Barbarian Tribe

You no longer need to ask what's worse than one angry barbarian.

The Barbarian Tribe is usually portrayed as a band of barely-literate, and often chaotic warriors. They have no problem burning villages, dog-kicking, playing polo with severed heads, and even stealing cable. In a work of fiction, they may form the mook army of the Dark Lord, Evil Prince, or religious fanatic. To fit their comparatively primitive status, they will wear rough clothing, like Pelts of the Barbarian.

If the work of fiction wants to portray them positively, they will be composed of Proud Warrior Race Guys or Noble Savages who are in touch with the environment. A Barbarian Hero will originate in one of these tribes.

This is Truth in Television to an extent, since one of the main thrusts of history in Eurasia (until the advent of gunpowder weapons) was the periodic invasions of urban areas in China and Europe by mounted steppe tribes. Many other groups of people, such as the ancient Germanic peoples (this includes Norse raiders), Native American tribes and tribal Africans, could also be considered this.

On the other hand, Claude Levi-Strauss said the only real barbarians are the ones who believe in barbarians. The Ancient Greeks, who invented the term, applied it pretty liberally to anyone they didn't like, including peoples who were quite civilized by any reasonable standard (like the Egyptians and the Persians) and even other Greeks who didn't live up to Athenian idealsnote . A modern work that applies Character Development to its barbarians may quickly find them to be Not So Different.

See The Horde (when they are portrayed as Always Chaotic Evil), Hordes from the East, Born in the Saddle.

The Sufficiently Advanced often compare those "below" them to this.


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  • The Visigoths from the Capital One credit card commercials. They shill the credit card by talking about ordinary-sounding purchases that we see are being done in a "barbaric" way. For example, they might talk about using the card to pay at the drive-through when we see them in the drive-through in a war chariot.

     Comic Books 
  • Astérix, Played for Laughs. The main characters are all proud barbarians, but instead of being ruthless and dramatic they're mostly weird, self-obsessed, shallow and a bit pathetic. There's also hints that despite their constant resistance of the Romans that they are becoming quite Romanised.

  • Native Americans in movies about the Old West in America will use this trope. Older movies use the more negative version, while newer movies will use the positive one.
  • The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas. The barbarian Vikings defend themselves against the even more barbarous Neanderthal tribe.
  • The Celts who allied themselves to the Sheriff of Nottingham, in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

