Space Marines (Warhammer 40,000)

Space Marines (Warhammer 40,000)
The 4th Edition Space Marine sourcebook (codex) cover

In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000 (or Warhammer 40k) setting created by Games Workshop, Space Marines are genetically modified "super human" soldiers created by the Emperor to conquer the galaxy and defend mankind. According to Games Workshop, there are over a thousand recorded chapters of Space Marines, most of whom follow the "Codex Astartes" standard army template. However, there are a considerable number of chapters that deviate from the codex to different degrees, resulting in considerably different rules and playing styles, such as the Blood Angels and the Space Wolves.

The Space Marines are a playable army for the table-top miniature wargame Warhammer 40,000. Space Marines account for the largest percent of model armies used by players. Space Marines have been one of the starter armies in every box edition of Warhammer 40,000, Space Hulk, and Epic.

Space Marines are featured in the war game and in spin-off games such as Epic and Inquisitor, in several computer games, and in the novels based on the setting produced by Black Library.


Fictional background

Space Marine Origins

Within the fictional Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Emperor of Mankind created twenty Primarchs, superhumans akin to gods in their power. They were created to lead genetically-enhanced super-soldiers known as Space Marines in the Great Crusade to reunite the worlds of Man. The process of their creation was disrupted by the Chaos Gods, who cast the Primarchs' incubation chambers through time and space, each landing on different worlds.

As the Great Crusade progressed, the Emperor discovers each Primarch in turn. Each has grown to be a hero on their home planet. In other Games Workshop publications, two of the Primarchs are listed as having been ; further explanation has not yet been officially given for their absence from the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Each of the remaining 18 Primarchs is appointed to command the Space Marine Legion which is created from his particular gene-seed.

Physical Abilities

In novels and comic books the Space Marines are given a superhuman appearance. Their abilities, skills, and durability in these stories would make a single Space Marine squad capable of defeating a much larger force of almost any other group in Warhammer 40,000. Space Marines have an awe-inspiring presence when amongst the people of the Imperium, even the Imperial Guard, derived from their sheer size, armour, weaponry and their place as the God-Emperor's chosen warriors.

The Horus Heresy

Towards the end of the Crusade, a Primarch known as Horus - widely regarded as the Emperor's favored son and made Warmaster upon the Emperor's return to Earth - succumbs to the temptations of the Chaos Gods, sparking an event known as the Horus Heresy. 9 of the 18 Space Marine Legions (together with fully half of the Imperial Army and associated forces) turn against the Imperium of Man.

After a series of vicious and bloody encounters, Horus lays siege to the Imperial Palace on Earth and is defeated in single combat by the Emperor, though the Emperor himself is mortally wounded. With the Emperor effectively dead and Horus' rebellion broken, the Primarch of the Ultramarines, Roboute Guilliman, pushes for the adoption of his personal battle doctrine (known in-game as the Codex Astartes) to organise the remaining loyal Space Marine Legions, where the 9 loyalist legions are split into chapters, each consisting of 10 companies of, customarily, 100 Marines.

Loyalist Legions

Name No. Primarch Homeworld Current Base of Operations Fictional Characteristics Factual Roots
Dark Angels I Lion El'Jonson Caliban (Destroyed) The Rock (asteroid base) Recruitment varies from generation to generation as depicted in the novel Angels of Darkness. The Dark Angels' combat doctrine is centered around a tactically versatile force favoring the use of heavy plasma-based weapons. They also maintain two specialised Companies, one of Terminator-armored veterans named the Deathwing, and one of fast-attack, vehicular raiders known as the Ravenwing. The fictional depiction of the Dark Angels is heavily based upon the Knights Templar and the poem 'The Dark Angel' by Lionel Jonson. However, the novella Deathwing bases them upon Native Americans tribes.
White Scars V Jaghatai Khan Mundus Planus Mundus Planus The Chapter follows a fast-attack doctrine, and makes extensive use of Hit and Run tactics using Space Marine bikes. The Chapter organization of the White Scars reflects their home world's tribal culture. White Scars recruit from a single planet, Mundus Planus. The steppes of the world are inhabited by feuding tribes, from which are chosen the best and most promising young warriors, regardless of tribe. Once a warrior becomes a White Scar, loyalty to his tribe is replaced by loyalty to the Chapter and the Emperor.

