I plan to make this a series of questions to avoid being overly broad. Each question will address a particular fantasy species ("race" in RPG terms).

The traits will be based on the content included in this question, though the traits can also be found in this question, which lists all of the races: Medieval politics with fantasy races

World Concept: Similar to the Percy Jackson or Harry Potter series I am envisioning a world within a world.

  • Modern day setting
  • Fantasy races live in secret
  • An as yet undefined force/magic impairs humans when they interact with magical races/activity

Other questions in the Series:

My request: I am looking for peoples/cultures/tribes from the real world that no longer exist. The idea here is that x, y, z tribes that based on real world history ceased to functionally exist were actually comprised of a fantasy race passing as human. For example: The Phonecians of this world were actually elves of the magical world.

  • In the past, fantasy races openly existed alongside humans
  • Many conflicts we study from the past were actually conflicts between fantasy races/humans
  • At some point magic was used to divide the human/fantasy worlds
  • For this question I am specifically interested in Orcs. Your answer should provide a historic group or groups that best fit the constraints of the question and provide supporting evidence as to why it is a good answer.


  • The real world tribe/culture (RWTC) needs to be from Europe/Asia/Africa
  • The RWTC should have ceased to exist between 1500 BCE and 1500 CE. They can have been destroyed in battle or absorbed into a larger culture or option 3 (whatever explanation is relevant.)
  • Should meet, as well as possible, the traits defined below (obviously some are magical and aren't possible in humans; I'm looking for compatibility, not exact matches):


  • Orcs are big and value strength, they share a lifespan in common to humans
  • Their society is tribal, with a war chief being chosen based on combat and feats of strength.
  • Most tribes are nomadic but some are not
  • This practice leads the orcs into conflict with other races as young orcs (both male and female) must prove themselves in battle to gain honor, find a mate and for a chance at power.
  • Orcs as a race virtually never band together and regularly fight with neighboring tribes be they orc or not.
  • Orcs tend to distrust gnomes and dwarves whose small stature leads to a belief that they are sneaky and underhanded.
  • Orcs respect humans and elves mainly due to the wars they have fought with the two races
  • Few orcs are capable of using magic, those that do become shaman and are revered...until they are sacrificed to the gods at age 30.-

Additional new trait for the Orcs:

  • Orcs live by a strict code of honor. The code addresses battle; how to deal with enemies, treatment of the dead, respect for honorable opponents etc and ritual combat which mainly deals with identifying a chieftain.

  • Gender roles among orcs were never traditionally defined. Male and female orcs alike are expected to gain honor in combat and may gain power/leadership.

  • Needs to have lived in an area within or bordering the Mediterranean since conflict with the elves will have been a part of the history. The RWTC in question does NOT need to have existed side by side with the Phoenicians.

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    $\begingroup$ I get the question, but it just feels like an idea generation question and it doesn't sit well with me. Whats wrong with taking different aspects from multiple cultures? Rather than looking for a very specific one? $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Oct 15, 2018 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Shadowzee I'd be much happier with that, for one. But now that you bring it up: any question like this is 100% POB and too broad. I could name a hundred tribes of humans that could fit not only Orcs, but probably Dwarves and Elves to boot! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 16, 2018 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ @James I have a hard time explaining this and I didn't VTC because it feels like every single question I plan to ask, but eventually don't. It feels like you've taken multiple cultures or ideas, and formed them into your orcs, and now you want to fit them into a single culture, when they should be presented as their own unique race. I like the answers this type of question gets because it lets me discover new cultures to use myself, but at the same time I don't because it feels like your developing the race backwards. $\endgroup$
    – Shadowzee
    Oct 16, 2018 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ I'd drop the requirement for executing wizards at 30 - it basically means you need a tribe that habitually murdered some subset of their population at ~30 years old. I'd nominate the Mongols, they conquered all the way into the middle east - and though their uniting under Ghengiz made them famous, for the vast majority of their history they were small familial/tribal groups living in a web of feuds and raiding. Might write up with a proper answer later. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2018 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how this can be opinion based? James has literally given a list of criteria he wants fulfilled, sure there may be multiple answers that meet all of those criteria but that is true of many questions asked here... $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2018 at 16:46

4 Answers 4


The various Celtic cultures fit pretty much all of your Orc needs. More specifically the Gallic tribes which had mostly been dispersed/assimilated by the 3-5th century CE under Roman rule.

