From the many comes the one
Out of the east prowl upon the borders
Come to crush and overrun"
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 Muslims (take your pick from Turks, Arabs, or general "Moors"), Mongols, Huns, Hungarians, Scythians, 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 or "Turanid" (an obsolete term to indicate Central Asian populations with mixed Caucasian/Asian traits), 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.
- 1984: 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."
- 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 that different from everyone else.
- 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 an aspect of the Calromen culture, like their love of Arabian Knights style storytelling.
- 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.
- 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 Decadent Court and will eventually be the last major enemy for Valdemar to deal with.
- 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.
- Nightrunner series: the invading Plenimar... of course from the east.
- The Shadow of the Vulture: The Ottoman Empire would be portrayed as this, but the straightest example are the Crimean Tartars employed by the Sultan to hunt down and bring The Hero's head to him. This is Truth in Television since the Tatars were voluntary vassals of the Ottomans.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: The Dothraki serve this function for Westeros and the Free Cities. They're an equestrian culture in the east based loosely on the steppe cultures in Asia such as the Mongols (albeit a theme park version, representing their worst aspects). While the Dothraki never travel across the ocean, there's a fear at one point that they might invade Westeros, though generally, Westeros is more concerned with the wildlings from the grim north who more resemble classic western barbarians. To the Free Cities, who border them immediately to the west, the threat from the Dothraki is always present, hence why they spare no expenses servicing them whenever they visit. For example, Drogo has a manse in Pentos, where Daenerys meets him for the first time.
- 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 Direc T Line To The Author is in effect, they're technically the proto-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 Wheel of Time:
- Deconstructed with the Aiel. 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.
- 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!"
- Vikings: In season 6 of Vikings, the Rus are portrayed this way, complete with completely ahistorical mongol attire. Historically, the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus' happened centuries after the end of The Viking Age, so their portrayal as pseudo-Mongols is highly inaccurate for the period of the 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 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.
- Particularly during World War I, British and American propaganda described Germans as "Huns", referencing a line from Kaiser Wilhelm II's speech to German troops before the Boxer Rebellion, where he prevailed upon them to act like 'Huns' in their treatment of the Chinese.
- Also during World War II, American propaganda about the Japanese usually depicted them as a combination of this and Yellow Peril.
- Chronopia has the Blackbloods. The faction is composed of Orcs, Ogres, Goblins and Trolls, all wearing Mongolian armor and are a threat to the Firstborn humans and even to the demon worshiping Devout with their vast horde of desert raiders.
- 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 warlike race.
- The Kurgans, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Turkic steppe nomads rather than of the Mongols. They worship the Chaos Gods and thus are Always Chaotic Evil. 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 usually alternate between raiding and pillaging Kislev, the Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Russia to their west, and the Cathayans, the Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the Chinese to their east. 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. Whenever an Everchosen rises, he invades Kislev and the Empire (Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Germany) with armies of beastmen, daemons, Norscans, and Kurgan, with the latter being stated as the most common of his soldiers. There are also the Hung, another Chaos-worshipping steppe people, who mirror the Huns and Xiongnu in style and dress and mostly war against Cathay and the Dark Elves, being seen in the Old World only very rarely.
- The Hobgoblins live apart from the rest of Orc and Goblinkind, roaming the easter steppes south of Hung and Kurgan territory proper in great hordes of wolf-riding warriors dressed in pseudo-Mongolian furs, alternating between clashing with the Cathayans and sallying west to raid the Old World nations.
- The Ogre Kingdoms are hordes of Mongolian-like savages, infamous for spreading across the Old World terrorizing the other races. They used to live in the steppes of Cathay but were driven out when a comet decimated their lands, forcing them out of the steppes, and Ogres soon resorted to cannibalism and barbarism to survive.
- Age of Empires II has both the Huns and the Mongols. They both have campaigns that focus on their conquests. The Hun campaign features Attila the Hun's reign of terror over Europe. The Mongol campaign has the rise of Genghis Kahn and his conquest over Eurasia. Their specialties include having bonuses for their cavalry. Their unique units are also cavalry units. The Huns have the Tarkan which excels as an anti-building cavalry unit. Mongols have the Mangudai which is a horse archer that is good against siege units.
- Crusader Kings II has not one but three sets of Mongols (the Golden Horde, the Ilkhanate and the 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 Central Asian nomads like the Mongols.
- The Qunari function like this to the human kingdoms in Dragon Age, though they're actually from the West. Also, their military is far more disciplined and organized than the militaries belonging to Fereldon or Orlais. They're the Fantasy Counterpart Culture to the Moors, albeit one with a religion that's closer to Confucianism than Islam.
- 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:
- 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 they 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.