As their Primarch did during his campaign to unite the steppes, recruits from different tribes are mixed together in squads. Each squad becomes part of a Brotherhood, roughly equivalent to a standard Company.

The fictional depiction of the White Scars is based upon medieval Mongolian culture.
Space Wolves VI Leman Russ Fenris Fenris (The Fang) The Space Wolves are fierce warriors with an organization that differs strongly from other Chapters. They are known for their fierce independence, and are the only loyal Chapter never to adopt the Codex Astartes. The fictional depiction of the Space Wolf behaviour and culture is based upon the Vikings and werewolf mythology.
Imperial Fists VII Rogal Dorn Holy Terra Phalanx (space-borne fortress ship) The Imperial Fists are known for their skills in siege warfare. They had a rivalry with the Iron Warriors prior to Horus Heresy as they both were exceptional when it came to siege warfare. They are one of the most loyal chapters in Imperium and second only to the Ultramarines in Codex adherence. They manned the walls of the Imperial Palace during the defence of Terra, where their siege skills contributed greatly to the battle, ultimately brought an end to the Horus Heresy and allowed them to survive a brutal trap set for them by their traitorous rivals, the Iron Warriors. The fictional depiction of Imperial Fists duels is based upon the Prussian Junker system, with honour dueling depicted in the novel Space Marine.
Blood Angels IX Sanguinius Baal Secundus Baal The Blood Angels and their successor Chapters suffer from various genetic flaws, primarily the "Red Thirst" and "Black Rage", referring to a constant drive to shed blood, and a psychological state of rage when that drive consumes them. Those who begin to suffer the Black Rage strive to attain death in battle; Black Rage is caused by the terrifying thoughts of the Primarch Sanguinius being killed by Horus. The appearance and abilities of the Blood Angels seems heavily inspired by vampire mythology and angels in Judeo-Christian scriptures.
Iron Hands X Ferrus Manus Medusa Medusa The warriors of the Iron Hands display a high incidence of cybernetic modifications to their bodies. All recruits have their left hands removed and substituted with a cybernetic replacement. Their combat doctrine is conventional but extremely brutal, making extensive use of powerful war machines (with special reverence for Terminators and Dreadnoughts as machines which replace or radically augment the human body), while their Chapter philosophy emphasizes the importance of unremitting trials and struggle. The need for constant self-perfection and purification is tied into their predilection for Bionic modification.
Ultramarines XIII Roboute Guilliman Macragge Macragge (Fortress of Hera) The Ultramarines are one of the finest Chapters of the Space Marines. They have had countless victories, mainly due to the expertise of their Primarch, Guilliman who was also the same person to create the Codex Astartes. The most famous of the battles that they have won is the Battle for Macragge where they prevailed over Hive Fleet Behemoth becoming the first Space Marine Chapter to defeat the Tyranids. They carry a boltgun and a short-sword (Gladius). The Honour Guard of the Ultramarines carry very powerful close combat weapons known as Axes of Ultramar. The fictional depiction of the Ultramarines is based upon ancient Rome, though imagery relating to Classical Greece is also utilised.
Salamanders XVIII Vulkan Nocturne Prometheus (moon of Nocturne) The Salamanders are technically-adept warriors with a preference for short-ranged combat, particularly with flame and heat-based weaponry. The Salamanders have thick, coal-black skin and red eyes as a protective adaptation to the high levels of deleterious radiation on Nocturne. This chapter associates with their home planet's people more than any other chapter, and are trading partners with the Adeptus Mechanicus, trading weapons for the natural resources on Nocturne. Name and backstory based on the fire Salamander.
Raven Guard XIX Corax Deliverance (Moon - previously named Lycaeus) Deliverance (Ravenspire Tower) The Raven Guard specialise in hit-and-run attacks on high priority targets to maximize their ability to cripple a larger enemy force. Guerrilla warfare using jump packs and extensive use of Scout Marines are common. Due to a genetic defect, their skin fades to pure white while their hair and eyes turn night black. Their fictional basis and depiction draws upon elements of Edgar Allan Poe's poem " The Raven".

Traitor Legions

Nine legions side with Horus and the forces of Chaos during the Horus Heresy. After their defeat they flee into the Eye of Terror, becoming the Chaos Space Marines.

