'Barbaren' aka 'Barbarian' Season 1: Meet the real-life historic figures Thusnelda and Arminius are based on
'Barbaren' aka 'Barbarian' Season 1 is a retelling of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest and so, the lead characters of the most recent German original are also inspired by real-life historic figures who planned and organized the ambush that crushed the Romans into retreating from another attempt at encroaching into the Germanic tribe land. They are none other than Arminius and Thusnelda on the Germanic tribe side and the Roman governor Publius Quinctilius Varus. In the show, he's portrayed as a fatherly figure to Arminius who is betrayed by someone he trusted as if he were a son leading to one of the greatest failures of the Roman empire. The show used all of them to portray the run-up to the infamous battle while also using fictional characters like that of Folkwin Wolfspeer.
Arminius, the Cherusci Chief
Arminius in the show might be a Roman convert who was adopted by Varus as a child reconnected with his roots unexpectedly and ended up waging a war on behalf of his people against the Romans that he had grown up with, however in the pages of history, he was a Germanic Cherusci who had acquired Roman citizenship after he was sent to Rome as a hostage to ensure that his father Segimer would keep peace and not rebel against the Romans despite the harsh punishments and the tributes that had to be paid in full. Despite his people dying of hunger, Segimer was forced to stay wary because of his son who had been taken hostage. It is this citizenship that had helped him gain an understanding of how the Roman army worked and plan a tactically strong attack methodically. He understood the Romans' weak and strong points and he used them to ensure that the united Germanic force had a fighting chance against one of the largest empires in history. That was how he had managed to destroy three Roman legions that were under the command of general Publius Quinctilius Varus.
Also, he did not consider Varus a father figure, and had instead met the governor after serving the Roman military with distinction in the Great Illyrian Revolt. He is sent to Germania to aid the governor and he uses this opportunity to plan a rebellion. His growing power also led to his assassination in AD 21 after which he was hailed as a hero in Germanic legends. However, he was erased from the pages of history after the unification of Germany and World War II due to his association with militaristic nationalism. The show has brought his achievements to light in the first season, and if the show were to get renewed, we might be introduced to his flaws. The show depicts that Arminius is his Roman name and his Cheruscan name is Ari. He is convinced by his best friends from when he was a child, Thusnelda and Folkwin, to join their cause, which is to rebel against the Romans who are forcing themselves into the Germanic tribes' lands.
Thusnelda, A Cheruscan noblewoman
Thusnelda, the daughter of Cheruscan prince Segestes is depicted in the show as a young warrior who goes to any extent for revenge and power. She is in love with Folkwin who she grew up with from when she was young. The two of them also used to be friends with Arminius or Ari as they had addressed him in the show. However, they only reunite with Ari when he is sent to Germania to help his guardian and the commander of three Roman legions who is tasked with bringing all tribes of Germania under Rome's control. Situations arise, which test Ari's connection to Rome and leads to him plotting an ambush behind Varus' back. His intentions or the reason that he betrays Varus is not convincingly portrayed, but from what we understand, all of it has to do with the fact that Varus got Ari's father killed so that Ari can take the post of the Reich over after his father. Of course, he did not assassinate him, but he ensured that Ari's father understood that his death is the only way he can keep his son safe. After all, Arminius was a hostage, a barbarian in Varus' book, and when Varus reiterates this, Arminius realizes that he can never truly be a Roman.
He ends up taking over Cherusci tribe as a Reich, marries Thusnelda to gain credibility among the members of other tribes and methodically wipes out any suspicion that he works with the Romans. In reality, however, Thusnelda was abducted and probably assaulted by Arminius reportedly because her father was a pro-Roman Cheruscan. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, she was abducted and impregnated in 14 AD, years after the battle led by Arminius and this too is much different from the show. Thusnelda was then abducted in 15 AD by Germanicus while she was pregnant and this was to prove a point to Arminius. She was delivered to Germanicus by her own father Segestes who owed the Romans for saving him from a tough situation.
Publius Quinctilius Varus, Roman general and politician
Varus, who is a father figure to Arminius in the show is actually a general and a politician under Roman emperor Augustus. He worked in Africa, and Syria with his legions before setting his sights on Germania and had high rates of success before his stint in Germania. However, what he is remembered for is for losing against the Germanic tribes despite the three legions that he had at his beck and call. He also took his life at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.