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses plays with this. Almyra is a vast realm to the east whose largely mounted armies are constantly trying to invade Fódlan. However, while the people of Fódlan regard them as barbarians, the Almyrans themselves seem to be at least as developed as their neighbors to the west, and a major subplot in the Golden Deer route is about the prospect of establishing peace and friendship with Almyra (in part because said route's main Lord is half-Almyran himself).
- 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.
- 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...
- 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.
- Averted with the Khanate in Sunless Sea. London would perhaps prefer if you believed this of their rival, who are directly descended from the survivors of Karakorum, but like everything else in the game the reality is a lot more complicated. Rumors of them being a horde of uncultured, violent barbarians is just Victorian era racism, and in reality they have electricity, firearms, and a fully functioning navy just like London. In fact, when visiting them, your biggest problem isn't that they are barbarians with no formal society, but the complete opposite.
- 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.
- In Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, the Orcs are this from the perspective of the Kingdom of Azerothnote , as they first appear in the eastern regions of the kingdom and act like a horde in their advance west. Them coming from another world was only revealed later in the campaigns.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Being pastoralists, they could field a much larger percentage of their society for war (i.e. pretty much every military-aged male) than agrarian peoples, giving them disproportionate hitting power relative to their demographic weight. They include the proto-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 an existential threat to their "civilized" neighbors. Despite this they remained a major one well into the gunpowder age: Ottoman-backed Tatars and Cossacks sacked Russian and Polish cities with some regularity into the 18th century (though they had steadily lost battlefield relevance in the previous ones), and northern nomads raided China into the same era (the Manchus even taking over the entire country in the mid-17th century - granted they had Han Chinese rebels helping them).
- One of the biggest victims of the Mongol invasions was the Khwarezmian Empire, which was ironic since its Turkic ruling class was considered a horde from the east a few centuries earlier.
- 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 Majapahit Empire of Indonesia, 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.
- Japan actually fits this in regards to their neighbors in the 16th century. Japan at the time was much poorer and less urbanized than China, and had a less complex society, being divided into dozens of warring feudal clans. However, being perpetually at war meant they had an excess of soldiers, many of whom turned to raiding in peacetime. As a result Japanese pirates constantly sallied west and south in their tens of thousands to raid other places, mostly China. But this was child's play compared to what happened in 1592, when Toyotomi Hideoyoshi decided he really wanted to be emperor of China and tried to invade it by going through Korea, uniting all the feudal warbands under his banner; over the next six years the Koreans would see hundreds of thousands of men on thousands of ships and boats strike from their east with virtually no warning, sacking any towns or cities they could get their hands on. The Chinese sent hundreds of thousands of their own men to combat this enemy. The Chinese-Korean coalition eventually defeated the Japanese, and a combination of renewed anti-piracy measures and Japan going into isolation ensured the wokou died out in the 1600s (Chinese pirates on the other hand would last into the 19th century).
- The Native Americans point of view on the European colonization of the Americas.
- 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 (this time from the south), and then there's the Romans themselves to the Israelites (this time from the north)...Eh, you get the point.
- The Ottoman Empire was this on two directions:
- It was 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 from the local ones. They also had much larger armies than were ordinarily seen in the region (the Ottoman Sultanate having a far greater population than any of the Balkan states, under one ruler) and tended to tap the Crimean Tatars for auxiliaries, adding to the perception. The Ottomans were for a while still subject to the same threat by the Timurids, who claimed themselves as successors of the Mongols but were a Turkic state in practice (in fact, as was the case with Bulgaria, a recently conquered country in the West could get a brief chance to rise up when the Ottomans took a hit on their own Eastern flank), and later the Afsharids, whose army was mixed Turkic-Iranic.
- It was also the biggest enemy of Safavid Iran, their eastern neighbor, so it's hordes from the west. And for much of the same reasons, as well; while the Safavids were Muslims, they were (rather overzealously) converted to Shiism by their founder, whilst the Ottomans remained Sunni all the way. Some scholars have theorized that the way Ismail I spread Shiism in Iran (by the sword) might have been a reaction to the rise of the Ottomans, to give the Iranian population a way to differentiate themselves from the Turks.
- Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party considered the Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Baltic people to be this as well as Dirty Communists, and that the German Reich's mission should be to eradicate those cultures and colonize the eastern lands of Russia (which would cost them dearly eventually, since many of these people actually suffered under Josef Stalin and would have gladly joined them to fight against him). Nazi propaganda specifically referred to the invading Red Army as "Asiatic hordes".
- Bulgars, Khazars, Magyars and Turks settled down after their initial invasions and thus happened to be on both ends of the trope throughout their history.
- A significant part of the Russian force that invaded Ukraine in early 2022 draws from the youth of East Asian ethnicities of the Russian Federation such as Kalmyks, Buryats and Yakuts. Xenophobic/racist comments on such facts using the trope abound.