Name No. Primarch Primarch's world Current base of operations Fictional Characteristics Factual Roots
Emperor's Children III Fulgrim Chemos (Unknown status, presumed destroyed) Eye of Terror (Unknown planet) Initially striving to be the most loyal, steadfast and perfect of the Chapters, honoured by bearing the Emperor's personal insignia, the Emperor's Children become hedonistic devotees of Slaanesh, deranged maniacs craving pleasure from the most extreme actions and sensations. Their forces feature many of the infamous Noise Marines - Chaos Space Marines armed with powerful and exotic sonic weaponry. Fulgrim, the Legion's Primarch, was banished into his own mind, after being forced to kill his closest brother, Ferrus Manus, by a daemon that took control of his body. Much to the daemon's perverse delight, Fulgrim's essence was then imprisoned into a portrait of the Primarch aboard his flagship, condemned to witness the heinous acts perpetrated by his corrupted Legion.
Iron Warriors IV Perturabo Olympia (Destroyed) Medrengard (Eye of Terror) The Iron Warriors are siege and trench warfare specialists. They favor heavy weaponry, fortifications, powerful war machinery, and the calculated use of careful undermining followed by overwhelming force to utterly destroy an enemy, never giving quarter. During the Great Crusade, the Iron Warriors and the Imperial Fists are engaged in an increasingly bitter rivalry, owing to their similar military specialties and the Primarch Perturabo's perception that Rogal Dorn is favored by the Emperor. The Iron Warriors are known to be manipulative, methodical, and ruthless in their pursuit of objectives, and they are ultimately swayed to Horus' cause not because of any particular conviction for the Chaos Gods or the Warmaster's righteousness, but through a lack of faith in the righteousness and favor the cause of the Emperor, seeing themselves as slaves bound to fight never-ending sieges whose prize, in the end, went only to the Emperor. In the aftermath of the disastrous Siege of Terra, the Iron Warriors are among the only Traitor Legions to successfully execute a controlled, disciplined retreat, masterminding the infamous Iron Cage Incident, a trap for Dorn and the Fists, ultimately claiming over 400 Imperial Fists and Ultramarines who came to their aid, a massacre that granted Perturabo the title and powers of a Daemon Prince.
Night Lords VIII Konrad Curze/Night Haunter Nostramo (Destroyed) Eye of Terror The Night Lords specialise in raids and terror tactics, taking special interest in psychological warfare. Considered one of the most disturbed and brutal Chapters even before the Heresy, their Primarch can foretell events yet to come, not only having visions of the fall of Horus and the disastrous Heresy, but also of his own death. He allows himself to be killed by an Imperial Callidus Assassin, demonstrating that even the Emperor would commit terror and brutality upon his enemies, just as the Night Lords do. He sums this up with his last words - "Death is nothing when compared to vindication." The name of the Primarch, Konrad Curze, is a combination of Joseph Conrad and his famous work Heart of Darkness, of which Kurtz is a central character. The Night Lords' homeworld of Nostramo is also named after another of Conrad's books, Nostromo
World Eaters XII Angron Unknown Eye of Terror The World Eaters are, even by pre-Heresy standards, bloody. Angron is the only Primarch to refuse the Emperor's offer to lead a Legion, bent on dying with his gladiator brethren, but is forced to abandon them and witness their slaughter. This, coupled with his never-ending thirst for battle and insatiable blood-lust, makes him and his Chapter notorious for being brutal, mind-altered, close-combat specialists; easy prey for Horus and the forces of Chaos. They become the chosen of Khorne, the god of war, blood and carnage, using the war cry, 'Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Skull Throne!'. Angron is a slave-warrior whose mind is tampered with so as to increase aggressiveness and anger, and who leads a revolt of fellow gladiators - events loosely based upon those of Spartacus.
Death Guard XIV Mortarion Barbarus (Destroyed) Plague Planet (Eye of Terror) The Death Guard, once disciplined and notably resistant to even the most noxious warzones, are plague-ridden devotees of Nurgle who are driven to spread plague and pestilence across the galaxy to please their god. They are amongst the most organised of the Chaos Space Marines, still adhering to their pre-Heresy military doctrine, and also one of the most resilient, given the incredible resistance granted to them by their status as living decomposing corpses infested with the most heinous maladies the galaxy has to offer. The theme of the Legion is decay and malady, an army of plagued, rotting and infected Marines, whose symbolism can be linked to the Western Grim Reaper such as the use of scythes as elite weapons, and their daemonic Primarch Mortarion, the 'Death Lord', physically similar to the Reaper himself.
