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Barbarian Tribe

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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, typically Northern European or Central Asian in origin. 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 a Loincloth and 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 barbariansnote . 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. Soldier vs. Warrior will often have Barbarians being the "warrior" side in contrast to "soldiers" such as Roman Legionnaires.



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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. In the original commercials they were a representation of a competitor's high interest rates. They would tear a path of destruction through the background, only to be thwarted when the ad's protagonist mentioned he was using the card advertised. Over time they apparently just forgot what the purpose of having them in the ad was.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Kingdom has a number of these. Since it is set in Ancient China, this makes sense. They all tend to be proud, relatively less civilized, have tribal markings and are stronger in combat than a plainsman.
    • The "Mountain People" allied to Qin are led by Yotanwa, and their aid has been instrumental in helping Qin in multiple key engagements such as the defense of Sai, and the siege of Gyou.
    • The Xiongnu are a ruthless bunch of barbarians always raiding and pillaging the kingdom of Zhao. Riboku made a name for himself by defeating them, a feat earlier thought impossible.
    • The Quanrong are an offshoot of the Xiongnu who ended up settling (and allying) with the Zhao, although they tend to keep to themselves in their city of Ryouyou. They end up losing to, and joining with, Yotanwa's Mountain People.
    • Ordo from Yan is noted to have grown up with one such barbarian tribe, and has a contingent of them in his army. They are efficient trackers and have a near-perfect understanding of mountainous terrain. This doesn't help him when he comes up against Ousen and he gets thoroughly crushed.

    Card Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering, there are the Gruul Clans of Ravnica, a loosely organized affiliation of clans and tribes of humans, goblins, giants and centaurs led by the Cyclops Borborygmos. They used to be the guild responsible for maintaining Ravnica's wildernesses, but as the plane became covered by urban growth and what nature was left taken over by the Simic, Golgari and Selesnya, the Gruul were written out of the Guildpact and stripped of all the protection and benefits of a guild, leaving them as bands of roving, angry barbarians hungry for revenge and lashing out at the world they feel betrayed them. Their modern-day lifestyle chiefly consists of forcibly taking over an area, pillaging it for all it's worth, and squatting in the ruins until all resources are exhausted, at which point they move to a new area and repeat the process.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix, 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 to the Romans, they are becoming quite Romanized. There are other barbarian tribes too, like the Goths, Normans and Danish Vikings.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Star Wars: The Sand People (a.k.a. the Tusken Raiders) of the deep deserts of Tatooine are a vicious, aggressive tribal people who seem to exist in a constant state of hostilities with the other natives of the planet. Their raids are constant danger for farmsteads and outposts, and they'll happily ambush lone travelers. Not even the planet's other natives species, the Jawas, are safe from their attacks.

