Barbarians Rising tells the epic saga of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire from the perspective of the barbarian leaders who brought it down; a high-impact, visceral journey into the heart of their rebellions against absolute power. The Roman Empire called them “barbarians” – tribes beyond the fringe of civilization that live a primitive, savage existence.
But they are also some of the fiercest warriors in history – men and women who rose up to resist so that they might live free, or die. The eight-part docu-drama reveals the true story of the 700-year battle for supremacy, a fight for freedom that would shape the world to come. Featuring fully dramatized portrayals of icons including Hannibal, Spartacus, Arminius, Boudica and Attila alongside an eclectic group of experts and contributors, Barbarians Rising reveals the true history behind the legends.
Alaric did not take Rome by force. His army was let in by slaves as part of his cunning “Trojan Horse” strategy to get inside the city.
Born on Peuce Island at the mouth of the Danube (in present day Romania), Alaric was a child during the Goths’ mass migration across the Danube and their subsequent war with Rome. After Fritigern’s death years later, Alaric emerged as leader and later King of the Visigoths from 395 to 410 A.D..
He had a charismatic personality, which attracted many oppressed slaves and barbarians within the Roman Empire to join his cause. He had a love/hate relationship with Rome, but he hoped that collaboration would secure a homeland for the long- displaced Goths.
Alaric sought to have his Goth warriors officially made part of the Roman army, so they would be entitled to rights like food and lands within the empire. But repeated mistreatment and betrayals by the Empire ultimately pushed Alaric to turn against the emperor. From 396 A.D. onwards, he raided both eastern and western empires, especially Illyricum and Thrace.
Physically massive wild tribesmen: bearded, pale skinned, dark-haired and ruggedly dressed in wolf furs.
Born in Germania around 18 B.C., Arminius and his brother Flavus were heirs of a high-ranking Cherusci family. Like many German tribes, warfare was a way of life for the Cherusci, but after the tribe’s defeat, the boys were both sent to Rome as hostages, per custom designed to Romanize the barbarians. In Rome, they were educated, trained as soldiers and given Roman citizenship. Arminius rose through the military ranks,fighting in campaigns throughout the Eastern provinces, and was eventually promoted to the elite Equestrian Order, the most exalted group in Rome besides the Senate.
Around 7 A.D., Arminius was dispatched back to his homeland in Germania to help keep the peace. There he found his people heavily taxed by the Roman governor, Varus, and treated as slaves. It wasn’t long before he began to think of rebellion, but with loyalties on both sides, Arminius would have to tread carefully. He secretly gathered support from neighboring tribes in order to form a German coalition to stand up to the occupiers. Arminius had the advantage of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the Roman army, but that would not be enough to face legions of trained soldiers. He needed a clever plan; what followed was an epic double cross that completely changed the game for Rome in Germania.
Huns are dark-haired, their cheeks ritually scarred from childhood. They fight, eat, negotiate and even sleep on horseback.
Tribe: The Huns
Region: Central Asia
The Huns were a nomadic tribe, who burst out of the Asian steppes and wreaked havoc wherever they attacked. Driven by a desire for plunder, the Huns struck fear into their enemies with violent lightning raids on unsuspecting villages. Expert horsemen and archers, they were deadly accurate with a bow and arrow at any speed.
Attila is thought to have been born around 406 A.D.. In 434, when he was about 30 years old, he and his brother Bleda succeeded to the Hunnic lordship after the death of their uncle. Despite the lust for plundering riches, the record reflects that Attila’s tastes were modest. He was not interested in the luxuries of Roman life. He ate meat on a wooden plate. His cup was wooden, while guests had silver goblets. His dress was simple, but clean. Observers noted that he was not easily entertained.
The Iceni went into battle with their skin dyed with war paint, necks clad in gold and helmets adorned with strange animal designs and mystical patterns.
Boudica was born of royal descent in 21 A.D. One record says that she was “possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women”. She was tall and had hair described as red or reddish-brown, hanging below her waist.
Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, was King of the Iceni, a tribe of proud Celtic warriors in the Roman province of Britannia. The Empire made repeated attempts to disarm and defeat the Iceni but was unsuccessful, ultimately deciding to sue for peace rather than continue fighting the rebels. Prasutagus became a favored ally. He made the Roman emperor co-heir to his kingdom, alongside his wife and two daughters. In return, the Iceni received large loans from Rome.
Upon the King’s death, Rome ignored his wish to leave his kingdom to his daughters. His lands were annexed to Rome, as if they had been conquered. When she objected, Boudica was beaten and her daughters violated. Iceni noblemen were stripped of their estates, and relatives of the king were enslaved.
Well-built and extremely tall, these Nordic warriors wield huge axes to terrify the enemy.
Region: Eastern Europe
The Goth peoples originated in Germania, but by the 4th century inhabited Scythia (modern Romania). They were culturally diverse, sharing some traits with the Huns and other eastern peoples.
Fritigern’s tribe were recent converts to Christianity, but they were enemies of Rome and frequently clashed with imperial armies and raided the fringes of the empire. But when the Hun menace put their survival at risk, Fritigern asked his fellow Christian, the Roman emperor Valens, to grant his people asylum within the empire and in exchange promised to provide soldiers to fight in the Roman army. Valens allowed Fritigern’s Goths to cross the Danube and settle in Thrace.
