They're strange. They're foreign. They come from the East. And there's a lot of them. 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.note
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.
- Tolkien's Legendarium:
- The Lord of the Rings is 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 aligned with Sauron aren't treated as inherently evil the way the orcs are and it's pointed out they're merely Sauron's pawns, but as the story is told from the point of view of people fighting on the other side of a war, 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 - particularly after Sauron became The Man Behind the Man to their king. Men from the East were even used as fodder for human sacrifice at Sauron's bidding. The corrupted Númenóreans thus leave a legacy of resentment and hatred among other human cultures that Sauron exploits against the descendants of the uncorrupted Númenóreans.
- The backstory concerning the decline of Gondor includes a nomadic people called the Wainriders coming out of the East perhaps twelve hundred years before the War of the Ring. They are horsemen and charioteers whose primitive dwellings are built onto carts - wains in archaic English - who run rings around the infantry of Gondor before finally being defeated. Tolkien clearly seems to have based them on various Eurasian nomadic peoples; commonly, both their armies and the families following them had portable dwellings that could be loaded onto carts.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: While actually geographically to the South Calormen is based on somewhat on this trope. But Lewis makes a concerted effort, especially in A Horse and His Boy to subvert it by showing that many individual Calormen are good people and will go to Aslan's Country. And even the very patriotic Narnian Bree can show an amount of respect and admiration for aspect of the Calromen culture, like their love of Arabian Knights style storytelling.
- 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.
- Cross Time Engineer. Conrad Stargard prepares for, and wages, a defensive war against the Mongol invaders of Poland. It helps that he's an engineer from the future, and knows the Mongols are coming.
- 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.
- More complicated examples occur as the series progresses. The Seanchan initially seem to be an alien horde (riding alien animals, to boot), but they come from the West, and their culture is quickly revealed to be very complex and less concerned with rape-and-pillage than actual productive imperialism. The Sharans invade in the last book, come from a land further East than the Aiel, and are definitely an alien horde for narrative purposes, but their means of invasion is giant portals, so they don't actually invade from the East.
- 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.
- In Michael Strogoff the Tartars, helped by Ivan Ogareff and Gypsies, project to invade Russian Siberia, as a first step in the invasion of the European Russia.
- Downplayed in Heralds of Valdemar in regards to the Eastern Empire. Individual members can be good and honourable as much as bad and they have not fully attacked yet (mostly due to the Mage Storms). At the same time, they are home to a Deadly Decadent Court and will eventually be the last major enemy for Valdemar to deal with.
- Game of Thrones: The Dothraki are an extremely numerous race of equestrian nomads (loosely based on the Mongols) who threaten the Free Cities of western Essos from time to time. Daenerys is initially married to the Dothraki chieftain Khal Drogo to win his support for her brother's bid to retake Westeros.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus: Invoked (with humorous intentions) in the opening narration of episode "The Attila the Hun Show":
"In the 5th century, as the once mighty Roman Empire crumbled, the soft underbelly of Western Europe lay invitingly exposed to the barbarian hordes to the East: Alaric the Visigoth, Gaiseric the Vandal, and Theoderic the Ostrogoth in turn swept westward in a reign of terror. But none surpassed in power and cruelty the mighty—Attila the Hun. ... Ladies and gentlemen, it's The Attila the Hun Show!"
- Nazi propaganda used this trope extensively to try and raise morale in the later stages of the war, depicting Russians as a barbarian destructive invasion. This resulted in panicked refugees impacting German army logistics. The Captain Obvious solution of opening the Western front (to get Americans instead of Russians) was not tried; the Battle Of The Bulge probably ensured a Soviet Berlin.
- Also, British/American propaganda played this up in describing the Germans as such, particularly during World War I, where they were referred to as "Huns" and "Tartars" among other epithets.
- Also during World War II, American propaganda about the Japanese usually depicted them as a combination of this and Yellow Peril.
- Warhammer has the Kurgans (no relation to the dude from Highlander. We think...), who are a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Turkics in general rather than just the Mongols. Actually far more historically accurate than most other examples since they actually resemble what ancient Turks would have looked like rather than Chinese people in furs, as they keep long hair and beards just as historical Turks did. Not yellow in the slightest either, they actually have brownish skin, like copper. They alternate between raiding and pillaging Kislev, the Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Russia to their south, and the Cathayans, the Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the Chinese to their southeast. They're also friends, raiding/trading partners and occasional adversaries with the Norscans, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the Vikings, who dwell to their west; in some ways mirroring the relationship between Volga Bulgars and the Russ, or the relationship between the Khazar Khanate and Sviatoslav's raiders.
- The Ogres Kingdoms are hordes of Mongolian like savages, they are infamous for spreading across the Old World terrorizing the other races. They use to live in the steppes of Cathay but were driven out when the Great Maw a comet that decimated their land forcing them out of the steppes and Ogres soon resorted to cannibalism and barbarism to survive.