  • 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. Conan himself of course comes from one, the Cimmerians. Vanir and Aesir are Viking variants and the Picts definitely fit
  • The Dinotopia books have sentient, barbarian carnivorous 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 Series 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.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium: 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; strangely, they do have advanced arm armory, but make weapons out of bones. They are (at least some) 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 world 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 the blood guilt of deicide, they kill any non-Scylvendi they find. Each Scylvendi warrior scars his arms for each kill, called swazond, in 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. They are further subdivided into a large variety of independent tribes, such as the forest peoples who serve as the south's common image of them, cave dwellers who paint their faces and file their teeth to points, Hornfoot men with soles like leather and the Thenns, a hard and fierce people from the furthest north.
    • 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 and raiding the Vale of Arryn when the knights aren't there to stop them. 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.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle:
    • The hillmen are a more "classical" variety, though they're mostly based on Scotsmen and rather heroic, even if they worship a "pagan" nature goddess.
    • The Outwallers are a more morally grey variety, and are based on Native American tribes rather than European ones. They're known for raiding Wall-side settlements and allying themselves with many Wild Powers, though they have peaceful interactions with Alba and Morea, too.
  • Dreamblood Duology: The Shadoun, Banbarra, and basically everyone outside Gujaareh and Kisua are barbarians. At least, that is what the people of Gujaareh and Kisua think. Granted, the barbarians from the north join the conflict only because it offers them an opportunity to fight and loot.
  • Kate Seredy inverts this in The White Stag by telling the story of the Huns from their point of view.
  • Warrior Cats: The forest Clans are viewed this way by house cats: ruffians who are constantly fighting, catching live prey, and eating bones. Upon joining ThunderClan, Rusty privately thinks that the Clans are actually a lot more organized than he'd been led to think they were.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The Dothraki combine this and the Proud Warrior Race trope.
    • The hill tribes also do this.
    • The Wildlings from beyond the Wall. The only time they prove a significant threat to the realm is when they band together behind a King-Beyond-The-Wall. The rest of the time, they're more of a nuisance south of the Wall, occasionally raiding towns and farms in the Gift (a stretch of land meant to help sustain the Night's Watch).
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Beastmaster all use 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 includes 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 horsemen similar to the Turks or Mongols, and threaten the distant lands of Cathay. The Hung are also steppe nomads, are known for their treacherous natures and primitive society, and live to the farthest east, sharing 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. While this trope generally applies to all Greenskin, it is especially emphasized in the Savage Orcs and the Forest Goblins.
      • The Savage Orcs are by far the most primitive of the Greenskins, living outright Neolithic lifestyles without even the most basic knowledge of metalworking. They live in nomadic tribes following herds of huge boars, and when they join other Orc tribes in battle they do so as wild berserker troops wielding stone weapons and with no armor save warpaint.
      • The Forest Goblins, like the Savage Orcs, live in a considerably more primitive way than their fellow Greenskins. They make their camps in the dark forests of the Old World and the jungles of the Southlands, where they often end up competing with the equally barbarous Beastmen, and worship the giant spiders that live there with them, and which they sometimes tame and ride as mounts (or use as war engines, depending on the size of the spider).
    • The Ogres are little different from the Greenskins, their only concern in life being what to eat and where. They are invasive, migrating raiders driven from their old homes by some cataclysm, and now roam the world hunting their next meal.
    • As it turns out, the Stormcast Eternals of Warhammer: 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 stone age to crude iron age technology and culture. 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, often outright shunning technology.
    • Averted with some Chaos Space Marines, who may maraud and plunder Imperial worlds, but can still form disciplined, highly-regimented warbands.
  • Traveller:
    • The Aslan 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 than the Aslan.
  • Pendragon has plenty of these, with the Saxons being the most prominent. Over the course of the campaign, the majority of the barbarian nations (including the Saxons) civilize and adopt the tradition of knighthood.
  • Pathfinder:
    • The most direct example of this are the semi-nomadic Kellid tribes, the natives of the main setting's wild frontiers, the Realm of the Mammoth lords and Numeria. They're a notoriously hardy people — the Mammoth Lords have to contend daily with the Ice Age megafauna and aggressive giants with whom they share their home, the Numerians' lands are filled with dangerous robots and aliens left there when a spaceship crash-landed centuries ago, and both have to deal with the demons of the Worldwound constantly trying to invade their lands — and are also the archetypal source of Barbarian heroes alongside the Ulfen. For all intents and purposes, the Kellids are there for players who want to be Conan the Barbarian.
    • Taiga giants are a supersized take on this trope. They're fierce, tribal nomads native to the high arctic, fiercely territorial and strongly resist the influence of civilization. They're fairly benign as long as they aren't bothered, but respond to encroachments and trespassers in their territories with terrifying ferocity and overwhelming force.