His general, Lupicinus, was tasked with disarming the Goths and feeding them. But Lupicinus was corrupt and cruel, and happy to profit from the Goths’ misfortune by selling them meagre rations at inflated prices. The Goths became restless and angry. Lupicinus, alarmed by the angry masses, invited their leaders, including Fritigern, to feast at the Roman camp. Once inside, the bodyguards of the Goth leaders were slaughtered. The capture of the chieftains drove the Goths wild with fury. Fritigern negotiated his own release by vowing to calm the Gothic horde. But instead he plotted his revenge.
The Vandals were described by the 6th century Byzantine historian Procopius as tall, blonde-haired and “handsome to look upon.”
Geiseric was born around 389 A.D., the illegitimate child of the great Vandal king Godigisel. When Geiseric was elected King in 428, the Vandals had long been a wandering people. Driven by the advance of the Huns, the Vandals crossed the northern Rhine frontier of the Empire in 406 and found their way to Spain. There they settled, but as Geiseric’s rule began, they came under attack by the Visigoths and soon migrated to North Africa.
At the time, the Roman magister militum (Master of Soldiers) of Roman North Africa, Boniface, was in fear of his position due to intrigues at Rome. As a result, he agreed with Geiseric that a number of Vandals could settle in Africa, and work as mercenaries to support his position. In a massive operation, Geiseric moved the entire Vandal people – more than 20,000 warriors along with 60,000 non- combatant families – across the Straits of Gibraltar.
Geiseric seems to have been a man of deep thought and few words, disdainful of luxury, furious in his anger, greedy for gain, shrewd in winning over the barbarians and skilled in sowing the seeds of dissent to his own advantage.
The elite force: Clad in bronze armor, the Carthaginians are a highly cultured tribe with a developed military and navy.
Region: North Africa
Hannibal Barca, born c. 247 B.C., was the son of the great Carthaginian general, Hamilcar. The Barcas were a family of military leaders, the greatest generals of the Carthaginian armies. Hamilcar had fought the Romans in the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.). He was forced to evacuate Sicily after the Romans destroyed the Carthaginian fleet, a humiliation for which he never forgave the Romans.
Hamilcar passed on the duty of revenge to his young son, who at the age of 9, was made to swear a blood oath, vowing to one day defeat Rome. Young Hannibal was taken from Carthage to the Spanish colonies where he was raised. While he grew up infatuated with war, Hannibal was also highly cultured, and reportedly composed literature in both Punic and Greek.
By the time Hannibal became a general, the Romans, having stolen Carthaginian shipbuilding technology, dominated the seas around southern Italy. Despite the Republic’s supremacy, the Mediterranean route was widely considered the only way to reach Rome. The land route involved the massive physical barriers of the Pyrenees and the Alps. The Romans believed that any war with Carthage would be fought in Spain rather than Italy. When Hannibal finally began his campaign of vengeance over the Republic, he did indeed launch his first attack from the main land.
Unshaven and hard as nails, this multi-ethnic rabble starts out half-naked and dis- organized, but soon morphs into a supreme fighting force.
Born in Thrace (modern Eastern Europe) around 109 B.C., little is known about the early life of Spartacus, who would rise to lead a slave revolt that rocked the Roman Republic to its core.
Sources say that while serving as an auxiliary in the Roman army, he deserted, was captured, then enslaved. Because of his enormous physical strength, he was chosen to become a gladiator, and moved to an elite training camp in Capua, Italy. Conditions for gladiators were never good, but Capua was particularly brutal. Those who survived the arena were harassed and abused by the guards. Spartacus conspired with 70 of his fellow gladiators – including Crixus of Gaul – to escape.
At first, the Republic treated the escape as a smaller police matter. The Roman consul, Gaius Claudius Galber, hastily dispatched a force to deal with them, trapping them on Mount Vesuvius. But the Romans were overconfident, unaware of Spartacus’ tactical genius. By descending Vesuvius on rope vines, the rebels managed to ambush and destroy the Roman camp.
Swarthy, longhaired and armed with their trademark machete swords, these warrior-bandits called the mountains of Portugal home.
Tribe: Iberian Celt
Viriathus hailed from Lusitania, which occupied parts of modern-day Portugal and western Spain. It is not known precisely when he was born, but the ancient authors describe him as an inhabitant of the coast, a shepherd who in childhood lived in the mountains. Accounts recall his great strength and agility, the result of a spare diet and hard physical labor.
The Roman conquest of Spain began during the Second Punic War against Carthage and its famed general, Hannibal. Some Lusitanians tried to avoid war by requesting a peace treaty with Rome, but the alliance was in name only. In 151 B.C., Rome betrayed them and systematically killed or enslaved all the males of fighting age, a reported 30,000 people.
Viriathus was one of the few men to escape this massacre. In the aftermath, he persuaded his fellow survivors to refuse any peace terms offered to them. In time, he became the leader of a growing Lusitanian rebel army, determined to resist the vastly superior Roman forces.