Space Marines (Warhammer 40,000)

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In the table-top wargame Warhammer 40,000, the Adeptus Astartes (colloquial: Space Marines) are genetically modified superhuman soldiers, the elite warriors of the Imperium of Man. Space Marines have been one of the starter armies in every box edition of Warhammer 40,000, Space Hulk, and Epic. They also feature heavily in other Games Workshop products, such as books, films, and video games, and are central to the universe's setting.


The background shown in Codex: Space Marines (Haines and McNeill, 2004) states that the Space Marines were the successors of the Thunder Warriors, the powerful but unstable superhuman warriors that the Emperor of Mankind used to reunify Terra after the Age of Strife. Initially, they were divided into twenty legions and acted as the spearhead during the Great Crusade; unifying humanity's lost colonies under the banner of the Imperium. By the time the Horus Heresy occurred, two legions would become lost and enigmatic, having been expunged from in-universe records alongside their Primarchs. Following the galaxy-wide civil war known as the Horus Heresy, in which nine of the twenty original legions rebelled and betrayed the Emperor, the remaining Space Marine Legions were split into multiple "chapters", which are then each divided into ten "companies", traditionally with the 1st Company being elite veterans and the 10th Company being composed solely of Scout Marines.

Fictional characteristics[edit]

Space Marines could be considered warrior-monks.[citation needed]. From the time of their initiation to their deaths in battle, they spend their entire multi-century lives fighting in the name of the immortal God-Emperor of Mankind. They have been genetically and physically enhanced with gene-material and organ implants that ultimately derive from the Emperor's own flesh. They are 8 feet tall (2.438 meters), wear power armor and wield the finest weaponry available to the Imperium.


In the distant future, the Emperor of Mankind created the twenty Primarchs: genetically engineered superhumans possessing immense physical and psychic power. Created from modified stocks of his own DNA, each Primarch was, in essence, one of his sons and each individual's genome serves as a template for a Legion of Space Marines. However, they were separated from him and their legions by the Chaos Gods while they were still in incubation and scattered on worlds spread through the galaxy. This would have a lasting impact on each Primarch and their Legion. During the late 30th millennium AD, the Emperor uses the Space Marine Legions to conquer the human-inhabited worlds of the galaxy, uniting them in the Imperium of Man and reuniting the Primarchs with their Legions. As the campaign draws to a close, a number of Primarchs under the leadership of the Imperial Warmaster Horus, and their Legions convert to the worship of the evil Chaos Gods and rebel against the Emperor during the Horus Heresy. The rebels are ultimately defeated and banished, though they continue to harass the Imperium as Chaos Space Marines. The Legions of Space Marines who remained loyal to the Emperor are restructured into smaller units called "Chapters" to make a future mass rebellion unlikely.

Creation of a Space Marine[edit]

Recruits are chosen from the best warriors among humanity. However, they must be young adolescent males as deviating age or gender will result in guaranteed death if the subject in question has augmentation attempted. Naturally, this makes Feral Worlds prized recruitment grounds, as such harsh and primal conditions produce the best warriors. However, Hive Worlds are considered the ideal source of potential recruits, the populace of the lower levels composed of some of the most murderous scum in the human Imperium. Whole gangs of hive scum are sometimes hunted down and captured for recruitment. Among the most valued traits in a recruit are aggression and psychotic killer instinct. Much more rarely, certain Civilised Worlds are also recruited from.

The potential recruit is first subjected to testing, including tissue compatibility tests and psychological screening. Relatively few get past this initial selection process. Those that do pass are termed "neophytes", and the process continues with the surgery, indoctrination, conditioning, and training that will make them Marines. Those that survive but fail from surgery or screening are either retained as Chapter Serfs or lobotimized and turned into Servitors to serve the Chapter.

The surgical process takes a great deal of time and can be lethal. The recruit receives gene-seed implants, along with chemical-therapy, hypnotherapy, and training necessary for allowing the functioning and development of the implanted organs. The implants transform their bodies and minds and give them inhuman abilities. Some notable abilities and attributes include enhanced strength, unnatural reaction times, increased durability, acid spit, a closed gland that is harvested at death for new gene-seed spores after maturing, or operating for long periods without sleep by temporarily switching off parts of their brains. After this implantation process is initiated and after associated training is taken, the recruit becomes a "Scout Marine" and charged with sniping, infiltration, and reconnaissance duties.

Intense indoctrination and conditioning strengthens the recruit's resolve and increases mental capabilities, honing them into dedicated and merciless warriors. After more general training and the completion of their augmentations, they join the Chapter as full "battle brothers".