Thousand Sons XV Magnus the Red Prospero (Destroyed) )Note: Prospero was devastated during the Horus war, but apparently not destroyed. Some evidence exists that the Thousands Sons returned to the devastated planet after retreating from Terra and cast a combined spell to transport Prospero to the Eye of Terror, where it became the Planet of the Sorcerers. Planet of the Sorcerers (Eye of Terror) The Primarch of the Thousand Sons becomes fascinated by sorcery and during one of his rites, even though already having been forbidden to practice them, had a vision of Horus's betrayal. Having no other means of sending a warning to the Emperor, Magnus the Red uses his sorcery to bypass the warp storms and send word to Terra. The Emperor ignores his warning and condemns his use of forbidden sorcery,banned during the Council of Nikea, sending the Space Wolves and the Sisters of Silence (warrior women who carry the gene that makes them immune to psychic attacks), as well as Custodes, to bring Magnus back to Terra to answer for what he had done. Before Leman Russ and his Space Wolves can reach Prospero, Horus contacts Russ and convinces him to destroy Magnus and the Thousand Sons. After intense fighting, Magnus and the Thousand Sons manage to escape the assault on Prospero after Magnus is wounded fighting Russ, and side with Chaos to ensure their survival. The Thousand Sons are favored by Tzeentch, bitter rivals of the Space Wolves and value knowledge above all else. The battle brothers of the Legion are rendered to dust, trapped inside their armor by a powerful spell cast by a cabal that was supposed to stop rampant physical mutation, with only the Legion's Sorcerers spared to lead their brethren. The fictional depiction of the Thousand Sons is based upon Ancient Egypt, with their blades (power weapons, force weapons, etc.) being in the shape of Khopesh swords, as well as the names, traditions, phrases and iconography.
Luna Wolves / Sons of Horus / Black Legion XVI Horus Cthonia (Destroyed) Eye of Terror The Luna Wolves were renamed Sons of Horus in honor of Warmaster Horus before the Horus Heresy erupted. After Horus’ death, Abaddon the Despoiler renames them the Black Legion, a mark of their sorrow at their Primarch's death. Prior to Horus' betrayal, the Sons of Horus were the most favored of all the Legions.
Word Bearers XVII Lorgar Colchis (Destroyed) Sicarus (Eye of Terror), Ghalmek (Maelstrom) The Word Bearers are strongly religious, worshipping the Gods of Chaos as a pantheon. They are the first of the Legions to fall to Chaos when their religious zeal and devotion is condemned, an offense which prompts them to search for other gods to worship. They are also the only Traitor Legion to maintain the use of Chaplains, which the Word Bearers refer to as "Dark Apostles". They are known for never retreating even when facing certain destruction, particularly when facing the hated Ultramarines Chapter. The Word Bearers are feared for their frequent use of daemonic allies in their strike forces. While their Primarch, Lorgar, mainly through his advisor Kor Phaeron, is the primary source of the religious fanaticism of the Legion and, thus, their analogous zeal in worshipping Chaos, it was their First Chaplain, Erebus, that orchestrated from the shadows most of the events that lead Horus to turn to Chaos and to rebel against the Emperor.
Alpha Legion XX Alpharius/Omegon (2 beings make up the same Primarch) Unknown Unknown Subtlety and covert operations are this Legion's forte, using minimalistic but devastating force against their enemies. Alpharius is revealed to have had an identical twin named Omegon who could serve as Primarch in Alpharius' stead. The brothers are described as being "one soul in two bodies" in an encounter with a Xenos group called the Cabal. The Cabal also instruct them to side with Horus for the Galaxy's sake, as for the galaxy to survive and to be free from Chaos forever, humanity must be sacrificed. The Cabal has foreseen that if Horus wins the war, he will exterminate humanity in a few generations of further civil war, hating himself for the atrocities he committed. In the novel Legion, Alpharius says that "... So what I do ... from this moment on, I will do for the Emperor." This suggests that even though his Legion turns, he remains loyal to the Emperor. It has also been suggested that the Alpha Legion may in fact be manipulating Chaos to be more vulnerable to the loyalist Space Marines.