Bust of Gallic chieftain

  • ✓ Big and value strength: See Brennus above. Just look at that mustache.
  • ✓ Their society is tribal, with a war chief: The general social structure was tribal, led by a council of elders, a chief/king, druids, or some combination thereof
  • ✓ Some are nomadic but some are not: Tribal migrations/invasions took tribes as far east as the Balkans.
  • ✓ Conflict with other groups: The history section of the Gallic Wikipedia page contains the following and little else: their early invasion of Rome, their repeated invasions of the Balkans, their invasion of the area of Modern-day Turkey, and their various wars with Rome.
  • ✓ Virtually never band together: There were a lot of tribes and small tribal confederations, with the occasional large confederation growing under strong leaders when the tribes are threatened.
  • - Tend to distrust small outsiders: Dwarves come straight from Germanic mythology, and unfortunately had a pretty high opinion of them due in part to their legendary craftsmanship.
  • - Respect those who they fight in wars: One Gallic king reportedly coined the phrase "woe to the vanquished", i.e. "you lost and are completely at my mercy". Since they didn't respect their foes once they were beaten, they may or may not have had respect before that.
  • ✓ Magic is rare, but revered: Druids represented the highest social class of many Celtic tribes, imagine how popular they'd be if magic was real.
  • ✓ Strict code of honor: In Julius Caesar's firsthand accounts of the Gallic Wars, he claims that what sets the Gallic tribes apart from the Romans is their warring nature and the idea of true valor within that warring nature.
  • ✓ Gender roles not strictly defined: Again in Julius Caesar's commentaries, he claims that women bathed alongside men, women fought with raging fury, they celebrated men who abstained from sex, and I'm sure there are plenty of other examples of non-traditional cultural roles.
  • ✓ Lived in an area within or bordering the Mediterranean: As stated above, at various points in time they inhabited most areas as far west as France and as far East as Greece.

In short, and best summed up by 4th-century historian Ammianus Marcellinus:

Almost all Gauls are tall and fair-skinned, with reddish hair. Their savage eyes make them fearful objects; they are eager to quarrel and excessively truculent. When, in the course of a dispute, any of them calls in his wife, a creature with gleaming eyes much stronger than her husband, they are more than a match for a whole group of foreigners; especially when the woman, with swollen neck and gnashing teeth, swings her great white arms and begins to deliver a rain of punches mixed with kicks, like missiles launched by the twisted strings of a catapult.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "Just look at that mustache." I don't even need to read the rest. $\endgroup$
    – mattdm
    Oct 15, 2018 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Note that "Celts" still exist today, with cultural elements and genetics dispersed broadly throughout Europe, but especially the British Isles, France, and Spain. Celtic languages still survive in some of these areas, but have become marginalized (entirely in Spain, mostly in France, and to some extent in Britain). The Gaulish tribe themselves is arguably extinct/assimilated, but other Celtic groups have not been fully assimilated, like many Highland clans in Scotland and much of the modern population of Ireland. Yes, they mostly speak English today, but there is still a Celtic identity. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2018 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertColumbia: I edited my answer to be a bit clearer, but yeah I mostly focused on the Gallic tribes because, as you said, they were pretty thoroughly assimilated/Romanized(at least in Gaul) and I believed that was enough to fit the "no longer exists" requirement. Celtic cultures definitely still exist in various ways, but then again so do other mostly-assimilated cultures like the Persians, Romans, Mughals, Maya, Rus, Saxons, Franks, Normans, etc. It's thankfully difficult for every aspect of a culture to disappear. $\endgroup$
    – Giter
    Oct 16, 2018 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ Soooo... You mean that Asterix was an Orc ? It could explain the magic strength $\endgroup$
    – Ted Pwyll
    Oct 22, 2018 at 7:37

Tolkien's Orcs were based on the Mongol conquests.

So, to keep his tradition, I'd choose the Scythians (9th century BC-4th century AD)

enter image description here

  1. Scythian women trained with the bow and they fought along men, to the point they are one of the sources for the legends of the Amazons. Their women might have even worn trousers while riding according to some burial sites.

  2. They had a tribal society. They allied against common enemies, but they also fought among themselves, specially the two big Saka tribes.

  3. It is suspected that (as most of the peoples around them) they practiced some kind of human sacrifice.

  4. According to Wikipedia:

A warlike people, the Scythians were particularly known for their equestrian skills, and their early use of composite bows shot from horseback... The Scythians were notoriously aggressive warriors. They "fought to live and lived to fight" and "drank the blood of their enemies and used the scalps as napkins". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scythians

  1. The Alans, a tribe related to the Scythians, were described as tall and strong.

Bad point: They didn't live around the Mediterranean, but very near (in the Pontic area).

Bonus point: they shared a timeline with the Phoenicians, although they didn't fight.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for pointing out where they do and do not overlap with the requirements, I'm willing to bend history a bit, especially if it happened further in the past and is less "sure" $\endgroup$
    – James
    Oct 15, 2018 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ @James Yes, the Scythians from the 7th-5th centuries BC; the ones that rolled over the powerful Assyrian Empire as if it weren't there; are quite a mistery. They are known only from the remains in tombs and a few descriptions by Greek historians. $\endgroup$ Oct 15, 2018 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ "Scythian" is what the Greeks called any nomad roaming the great Euroasian steppe. And didn't the Scythians (in the modern restricted sense of "a nomad of the Eurasian steppe speaking an Iranian language") have elaborate art, the most anti-orcish attribute imaginable? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 15, 2018 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP -- that would actually be a cool way James could add a bit of depth to what he's doing here $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Oct 15, 2018 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ My first thought as a substitute for Orcs was also Mongols. Glad you did the research instead of me. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Deacon
    Oct 16, 2018 at 18:56

You may want to make up an extinct nilotic people. The current locals the Mursi and Suri people in Ethiopia would be good inspiration. Since you want a tribal people you are not going to find much about extinct ones since they would leave very few records but that leaves you open to add or change a few features to better suit your needs.

the following are features of the Mursi and Suri:

  1. Their religion focuses on worshiping people who have died in battle so they consider dying in battle the only good way to die.