Space Marines are organized into "Chapters", which conventionally contain about a thousand Space Marines plus an unspecific number of Initiates and support staff. The majority of Chapters follow the organisational structure detailed in the Codex Astartes. If a Chapter grows larger than a thousand Space Marines the Imperium may order it to split into smaller Chapters. Prior to the Horus Heresy, the Space Marines were organized into 20 legions with numbers ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of Space Marines under their progenitor Primarch. However, after half of the Legions rebelled and nearly destroyed the Imperium, the remaining legions who remained loyal were divided up into Chapters to prevent the mobilisation of a force that is potent enough to throw the Imperium into another galaxy wide civil war. Currently there are at least four chapters which have numbers exceeding one thousand Space Marines: the Black Templars, Exorcists, Grey Knights, and Space Wolves. Even then however, their numbers pale in comparison to the original Astartes Legions.

Each Chapter has its own heraldry, traditions, and style of combat. The Ultramarines are a very conventional Chapter, and the game treats them as the standard. The Blood Ravens have an unusually high number of Space Marines with psychic powers, whereas the Black Templars mistrust psykers and thus have none whatsoever. The Imperial Fists specialize in siege warfare, the Blood Angels specialize in jump pack tactics with the Raven Guard being masters of stealth. The Grey Knights are a unique and ultra-secretive Chapter composed entirely of psykers that focuses exclusively on hunting daemons, so secretive that very few outside of the Inquisition or the Space Marine Chapter Masters are even aware of their existence.

Each Chapter is a fully integrated military unit, possessing starships, aircraft, and land vehicles (they do not possess sea units as the tabletop game does not model sea combat). A Chapter's main headquarters is its "fortress monastery", which could either be a citadel on a planet, Space Hulk, or a large starship. Each Chapter also rules one or more worlds from which they draw resources and recruits.

Each Chapter is led by a Chapter Master. Chapter Masters rank among the Imperium's highest elite. They are one of the few people with the authority to order an Exterminatus, the annihilation of a planet's population in the face of Chaos corruption or becoming an anchor for forces who can threaten the Imperium's existence.

Each Chapter is autonomous; there is no higher authority that commands all Space Marines (except the Emperor and the loyalist Primarchs, if only in principle). Nonetheless, any Chapter may be subject to censure or even excommunication by the Inquisition should it waver in its duty to the Emperor.

Forces of the Space Marines[edit]

Each of the Space Marine chapters specializes in a different type of warfare, with some being descendants of nine of the original Legions (which remained loyal) and some with unknown descent.

The original nine Space Marine Legions (and their modern-day chapters) are as follows:

  • Dark Angels, once the I legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Lion El' Jonson, was renowned for his strategic level of tactical brilliance, but was distrusted by his brother primarchs for his secretive nature. The Dark Angels have a terrible secret that remains only known to the upper ranks of the chapter. At the very end of the Horus Heresy, half of the Legion rebelled against the Emperor out of a sense of alienation and betrayal. These renegades were under the command of Luther, former second in command and Lion's own foster father. After a brutal battle, in which Lion disappeared, the traitors were sent through the Warp by a powerful warp storm that destroyed the Legion's homeworld and scattered across time and space. Now the Dark Angels seek to expunge their shame by bring each and every one of these renegades, the Fallen, to justice in secret. Their chapter is unique in that their 1st Company, colloquially known as the Deathwing, is composed solely of elite veterans outfitted with heavy white-colored Terminator Armor, and their 2nd Company, colloquially known as the Ravenwing, is composed solely of black armored skirmishers mounted on heavy combat bikes. Their chapter master, or Supreme Grand Master, is Azrael"".
  • White Scars, once the V legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Jaghatai Khan, was a highly cultured individual but was seen as a barbarian for being a spiritual mystic (in a time where the Imperium promoted a secular society) and relied on hit-and-run tactics in place of conventional warfare. The White Scars are a chapter dedicated to fast attacks, and so use combat bikes extensively. Clad in white armor, they tear into enemies before fleeing as fast as they had arrived. Their chapter master, or Great Khan, is Jubal Khan.
  • Space Wolves, once the VI legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Leman Russ, was one of the mightest warriors of the Imperium, known for a fierce and wild personality. The Space Wolves were instrumental in carrying out the destruction of the XV legion, the Thousand Sons, and decimating them on their homeworld on Prospero. The Space Wolves suffer a mutation that lead them to develop wolf like features, with their Scout Company's failed initiates and battle-brothers who lose discipline in the midst of battle mutating into monstrous creatures known as Wulfen. Rejecting the Codex Astartes, they are composed of 13th Companies, with the long-lost 13th composed of the forgotten battle brothers who have turned into Wulfen after millennia in the Warp-space wormhole known as the Eye of Terror. Their chapter master, or Great Wolf, is Logan Grimnar.
  • Imperial Fists, once the VII legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Rogal Dorn, was fiercely loyal to the Emperor, and absolved to lead a crusade of penitence against their sworn enemy, the traitor legion known as the Iron Warriors, for failing to protect the Emperor at the end of the Heresy. Known for their stubborn resilience and their role in protecting the Imperial Palace during the final battle of the Horus Heresy, the Imperial Fists are also known as the "Defenders of Terra" and are renowned for their stubbornness along with their skill in siege warfare and fortification. Their chapter master is Vorn Hagen.
  • Blood Angels, once the IX legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Samguinius, was one of the noblest primarchs. Sanguinius sacrificed himself to save the Emperor's life, earning the respect and adulation of the subsequent Imperium. His legion, devastated by the psychic force of his death, developed a malady within their genetic augmentations known as the Black Rage. In addition, the Blood Angels are secretly afflicted with an urge called the Red Thirst since the days of the Great Crusade. These afflictions have led to the creation of a Death Company within the Blood Angels and their successor chapters. Composed of those who have fallen to one of the two flaws, each are watched constantly by Sanguinary Priests. During combat, these unfortunate souls are reluctantly used as suicidal shock troops in hopes of finding honor and solace in death. Their chapter master or Lord Commander is Dante.
  • Iron Hands, once the X legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Ferrus Manus, was the first primarch casualty of the Horus Heresy, having been killed by his sworn friend (and later enemy) Fulgrim, the primarch of the Emperor's Children. Known as the Gorgon, Ferrus Manus along with his sons from the Iron Hands both revered metal and technology, with the latter often replacing organic parts with metal ones while greatly admiring mechanical skills. In fact, the first augmentation the chapter's initiates receive is replacing their left hand upon being inducted into the chapter. They are also known for greatly disdaining anything that can be a potential weakness, whether it be physical or psychological. They possess no chapter master, instead relying on a Council of Iron Fathers for leadership with Iron Father Kardan Stronos as their current elected head.
  • Ultramarines, once the XIII legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Roboute Gulliman, was the one who wrote the Codex Astartes and separated the Space Marine Legions into the multiple companies. Having almost been decimated by the Tyranid race during the Battle for Macragge, the Ultramarines are possibly the most prominent and influential chapter amongst the Space Marines. Their chapter master, or Lord Macragge, is Marneus Augustus Calgar.
  • Salamanders, once the XVIII legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Vulkan, was uniquely able to regenerate any wounds from battle. The Salamanders were severely crippled at the onset of the Heresy and so were unable to participate much. They are known for their devotion to humanity, great willpower, and their hardiness; in short, the ideal of a Space Marine. They possess ebony dark skin and glowing red eyes due to interactions between their genetic augmentations and intense radiation on their homeworld. They have a focus on flame themed weapons, compassion for civilians, and skill in weapons craftsmanship. Their chapter master is Tu'Shan.
  • Raven Guard, once the XIX legion of the twenty original Space Marine legions. Their primarch, Corvus Corax, was a master of guerrilla warfare, and the legion shared his specialty for it. Precisely applying force, the Raven Guard specialized in hit-and-run and stealth tactics. Physically, they possess unnaturally pitch dark eyes, jet black hair, and pale white skin. Their chapter master or Lord of Shadows is Kayvaan Shrike.

Alongside the chapters of the Legions, there have been many Space Marine Successor Chapters. Some of the most notable ones are as follows:

  • Black Templars, a successor chapter of the Imperial Fists. Created by the Emperor's Champion, Sigismund, the Templars are on a never-ending crusade and are known for their fiery zeal. This successor chapter does not employ psykers and does not fight along side them willingly unless they are the Emperor's chosen, the Grey Knights. This chapter is also known for fury towards xenos and their fierce urge to purge them from the universe. Their chapter master, or High Marshal, is Helbrecht and the current Reclusiarch is Merek Grimaldus.
  • Crimson Fists, a successor chapter of the Imperial Fists. Formed of the younger members of the Imperial Fists legion, they specialize in fighting Orks and are known to be one of the most traditional of the Space Marine chapters. Their chapter master is Pedro Kantor.
  • Flesh Tearers, a successor chapter of the Blood Angels. They are infamous for their savagery in battle, as all of their marines have been slightly touched by the Black Rage. Their chapter master or Commander is Gabriel Seth.
  • Lamenters, a successor chapter of the Blood Angels. Afflicted with constant misfortune, they were tricked into betraying the Imperium during the Badab War out of honor, later punished by being sent on a hundred-year crusade. Their chapter master is Malakim Phoros.
  • Scythes of the Emperor, a successor chapter of the Ultramarines. They were decimated by the Tyranids during the Second Tyrannic War, and have sought vengeance against them ever since. Their chapter master is Thrasius.
  • Black Dragons, allegedly a successor chapter of the Salamanders. They possess bony blade-like protrusions from their wrists that they often use in battle.
  • Carcharodons, allegedly a successor chapter of the Raven Guard. They are infamous for their ruthlessness and savagery in battle, as well as possessing white hair, pale white skin, and pure black eyes. Their chapter master is Tyberos the Red Wake.
  • Raptors, a successor chapter of the Raven Guard. They are known for their dedication to jungle warfare. Their chapter master is Lias Issodon.
  • Blood Ravens, a successor chapter of unknown origin. They are known for their dedication to knowledge and usage of psychic powers, possessing many Librarians. Their origins are also obscured and appear deliberately suppressed, resulting in their obsession with finding any possible artifacts and documents to their origins. Their chapter master is Gabriel Angelos.
  • Minotaurs, a successor chapter. They are known for their brutality, leaving no survivors in their wake. They are also highly mistrustful of all Imperial and Space Marine forces and only display absolute loyalty to the High Lords of Terra. Their chapter master or Lord is Asterion Moloc.
  • Red Scorpions, a successor chapter. They are known for their obsession with purity. Their chapter master, or Lord High Commander, is Carab Culin.
  • Relictors, a successor chapter. They are known for their use of alien relics, which has earned the scorn of the Inquisition and resulting in them being censored and driven into exile. Their chapter master is Artekus Bardan.
  • Legion of the Damned, rumored to be either revenants driven by the Imperium's belief made manifest, the ghosts of deceased Space Marines, or the lost remnants of a successor chapter from the Ultramarines known as Fire Hawks. They are the most mysterious of all the Space Marine factions loyal to the Emperor. Possessing black armor adorned with flaming death imagery, they are afflicted by a terminal Warp contagion that makes them intangible at will, almost invincible, but also insane. Answering to no one, they often appear on battlefields in flashes of light to aid Imperial forces during times of extremely dire need before vanishing without a trace.

There are also two Space Marine Chapters, unique in that they are not exclusive successors of the Space Marine Legions and are organized under the nominal command of Inquisition rather than being fully autonomous.

  • Deathwatch, the Chamber Militant of the Ordo Xenos (Alien Hunters) of the Inquisition. Said to be selected from every hundred Astartes, these Space Marines are chosen from the elite of all previous Space Marine Chapters. They are solely dedicated to the elimination of the xenos threat to the Imperium. Rather than being led by a single Chapter Master, the Deathwatch is led by a series of Deathwatch Commanders in charge of every major Watch Fortress in the Imperium.
  • Grey Knights, the Chamber Militant of the Ordo Malleus (Daemon Hunters) of the Inquisition. These Space Marines are all psykers (beings who possess psychic powers) and are dedicated to the extermination of Chaos and its minions. Unlike the other Space Marines, their genetic augmentations came directly from the Emperor rather than from the Primarchs. In addition, their selection and training is significantly harder, with a million failed candidates for every one that succeeds. On the other hand, unlike other chapters, none of their number have ever been corrupted by Chaos or turned traitor. Their chapter master, or Supreme Grand Master, is Kaldor Draigo.

Tabletop game mechanics[edit]

Space Marines are a playable army in the tabletop miniatures war game Warhammer 40.000.[1] Because each individual Space Marine is so powerful, their armies tend to be small, thus a player can buy and assemble a functional army for relatively little money and effort. In terms of playing style, they are a versatile army that neither excels nor fails at any particular tactic, though certain Chapters do have variant rules. Individual units are typically not strongly specialised and can substitute in other roles, meaning mistakes and setbacks are easy to compensate for. Their tough armour means that they do not have to be maneuvered as carefully as units of other armies (such as the powerful but frail Eldar). These qualities make them ideal for beginners.[2]

Videogame appearances[edit]

Space Marines are the most common protagonists in Warhammer 40,000 related videogames. They have appeared in the following titles:



Space Marines are featured in numerous fantasy novels, predominantly published by Black Library, a division of Games Workshop.

Trademark controversy[edit]

In December 2012, Games Workshop claimed the use of the phrase "space marine" infringed on their trademark of the term and requested that online retailer Amazon remove the e-book Spots the Space Marine by M.C.A. Hogarth.[3] The row received a lot of publicity during February 2013, with authors such as Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, and John Scalzi supporting Hogarth. Amazon restored the e-book for sale.[4][5]



  • Chambers, Andy (1998). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Space Marines. Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-28-X. 
  • Haines, Pete; 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.