    Video Games 
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • 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, the Persian factions and some of the other Eastern kingdoms 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, of course, 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-apocalyptic 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. The White Legs are a deconstruction; since they lack skills like food preservation, tanning, or even hunting and cooking, they can only survive by raiding and scavenging. Daniel observes that they'll die out within a generation if they don't join Caesar's Legion.
  • 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.
  • Mount & Blade:
    • Two words: Sea Raiders.
    • The Nords and the Khergits would also qualify, though to a lesser extent - they've since settled down into cities to give this whole "building a stable nation" thing a go.
  • The majority of the beastmen tribes in Final Fantasy XIV fall under this and are always at odds with the spoken races (including the player). They like to steal from travelling merchants, kidnap people to use them as sacrifices to their primal gods, and enslave the people they kidnap by having their primal temper them. There are some sects in each tribe that don't want to engage in such barbaric activity and may sometimes even help the spoken by going against their own kind.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • This is a common depiction of the Nords by their enemies, especially the races of Mer (Elves). The truth lies somewhere in the middle, as the Nords do love to battle and can be viewed as uncultured by the Crystal Spires and Togas Altmer or Ancient Rome-inspired Imperials, but they are also lovers of music and mead and a deeply spiritual and traditional people with a strong sense of honor (too strong, in some cases). Nord criminals (bandits, pirates, petty thugs, etc.) like to play up this image for intimidation value, but they live on the fringes of society and are a small minority, and their kin loathe them for giving Nords a bad name to outsiders.
    • The ancient Atmorans, ancestors to the Nords, also fit the trope. It is said that they had no knowledge of agriculture and survived off of hunting, a way of life which likely encouraged their ceaseless warfare. They also did not have a written language until they came to Tamriel (where they adopted one from the elves, blending it with Atmoran language principles).
    • The Reachmen (also known as Witchmen), are another such group. Racially but not culturally Breton, they inhabit the Reach, the area along the border between High Rock and Skyrim. They are a group primitive in dress and technology who practice the closest thing to a "pagan" religion in Tamriel and are violently hostile to outsiders. Since the 1st Era, they've maintained an insurgency in the Reach, warring against any outside conquerors attempting to claim the Reach for themselves. In Skyrim, they've rose up once again as the Forsworn, taking advantage of the weakened state of the Empire and of Skyrim itself to once again attempt to retake their homeland.
    • Minotaurs have a primitive clan-like social structure along these lines. Typically living in groups numbering in the twenties, Minotaur clans are led by the strongest male who has breeding rights with all females of reproductive age. Younger males may attempt to challenge him for the position via a Duel to the Death.
  • In RuneScape the residents of the Barbarian Village are an offshoot of the Fremenniks, the game's Viking expy.
  • Battle Brothers: The Warriors of the North expansion adds a whole new barbarian faction. Warbands of barbaric raiders roam the northern edges of the map, attacking anyone who comes near. They rarely have access to shields or heavy armour, but they more than make up for it with high morale, initiative, and a lot of hefty axes and hammers. You can even play as these barbarians with a new starting origin for your warband.

    Web Comics 
  • Tiffany from Exiern comes from an almost textbook perfect example of one of these tribes. This causes some problems when it comes to her attitude to women and being turned into one.
  • In Drowtales, there's the Black Sun clan, a nomadic nation of oddly tan-skinned drow who lives on the edges of the underworld's settled lands. They're usually divided into small tribes and prey on the weak or work as mercenaries, but when they unite they are a serious threat to even the most powerful city-states.

    Web Original 
  • In The Gamer's 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 are generally portrayed in this manner.
  • Kulipari: An Army of Frogs: The Scorpions fill this role in the Outback, caring only for strength and attacking their more civilized neighbors in vast hordes.
  • The Barbaric Bears in Adventures of the Gummi Bears are a Barbarian version of the Gummi Bears using all the common tropes.
  • In Fangbone!, the title character's home of Skullbania is full of these (with his own tribe being the Mighty Lizard Clan), and they have devoted themselve to preventing the Evil Sorceror Venomous Drool from seizing control of their world.


Video Example(s):


Sons of Kron

Where Ronal hails from, their origins are explained in the start.

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