They're strange. They're foreign. They come from the East.
Maybe it's because they're Always Chaotic Evil
, or maybe we're just next in a line of civilizations to be conquered, but they're out to get us.
This trope arose a long time ago from bad experiences and sometimes just general xenophobia. While the more bigoted aspect of the trope is no longer fashionable
, it still survives thanks to Follow the Leader
and the need for an easy source of danger and disposable enemies.
Internal life of the hordes isn't usually depicted much, if at all. They are foreign, they are evil, and that's all that matters.
"The East" comes from the typical placement of the "others" in Real Life
Western Europe. The usual candidates for the hordes include Mongols, Muslims, Huns, Hungarians, Scythians, or Russians, or Fantasy Counterpart Cultures
of them. Like several of these cultures, they're likely to have been Born In The Saddle
. They'll sometimes look stereotypically Asian, but they aren't criminal masterminds like the Yellow Peril
- they're just a mass of Mooks
born to be mooks.
A culture can even be on both sides of the trope. Russians are a source of Hordes for Western Europe, but they themselves endured Mongol control for some centuries - it's a popular trope in Russian folk tales.
The Hordes From The East
will often act like The Horde
, but they don't have to.
Hordes From the East will always be presented as a feared foreign danger, but their behavior can vary. There's a chance that they don't pillage at all, or that they use clever strategies in battle instead of just brute force.
Some cultures have their own tropes involving attacks from a particular direction. For example, an attack would have always come from the North/West in China, from the North-West in India, and from the North in Rome. Another variant is to have hordes from up north,
Vikings or Norse barbarians.
- A Woman In Berlin depicts hordes of dumb, rampaging Russian soldiers raping the women of Berlin during the occupation there at the end of WWII. It is mentioned to be revenge for the Wehrmacht's own atrocities, which are implied to be larger in both scope and depravity. Some of the Russians are shown to be more civilized than others, though. One of them even protects the main character from the other Russians.
- The Lord of the Rings, probably the Trope Codifier for this trope in the fantasy genre: "And the drawing of the scimitars of the Southrons was like a glitter of stars". The humans alligned with Sauron aren't treated as inherently evil the way the orcs are, but as the story is told from the point of view of people fighting on the other side of a war, their humanity is only occasionally acknowledged and they're frequently treated as just a faceless swarm of foreign enemies. Interestingly, given that the Literary Agent Hypothesis is in effect, they're technically the Indo-Europeans mentioned below in the Real Life section, or at least their ancestors. There are also Hordes from the North (Angmar, though that's Back Story, and West (Dunlendings, at least in relation to Rohan). Played with in the story of the Downfall of Númenor, where the Númenóreans, though they see themselves as the pinnacle of human civilization, gradually come to be seen as a faceless horde of oppressors by other humans as their culture became more tyrannical (and particularly after Sauron became The Man Behind the Man to their king).
- A Song of Ice and Fire: For the people of Westeros, the Dothraki serve this function. They're an equestrian culture in the east based loosely on the Mongols. While the Dothraki never travel across the ocean, there's a fear at one point that they might invade Westeros. Generally, Westeros is more concerned with the barbarian hordes from the grim north who more resemble classic western barbarians.
- Nightrunner series: the invading Plenimar... of course from the east.
- Nineteen Eighty Four: We've always been at war with Eastasia. We've always been at war with Eurasia. Either way, they're at war with the east, and the telescreens depict the enemy forces as an endless procession of "row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces."
- The "Mabden" human barbarians in the Corum series are savage hordes from the East. The good, civilized Mabden live in a land that seems to have a closer resemblance to Europe, with lots of coastline, castles, and a cool-temperate climate. In the second trilogy, the hordes from the East are replaced by cold-dwelling Eldritch Abominations.
- The title character of Conrad Stargard prepares for, and wages, a defensive war against the Mongol invaders of Poland.
- Deconstructed with the Aiel from The Wheel of Time. As far as most of the Westland nations are concerned they're very much this trope, particularly in light of the fact that they fought a major war with them just a generation ago, but when they come into focus the Aiel are quickly established as a staunchly honorable people and allies of Rand (who is revealed to be of partial Aiel descent)- and as far as they're concerned, it's the Westlanders who are the incomprehensible barbarians.
- Played straight with the Angarak nations in The Belgariad. Subverted in the Sequel Series, The Malloreon, which shows that once Torak's influence is removed they're Not So Different from everyone else.
- Hordes from the east did, in fact, attack Europe and the Middle East (and India and China, but it is "hordes from the north" in their case) with startling regularity for most of human history. They include Indo-Europeans, Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Avars, Magyars, Pechenegs, Tartars, Kipchaks, Turks, Mongols, Timurids, and Uzbeks. It wasn't until the rise of gunpowder armies that central Eurasian nomads ceased to be a major threat to their civilized neighbors.
- The Native Americans point of view on the European settlers...
- Such "regularity" came with the fact that usually nomads from Central Asia had nothing really to live on save for hunting and gathering. Whenever their population explodes, the explosion is often manifested by a roving horde that seeks to live in arable lands that can support such huge populations.
- Forgotten Realms had the Tuigans, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the Mongols (except they ultimately end up far less successful in actually conquering anything during their one Horde period). For the second half of their trilogy, they are this trope to the Faerûnians (for the first half, they were Hordes From The West to Shou Lung and Kara-Tur in general — worth mentioning may be that Shou Lung is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to China).
- Heroes of Might and Magic V addon Tribes of the East introduces a faction, Great Horde, that bears much resemblance to huns/mongols.
- Total War series: In the Medieval games and an expansion for the first Shogun game, the Mongols invade. They take the form of several huge stacks of elite units showing up in the Middle East/Russia/Kyushu. From there, they'll go on and attack whoever's nearby. An expansion pack for Rome, appropriately titled "Barbarian Invasion", also adds a whole lot of factions like this. Chief among them are the Huns.
- Caesar's Legion from Fallout New Vegas is a post-apocalyptic North American variant. As the game takes place in Nevada, in this case "The East" is Arizona.
- Crusader Kings has not one but three sets of Mongols (the Golden Horde, Ilkhanate and Timurids) who arrive in the late game and wreak havoc throughout the eastern half of the map.
- Tale Spin: The pandas of Panda-la seem like peaceful and isolationist Chinese stereotypes until they decide to unleash their airships and heat-seeking rockets to conquer the world. Due to rather obvious Unfortunate Implications, the episode was quietly banned from reruns.
- Parodied in South Park, where the owner of the City Wok restaurant is commissioned to build a wall around the city, only for portions of it to be repeatedly destroyed by a tribe of Mongols.