"Lost" Legions and Primarchs

Fictional works also depict two additional unnamed and undescribed First Founding Legions, Legions II and XI. In some literature the missing Primarchs and their Legions are listed as being "Deleted from Imperial records". In The First Heretic Magnus rebukes Lorgar for even attempting to bring them up in conversation, reminding him that they [the Emperor and brother Primarchs] had all taken an oath not to discuss what happened.[1][2] The only information Games Workshop has ever released that directly addresses them can be found in False Gods, Mechanicum, The First Heretic and The Lightning Tower (Dan Abnett).

Post-Heresy Chapter Composition

Following the adoption of the Codex Astartes, the once tens of thousands strong pre-Heresy Legions were divided into Chapters each numbering approximately one thousand Marines each. Of the many chapters created following the Horus Heresy (Second Founding) and in later Foundings, it is estimated that a thousand Chapters still endure, with only a score having been destroyed, missing or declared traitors to the Imperium. The Legions corrupted by Chaos nominally maintain their old structure although their methods of recruiting (if any), internal organization and current numbers are not known. These later Chapters have appeared in various tie-in products produced by Games Workshop, as well as in works of fiction from The Black Library and the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series such as the Blood Ravens, Crimson Fists, and Black Templars.

The first Chapter from each Legion retains the original name and traditions of its parent Legion; subsequent groupings, collectively referred to as "Successor Chapters," from the Second or later Foundings are given new names and customs largely stemming from those laid out in Guilliman's Codex, and it varies how much a Successor Chapter maintains contacts and traditions with their parent. A Space Marine Chapter is described as having a nominal fighting strength of a thousand Marines, with several times that number of support staff (most of which are normal humans or servitors, rather than actual Space Marines) and initiates in training (which form the 10th 'Scout' Company). A Chapter is divided into 10 semi-autonomous companies made up of roughly 100 men, with each company led by a "Brother-Captain". The First Company is the Veteran Company, composed of 10 squads of 10 Veterans. Companies 2 through 5 are the Battle Companies, composed of 6 10-man Tactical Squads, 2 10-man Devastator Squads, and 2 10-man Assault Squads. The 6th-9th Companies are the Reserve Companies; the 6th and 7th are composed entirely of Tactical Marines, the 8th of Assault Marines, and the 9th of Devastators. The 10th Company is known as the Scout Company and its numbers vary depending on the number of available initiates.[3] It should be noted that this applies only to those Chapters which follow the tenets of the Codex Astartes. Many Chapters, particularly the Space Wolves, Dark Angels, Salamanders, Iron Hands, and Black Templars, differ in both their composition and their organizational practices.

There is also another mysterious chapter, known only as the 'Legion of the Damned', who have many seemingly supernatural powers - even for Space Marines - such as shrugging off huge destructive blasts that have annihilated armoured vehicles. Their origins are shrouded in mystery, but the book 'The Chapters Due', hints (heavily) that they are in fact ghosts of Space Marines killed in battle over the millennia, their souls lingering in their armour.

These numberless undocumented successor chapters provide room for official development of future story and fiction works as well as allowing players to create their own chapters without contradicting established canon.


Space Marines are featured in:

Tabletop games

Computer games



  1. ^ Chambers, Andy (1998). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Space Marines. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-28-X. 
  2. ^ 2nd edition Codex Imperialis
  3. ^ Ward, Mat. (2008). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Space Marines. Games Workshop. ISBN 1841548944


  • Chambers, Andy (1998). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Space Marines. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-28-X. 
  • Haines, Pete; and McNeill, Graham (2004). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Space Marines (4th ed.). Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-526-0. 
  • Johnson, Jervis (2004). Battlefleet Gothic: Armada. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 978-1-84154-506-6. 
  • Priestly, Rick, Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader, Games Workshop, Nottingham, 1987, ISBN 1-869893-23-9
  • Warhammer 40,000 5th edition rule book, Games Workshop, Nottingham 2008
  • Priestly, Rick (February 1988). "Chapter Approved: The Origin of the Legiones Astartes". White Dwarf (Nottingham, UK: Games Workshop) (98): 12–17. 

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