  • The Ye-tai in Belisarius Series serve as this for the Malwa Empire, while the Roman army uses Germanic tribes to bolster their forces.
  • In The Candlemass Road, Lady Dacre sees all the Borderers as this when she arrives, but by the end is becoming acclimated to the 'custom of the country.'
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian often leads this. However improbable it is that he is always taken in and rises to the top.
  • The Dinotopia books have sentient barbarian dinosaurs living in the Rainy Basin.
  • The Kadeshi in the Farsala Trilogy are a pretty straight example of this trope, whereas the Suud are more of a subversion.
  • From The First Law, Joe Abercrombie's Northerners. They are like Vikings without boats. Southerners see them as The Horde, while they see the South as The Empire. Northern characters include nuanced and sensitive characters as well as raging psychopaths.
  • In the Military SF series The General the "Barbarians" are descended from Federation troops stationed in the boonies before the Fall. It is undoubtedly just coincidence that their native language is 'Namerique' and they have a variety of Northern European names.
  • The Dunlendings (hill-people who were ejected from their ancestral homeland by the Rohirrim) were portrayed this way in The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth's backstory also includes the Wainriders and other barbarian groups from the east. The original humans who migrated to join the elves in The Silmarillion were a heroic version of this.
  • Parodied in the Nightside novels with the Tribe of Gay Barbarians: urbanized variants with their own reasons for dressing in spikes and leather loincloths.
  • The mortok tribe in Phenomena. They wear only pelts around their waists, but strangely do they have advanced arm armory, but make weapons out of bones. They are, at least some, are literate. They keep elves as their slaves.
  • The chimera of The Reynard Cycle are usually depicted as being antagonistic tribal creatures, who invade from the East every generation or so.
  • In The Wheel of Time, while almost every race and country sees the others as this, the labels tend to all be correct within their own set of assumptions, but many have very noble or civilized traits as compared to where their comparable society in the real word was at roughly the same level of technology.
  • R. Scott Bakker's Second Apocalypse has the Scylvendi, the "People of War," who live in the steppes and are at constant war with the more sophisticated Nansur and Kianene Empires. During the first Apocalypse, they fought for the No-God, and they continue to worship it as the Dead God. Believing that all other nations bear by blood guilt of deicide, they kill any non-Scylvendi they find. Each Scylvendi warrior scars his arms for each kill, called swazond, on the belief that they have inherited all the unused potential of the life they cut short.
  • An Army Of The Dead has the invading Burgid horde, who crush all opposition before them until they smack against an Army of the Dead.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Where to start?
    • The savage wildlings beyond the Wall, who scorn the feudal society of the Seven Kingdoms and consider themselves to be the Free Folk.
    • The northern mountain clans, who are basically just wildlings whose ancestors happened to live south of the Wall. Although they're more obedient than the Free Folk, they're still a rough and pugnacious crowd who are usually left to themselves.
    • The Bandit Clans in the Mountains of the Moon, who live by robbing travelers visiting the Eyrie. They're considered a public menace.
    • Essos has the Dothraki, an equestrian warrior civilization who make their living by sacking towns or accepting tribute to go away.
  • The Hubland tribes in Discworld. The major export of the Hublands used to be Barbarian Heroes.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Dothraki in Game of Thrones combine this and the Proud Warrior Race trope. The Wildings and the hill tribes count as well.
  • Hercules: Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Beastmaster all used this trope extensively. These TV shows were made in Australia or New Zealand, so they may draw upon the same group of writers who particularly like these types of antagonists.
    • Beastmaster actually included an INVERSION of the trope during one season, when the "civilized" new military power overshadowed the previous Big Bad barbarian tribe, wiping them off the map with ease. They saw the Beastmaster and his allies as this too.
  • An episode of Farscape had the Venek Hordes, barbarian tribes of Lion People.
  • The Grounders from The 100 fit this trope, though the more technologically advanced Sky People and Mountain Men are often shown being just as harsh and brutal.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer has a fair share:
    • The human tribes who live in the Warhammer World's northern latitudes are heavily influenced by their proximity to the Chaos Wastes - they worship the Dark Gods and openly and proudly bear any gifts or marks of their deities. These tribes battle among themselves for supremacy, but occasionally launch raids into more civilized lands to the south, if not full-fledged invasions when a mighty warlord raises an army. They can be divided into three loose groupings: the Norscans live closest to the Empire and Kislev, and as capable sailors are essentially Horny Vikings. The Kurgans live farther east and are fearsome steppe horseman similar to the Turks or Mongols, and threaten the distant lands of Cathay, while the Hung share a border with the Dark Elves of Naggaroth.
    • At least the Norscans are somewhat civilized - the Beastmen who dwell in the Old World's dark forests and lonely mountains are even worse. These horned, braying savages want only to tear down and defile the other races' domains, and have no culture beyond erecting herdstones in their campsites, raping and/or eating any unfortunate souls they manage to capture alive, and a shamanistic religion that combines Chaos worship with other ancient gods of war and slaughter.
    • The Orcs and Goblins have a society built entirely around waging war, and at most will occupy and fortify a settlement they've captured. They're so violent that they spend as much time fighting other Greenskin tribes as the other races, which is good because they can be found everywhere in the world since they literally spread like fungus. They're also a softer take on this trope than the Norscans or Beastmen, since the Orcs and Gobbos are more concerned with having a good time on the battlefield than committing war crimes - their atrocities, like the infamous Blood River massacre and barbecue, are more a result of their Blue and Orange Morality than a commitment to Evil.
    • As it turns out, the Stormcast Eternals of Age of Sigmar are the souls of the ancient tribal humans who refused to bend the knee to Chaos back when the world was young and were subjugated and slaughtered for it, now rescued, resurrected and rearmed by Sigmar to fight their old enemies once again. If the Norscans are Vikings, then the Stormcast Eternals are the Einherjar.
  • And in Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Imperium designates 'Feral Worlds' as planets with a medieval technological and cultural state. These worlds may barely be aware that the Imperium exists beyond legends of 'sky warriors' that occasionally take tithes on behalf of the God Emperor, but their warrior cultures and frequently inhospitable conditions make the planets natural recruiting grounds for Imperial Guard regiments or Space Marine chapters. The most famous Feral World is probably Fenris, the cold and barbaric home of the Space Wolves.
    • The Orks have shades of this trope - their culture is centered around waging WAAAGH!!!, their political structure is nothing more sophisticated than "do wot da Warboss and da Nobz say," and their technology is decidedly crude if occasionally remarkably effective. Some Ork tribes have managed to carve out mighty empires, while more traditional clans like the Snakebites or the Feral Orks exist on a more tribal level.
    • Averted with some Chaos Space Marines, who may maraud and plunder Imperial worlds, but can still form disciplined, highly-regimented warbands.
  • The Aslan in Traveller are an example of this with overlap into Proud Warrior Race. They are a technologically advanced society that maintains a tribalistic social and political structure.
    • The Vargr are a closer analogue to this then the Aslan.