  2. They are largely nomadic pastoralists (herders).

  3. To be considered an adult a man must win a duel, these duels are very violent and includes the risk of death and ages are actually tiered (age grades) with several such milestones they must pass as they get older. each age grade has specific jobs and rights within the community.

  4. Extensive pride in scars and use of scarification.

  5. Adults are required to raid other villages and steal cattle.

  6. Engage in extensive piercings including tusks and lip plates which has certainly inspired quite a bit of artists interpretations of orc art.

  7. Regularly use weapons acquired from more technologically advanced peoples, and highly regard prowess with weapons.

  8. Shamans are very important and highly regarded, as they are seen to petition the gods who control weather and disease. Shamanistic powers are believed to run in families.

As an aside: It is also one of the regions in africa that has female husbands that is is same sex couples one person takes on the opposite "gender" being treated as that gender by the rest of the tribe. So although distinct roles of men and women exist they are not necessarily tied the male or female sex. Which is probably the closest to equality you will find. A female can choose to be a man by undergoing the appropriate ritual and thus and just allowed to be but required to be a warrior.

source 1

source 2

source 3

enter image description here



Orcs are big and value strength, they share a lifespan in common to humans

The simplest interpretation of this means larger physical specimens than the surrounding/competing peoples. Perhaps better diet is the cause. If the orc's diet isn't actually better then superior fighting skill would equate to 'big and value strength'.

This practice leads the orcs into conflict with other races as young orcs (both male and female) must prove themselves in battle to gain honor, find a mate and for a chance at power. Their society is tribal, with a war chief being chosen based on combat and feats of strength.

The Normans had a very strong practice of raiding. This practice provides plenty of opportunity for combat, treasure, war stories and scars. Further, scarce females, or high infant mortality rates, or slow reproduction cycles would fuel this honor/single combat mentality. A strong honor culture for males and females would be very handy social sorting mechanism.

Interestingly, Norman/Viking women appeared to have more rights and privileges than their contemporaries. Definitely, the skjaldmær or shield maidens were a thing. The duty of carrying valiant warriors to Valhalla was entrusted to supernatural women, not supernatural men. I think this clearly indicates the high standing that women had in Norman culture.

Most tribes are nomadic but some are not

Plenty of Normans stayed in Scandanavia but many conquered then moved to northern France, England, Spain, Germany, Russia, Italy and many others. The attached map shows the extent of their spread. Some raiding groups stayed, some groups left after the raid. Map of Norman Conquests

(source) In addition, the Norman conquest of England showed how good they were at building defensible positions then keeping them. Still standing Norman forts can be found all over England.

Orcs as a race virtually never band together and regularly fight with neighboring tribes be they orc or not.

Great geographic dispersion makes this easy for the Normans. Many tribes settled one area then fended off other Norman raids that came later. In 911, Rollo signed an agreement to defend Normandy from further Norman/Viking raids.

Orcs tend to distrust gnomes and dwarves whose small stature leads to a belief that they are sneaky and underhanded (which is sometimes true)

Cultures based on single combat or combat honor tend to look down on anyone who tries to be sneaky because being sneaky doesn't require you to be big and strong, just smart. However, someone who is sneaky and strong is always respected.

Orcs respect humans and elves mainly due to the wars they have fought with the two races.

Evidence of many treaties and agreements with constituent kingdoms and empires indicate respect by the Normans of other power blocs and the reciprocal respect of the orcs by those same blocs.

Few orcs are capable of using magic, those that do become shaman and are revered...until they are sacrificed to the gods at age 30.

Limited magic ability would translate to relatively low tech levels. This one doesn't fit as well for the Normans since they had tech and or culture that allowed them to outperform surrounding groups. Perhaps the high performance of the Normans can be ascribed to cultural factors instead of outright technological prowess.

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    $\begingroup$ Norsemen are the inhabinats of Scandinavia. "Vikings" are those plundering Norsemen who pestered the British Isles, the Low Countries, and (what is now) France. "Normands" are former Vikings who settled in lower Seine area and assimilated into the local Gallo-Roman population. Most Norsemen never went a-viking, and only a small fraction of the Vikings became Normans. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 15, 2018 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ And norsemen are the ones who already have "Berserk" perk attached do them. Both by magic (mushrooms) and by lucky star align. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2018 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ @SZCZERZOKŁY yes, in fact "berserk" is Norse for "bear shirt" (the language was related to English, and you can see the cognates if you look hard enough). The idea is that one could become so crazed for battle that one charged in wearing nothing but animal hides. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2018 at 11:02

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