History is going all in this summer with Barbarians Rising, an eight-part docu-series that weaves together elements of traditional documentary narrative and bloodthirsty historical drama to create a brand-new tapestry. The show highlights a series of different tribes (and those tribes’ charismatic leaders), which, over the course of hundreds of years, were able to wear away and eventually bring down the Roman Empire. And, as befits a grand historical sweep, the Barbarians Rising cast brings a mix of experience and personalities to the show.
Before we get to those, though, here’s an abbreviated explanation of the Barbarians Rising premise, provided by the network:
Rome is ambitious, wealthy and ruthless as it grows into the most powerful empire the world had ever known. But to achieve total domination, it blankets the ancient world in blood and tyranny, igniting the barbarian rebellions that will ultimately lead to its downfall.
This is not a story about the glory of Rome. It’s the story of the people who rise to fight for freedom against a cruel and violent force bent on their destruction. As Rome grows stronger, the barbarians are taxed, enslaved, slaughtered, displaced and robbed of their cultures. But set against seemingly overwhelming odds, they never surrender; evolving and innovating new ways to fight against an organized and determined enemy. This is a clash of titans fought over centuries.
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….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.
And, to hammer the idea of different perspectives home, here’s a trailer for the show, featuring most of the Barbarians Rising cast:
So–pretty straightforward, right? Nine different barbarian leaders, over a period of about 700 years, whittle away the Roman Empire until it collapses in on itself with a grand thud. Nothing complicated about that at all 😉
Let’s start putting some names to faces, then. Here are each of the nine principles of the Barbarians Rising cast: a bit about the actors themselves, and a bit about the particular leader each actor plays.
Ben Batt (“Spartacus”)
Englishman Ben Batt is perhaps best known to American audiences for his turn in Captain America: The First Avenger, but has featured in a number of prominent British television dramas, among them The Village, Scott & Bailey, and Shameless. He plays one of the best-known historical figures on Barbarians Rising, and the only one not technically considered a barbarian, as History’s official bio explains:
Sources say that while serving as an auxiliary in the Roman army, [Spartacus] 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….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.
You can follow Ben Batt on Twitter here.
Richard Brake (“Geiseric”)
Richard Brake has featured in dozens of TV shows and movies over a two-decade career, and is one of the more seasoned members of the strong Barbarians Rising cast. American audiences might recognize him from his work in Batman Begins, Munich, Thor: The Dark World, and, most recently, for a two-episode stint on Game of Thrones. As for Geiseric,
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. 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.
You can follow Richard Brake on Twitter here.
Gavin Drea (“Alaric”)
Gavin Drea has a handful of major roles to his credit, ranging from six episodes as Luke on Love / Hate to the narrator of noted 2015 short The Spooky Pumpkin. His Barbarians Rising role is as legendary Romanian (though then-Goth) Alaric, who took over as king after Fritigern’s death (see Steven Waddington’s bio below. This show will certainly have its hands full juggling timelines!):
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.
Jefferson Hall (“Virathus”)
Jefferson Hall is maybe the best-known member of the Barbarians Rising cast. For one thing, he’s also been on Game of Thrones, in addition to long stints on both Wizards Vs. Aliens and History’s own Vikings; for another, he had small, but meaty roles in the 2009 smash Sherlock Holmes and as a First Order Officer in this little motion picture called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Hall has also played a prominent role in the Barbarians Rising promos–as evidenced by the popular image above–and one look at his character bio will further explain why:
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.
Tom Hopper (“Arminus.” And, yeah, we went with the Men’s Health cover–wouldn’t you?)
Tom Hopper has been on the cover of Men’s Health magazine. So, he’s doing alright for himself. He also plays Billy Bones in Black Sails, portrayed Sir Percival in the 2010-12 TV series Merlin, got to help introduce Matt Smith to the world in the latter’s debut episode of Doctor Who, and has depicted an assortment of Norsemen, knights, and other warriors in sundry roles. His character on Barbarians Rising has one of the show’s more interesting backgrounds:
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….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….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.
Emil Hostina (“Attila”)
Emil Hostina appears to be making a lot of History viewers do double takes–probably because of his prominent screen time as a Death Eater in both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Beyond that, he featured in an episode of the acclaimed British drama Foyle’s War; has recently won praise for his roles in Marcella and Fortitude; and made his bones in the Romanian cinema boom of the late 90s and early 00s before that. As for Attila? Emil might have the bluntest, most darkly comic bio of the whole Barbarians Rising cast:
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.
You can follow Emil on Twitter–if you dare–here.
Kirsty Mitchell (“Boudica”)
Scottish-born Kirsty Mitchell was most recently seen on American shores in the single-season dramady You, Me, and the Apocalypse this past winter. Before that, she’s worked steadily since the mid-90s, and might be best-known for her 50-episode run as Dr. Sarah Chatwin in drama series The Royal Today. However, Boudica, her Barbarians Rising character, was known for rather less altruistic endeavors:
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.
Nicholas Pinnock (“Hannibal”)
Nicholas Pinnock’s Hannibal completes the trifecta of better-known Barbarians Rising characters. He’s also well-known to fans of both Marcella and Fortitude, having features prominently on both shows alongside Emil Hostina. He likewise had a part in Captain America: The First Avenger alongside Ben Batt. Nicholas got his big break in 1992, with a three-episode arc on hugely popular British show EastEnders. The veteran has perhaps the most prominent role of all the Barbarians Rising cast, as well as one of the most complex:
Hannibal Barca…was made [by his father Hamilcar] 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.
You can follow Nicholas on Twitter here.
Steven Waddington (“Fritigern”)
One of Steven Waddington’s best-known roles came in 2014, when he played Aiken in the Halo: Nightfall TV series. In the same year, he also won acclaim for his work in Film: The Movie, which itself followed a well-regarded run on TV series The Syndicate, on the 2012 Titanic miniseries, and for a whole host of parts before that. As mentioned earlier, Waddington’s character, Fritigern, is the father of fellow barbarian Alaric; before Alaric can rule the Goths, Fritigern’s story must play out:
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.
As for the show itself: You can catch the Barbarians Rising cast in action every Monday night at 9 PM on History.
(Photo credits: Barbarians Rising cast via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WENN.com; Richard Brake photo credit to Peter Konerko)