- 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).
- The Skorne in HORDES have gnarly spiky designs. They are mixed between Asian and Persian designs and aesthetics, and are a typical war like race.
- Chronopia has the Blackbloods. The faction is composed of Orcs, Ogres, Goblins and Trolls, all wearing Mongolian armor and are threat to the Firstborn humans and even to the demon worshiping Devout with their vast horde of desert raiders.
- Heroes of Might and Magic V addon Tribes of the East introduces a faction, Great Horde, that bears much resemblance to huns/mongols.
- In VII they resemble desert nomads and raiders, fighting or fleeing from other factions who want to re-enslave them.
- 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.
- Total War: Attila has the Huns, of course, and also the Great Migrators, Germanic and Sarmatian tribes displaced by the coming of the Huns and the cooling temperatures. There's even a mechanic for "horde" civilizations, where every army is also a city on the move.
- 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.
- Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade and its prequel Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, despite being based in a Medieval European Fantasy setting, actually avert this. The Sacaeans are based on the Mongolians, with their mounted archers, asian features, very pagan religion, and nomadic nature, but are also a generally peaceful people who are perfectly happy minding their own business roaming across the plains of Sacae. Lyn, AKA Lyndis, one of the three who make up the protagonist Power Trio of Blazing Blade, is in fact from Sacae, and is very proud of her ethnicity. In fact, the militaristic empire of Bern actually invades them in Binding Blade.
- 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.
- The DLC pack The Old Gods, which pushes the timeline back a good two hundred years, adds the Seljuks to the mix. (They're also present in the base game, but by that point in time they had already settled into their empire and were no longer a proper "horde" as such.)
- Inverted with the Sunset Invasion DLC where the Aztecs invade Europe from across the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, inverting it was one of the points of the DLC — while usually historicity was a greater concern than balance, going ahistorical for a while meant that (if the DLC is used, of course) western European lords no longer have the advantage over their eastern European counterparts that there isn't a rampaging horde a'coming for them.
- "The Horse Lords" DLC adds a bunch of new mechanics specifically for nomads like the Mongols.
- The Dragonkin in Runescape are an example of this. Movario describes them as evil bird spirits of the East. When they ravaged the plane of Kethsi, a manuscript found thousands of years later by the player says they appeared in the East (which is odd since Kethsi is almost certainly a round planet in the same solar system as Armadyl's home planet). When they finally appear in game, the player finds them ravaging a pirate island on the Eastern fringes of the world map.
- The Khergit Khanate from Mount & Blade are very Mongolian, with their love of horse archers and lamellar armour, and their position on the far eastern side of the map, and they are next to unstoppable on the field of battle (castle sieges are another matter entirely, however). Ironically, in the popular mod Phantasy Calradia, they are hit with their own horde from the east in the form of the Orcs, who start with one city on the very edge of the map and a lot of huge armies, and seek to expand westward into Calradia...
- TaleSpin: 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.
- 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. In Colorado.
- The second season of King Arthur & the Knights of Justice saw the inclusion of a secondary group of antagonists called the Purple Horde that fit this trope. Interestingly, while aligned with Big Bad Morganna and fairly open about ransacking villages and conquering Camelot, they were portrayed as having their own code of honor unlike Lord Viper and his Warlords of Stone.
- 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, Uzbeks, and Russians. 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 herding animals. Whenever their population exploded, the explosion was often manifested by a roving horde seeking to live in arable lands that could support such huge populations.
- And while less spiritually true to this trope but literally fitting it, there are times when the "hordes" are numerous but from an otherwise "developed" culture using a superior population to expand against its weaker neighbors. The other realms of Indonesia in the way of Majaphit, the peoples of Central Asia (who would normally be the source of this trope) in the way of the Song Chinese, and the Chinese of the Second Sino-Japanese War probably wouldn't have cared that the hordes attacking them were from complex and settled societies.
- The Great Viking Army that invaded England in 865.
- And before them, the Anglo-Saxons, as seen by the Romano-British and later by the Welsh.
- The Crusader armies, from the Muslim point of view (despite having come from the West), though before that it was Muslims themselves to the Eastern Christians when it was part of the Eastern Roman empire, and then there's the Romans themselves to the Israelites...Eh you get the point.
- The Ottoman Empire was a prime example of this trope to the countries of Central and Southeastern Europe — being Muslims, the Ottomans were always presented as the supreme threat to Christian civilization. It doesn't help that they also spoke a language very different to the local ones. They also had the advantage of having gunpowder weapons at their disposal which maintained their power and dominace.
- Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party considered the Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Baltic people to be this, and that the German Reich's mission should be to eradicate those cultures and colonize the eastern lands of Russia.