grew fond of Ari, and though their marriage was only for strategic purposes, they consummated it. Ari had always liked Thusnelda, but he restrained himself as he knew about her involvement with his best friend.
Meanwhile, Segestes was looking for an opportunity to undermine the authority of Ari. He was hurt, as the position of the Reik was snatched from him. He went and told Varus that Ari was going to betray him. He had got to know that the severed head that Ari had brought was not of Folkwin’s. He told Varus that he was leading his forces into an ambush. But Varus didn’t believe him, as he trusted his son, Ari, more than anyone else. Ari had told a different story of Varus. He told him that the Riek of the Marsi tribe, called Aldarich, stood up against his forces. Ari said that because one man refused to obey the commands, others followed his lead and did the same. To set an example, Ari told Varus to lead the Roman armies and launch an attack on the Marsi tribe. Varus agreed and did what Ari asked him to. The barbarians were hiding in the forest. They strategically attacked the Romans and killed them. Varus couldn’t believe his eyes. He could not believe that Ari could betray him ever. His delusions were broken, and he took his life on the battlefield. Segestes and Hadgan, who had been waiting for the opportune moment, came to the battlefield to fight against the Romans once they knew that the tribes were going to win. The tribes triumphed over the Romans. Their unity had ended the years of oppression and had given them hope that things would be bright from hereon.
Though the war between the barbarians and the Romans had ended, there were still a lot of things that bothered Ari and Thusnelda. Folkwin believed that he had been betrayed. He believed that Ari had done it all on purpose. Runa, the sorceress, told Thusnelda that her path was dangerous. She told her that she was pregnant with a child, but it didn’t belong to Ari. It meant that the child belonged to Folkwin. She said that the gods had their own way of punishing those who had sinned. Her words left Thusnelda in a dubious state of mind. She didn’t know if what she was doing was the right thing. We see an anonymous rider taking Varus’ severed head and riding somewhere. Maybe the rider was going to inform the Roman high command about what had transpired. The tribes were celebrating their victory, but Ari and Thusnelda knew that the war wasn’t over yet. They knew that the Romans wouldn’t give up so easily. They knew that it was just a matter of time before they would rebuild their armies and strike in full force once again.