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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.
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, 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 ideals. A modern work that applies Character Development to its barbarians may quickly find them to be Not So Different.
The Sufficiently Advanced often compare those "below" them to this.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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 Kadeshi in the Farsala Trilogy are a pretty straight example of this trope, whereas the Suud are more of a subversion.
- 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.
- In "The People Of The Black Citadel", he has to negiotiate over his captured men.
- In "The Devil in Iron" he is leading raids on the civilization.
- Parodied in the Nightside novels with the Tribe of Gay Barbarians: urbanized variants with their own reasons for dressing in spikes and leather loincloths.
Live Action TV
- 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.
- Warhammer 40000 has planets designated as 'Feral Worlds', worlds that are in a technological and cultural state lower than the more modern worlds of the Imperium; usually a state reminiscent of the medieval period or earlier. Because Feral Worlds are often inhospitable to human life, the populations are often fierce and tough, and are often used as recruiting grounds for Space Marines Chapters and Imperial Guard regiments. The most famous Feral World is Fenris, home of the Space Wolves Chapter, who recruit from the viking tribes of that world.
- The Orks have shades of this trope: they scarcely have any technology that's particularly sophisticated (although much of it is still very effective); and hardly have any political structure beyond "Do wot da Warboss and da Nobz say." It's played straighter by the Feral Orks and the Snakebites Clan who are more tribal in nature, and completely straight with the Warhammer Orcs.
- Averted with the Chaos Marines, who may maraud and plunder Imperial worlds, sometimes just at random, yet still maintain a very strict and regimented lifestyle.
- 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. In Civ 4, barbarian cities are named after real historical tribes and the second expansion set added an occasional event where numerous barbarian units appear next to a random civilisation. As one might expect, there are no diplomacy options with barbarians (aside from giving in to them when they say, "Give us X amount of gold or else we pillage you") and they will try to conquer or sack any cities they come across.
- Total War: All of the games have some sort:
- 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.
- The Medieval Total War (both I and II) have the invasion of the Mongols in the late 1200's that can easily steamroll civilizations that have not prepared for them in advance. Of course the only way you know how to prepare for them is if you get steamrolled by them first and then know what to do the second time around. Or if you're up to date on your medieval history.
- Medieval: Total War even has a cheat code allowing you to play as barbarians/rebels. The code? "conan".
- In the Empire Total War game, the minor native civilizations appear as this to your player.
- The 4X strategy game Galactic Civilizations II has the Drengin Empire. They are Mongols in space, more or less.
- The 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 Rune Quest, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Vikings in Gargoyles were generally portrayed in this manner.