  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Bulblins seem to operate in this fashion. They live in a crude encampment in the desert, but venture out into the world for raping and pillaging. They tame wild boars, and are ruled by the gargantuan Lord Bulblin (who, as the biggest of the Bulblins, is also Large And In Charge)
  • Centaurs in World of Warcraft are based on the Mongols. They call their leaders Khans, wear fur-lined conical helmets, travel in nomadic hordes, and live in tent villages.
  • The Civilization games have barbarian hordes, which spawn in areas covered by the Fog of War, can't be the subject of diplomacy beyond their demands of "Give us gold or we'll pillage you," and exist only to attack your units, wreck terrain improvements, and sack undefended cities.
  • In Fall from Heaven, many factions are barbarian in character, and some of them even have the "Barbarian" trait, allowing them to keep peace with the Barbarians unless they take a commanding lead in the game. The Clan of Embers have the trait, as does one Doviello leader (and the Doviello under the other still fit this trope); Hyborem of the Infernals also has the Barbarian trait but doesn't quite fit.
  • The Total War series have barbarian/rebel/bandit armies that spawn to give you something to do when you're not at war with your neighboring domains. The games also assigned minor or unaligned civilizations to a "Rebel" faction that all the proper factions are perpetually at war with, though more recent games have done away with this in favor of including nonplayable minor factions that can be treated with like any other side.
    • Medieval: Total War and its sequel have the scripted invasion of the Mongols in the late 13th century, which will probably steamroll any civilizations (or players who don't know much medieval history) that haven't spent the entire game preparing for them. They're technically a proper faction that you can engage in diplomacy, but with their seemingly-limitless hordes of veteran warriors commanded by fearsome and brilliant generals, they have little interest in anything but attacking the nearest targets.
      • Medieval: Total War even has a cheat code allowing you to play as barbarians/rebels. The code? "conan".
    • In Rome: Total War there are the Gauls, Scythians, Dacians, Germans and Britons (all from the point of view of the player of course) and there was even an expansion called Barbarian Invasion featuring the Huns, Goths, Vandals and various other Nomadic and Germanic tribes.
    • In the Empire: Total War game, the minor native civilizations appear as this to your player.
    • Total War: Attila is a barbaric time indeed. All civilizations except for the Roman Empires and the Persian factions are barbarians, whether they're Celtic, Germanic, Sarmatian...or the Huns. The mechanics for all of these reflect their less-civilized, often migratory nature.
  • The 4X strategy game Galactic Civilizations II has the Drengin Empire. They are Mongols in space, more or less.
  • King of Dragon Pass is basically a fantasy barbarian tribe simulator. Subverted in that, while warlike and, well, barbaric by present-day standards, they have a lot of hidden depths and a culture that places a high emphasis on learning, literacy and commerce. And, ofcourse, they're the good guys (arguably even more so in Runequest, where they are traditionally put against a civilized, evil empire).
  • Act 5 of Diablo II had you helping a friendly version. Barbarians were even a choosable class.
    • The Barbarians have a great deal more backstory, as Diablo III exposes; the Barbarians believe themselves to have a god given mission to protect their territory, which houses the greatest gem in the Diablo universe (and also the largest. This causes frequent clashes with the more civilized people who have no idea what they're guarding, and just see them as aggressive and territorial beyond reason. Sadly, with the corruption and subsequent destruction of said gem, most of them died off or went insane. Those that remain are still as badass as ever.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas the Khans are a post-apocolyptic version of a barbarian tribe. Caesar's Legion is a collection of barbarian tribes assimilated into one massive Horde by a highly-educated man with a love of Roman history. Honest Hearts includes the White Legs, a band of savage tribals trained by Ulysses who possess military hardware after raiding a weapons cache.
  • Europa Universalis: Rome includes barbarian incursions and uprisings as periodic occurrences. Unlike in other games, if they go unchecked for long enough, they'll actually establish a new faction from the victim's conquered territory.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic has featured a Barbarian faction throughout the series. At least some of their towns that appeared throughout the campaigns were this trope, though the actual term 'Barbarian tribe' doesn't come up that often.
  • The space dragon from Master of Orion 2 can be seen as a science fiction equivalent.
  • Mentioned in Tears To Tiara 2, based on the Germanic Tribes bordering Ancient Rome. They are depicted as Not So Different. Artio is princess of the Suebi.

  • Tiffany from Exiern comes from an almost text book perfect example of one of these tribes. This causes some problems when it comes to her attitude to women and being turned into one.

    Web Original 
  • In The Gamers Alliance, the Khitans (horse riders of the grass plains) and the Sarquil (warriors of the desert) were this trope until the Cataclysm when they had to adapt their way of life to survive. The Khitans still keep their nomadic life for the most part and raise horses on the plains, but their Khan has built the large camp Kara Khitai where more and more Khitans are moving into so that they can better protect themselves from outer threats if an invasion takes place in their homeland. The various squabbling Sarquil tribes, however, have been forcibly united by the Sultana of Vanna over the years into what has become known as the Sultanate of Karaganda.
  • The Selahren in The Worldbuild Project are an islandful of barbarian tribes.

     Western Animation  
  • The Vikings in Gargoyles were generally portrayed in this manner.