Space Marines (Warhammer 40,000)

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In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, the Adeptus Astartes (colloquial: Space Marines) are genetically modified superhuman warrior-monks, the elite warriors of the Imperium of Man. Space Marines have been one of the starter armies in almost 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.

Fictional characteristics[edit]

Space Marines lead a lifestyle comparable to monastic warrior orders or martial elites from various periods of human history, dividing their time between combat training, ritual contemplation, and the waging of war. From the time of their initiation to their deaths in battle, they spend their entire multi-century lives fighting for their religion centring around the deified, extremely powerful psyker, the Emperor of Mankind. They have been genetically and physically enhanced with organ implants and other non-mechanical augmentations collectively referred to as "gene-seed" that ultimately derive from the Emperor's own flesh. They are 8 feet tall (2.438 meters) in their Power Armor and wield the finest weaponry available to the Imperium. Recently introduced are the Primaris Space Marines, an even more powerful variant of Adeptus Astartes released at the very end of the 41st millennium, and largely seen in action in the 42nd millennium.

In-universe origins[edit]

In the 40k universe, the Emperor of Mankind is described as creating twenty Primarchs, genetically engineered superhumans possessing immense physical and psychic power. Created from modified strands of his own DNA, each Primarch was, in essence, one of his sons and each individual's genome serves as a template for their respective Legion of Space Marines.

In the fictional timeline of the 40k universe; during the late 30th millennium AD, the Emperor uses the Space Marine Legions to conquer the scattered human-inhabited worlds of the galaxy, uniting them under the banner of the Imperium of Man and reuniting the Primarchs with their Legions. As the campaign drew to a close, a number of Primarchs, under the leadership of the character “Imperial Warmaster Horus” and their Legions convert to the worship of the evil Chaos Gods and rebel against the Emperor during a civil war known as the Horus Heresy. During the final hours of the war, Horus is slain by the Emperor, but not before mortally wounding the Emperor. The Emperor is rescued by Primarch Rogal Dorn and installed in a life support system called the “Golden Throne” where his body was maintained in a state of arrested decayed for over ten thousand years.[citation needed]

The rebels are ultimately defeated and banished to the realm of the Warp, though they continue to harass and threaten the existence of the Imperium as Chaos Space Marines, the rank and file of the demonic Chaos armies. The Legions of Space Marines who remained loyal to the Emperor were restructured into smaller but still relatively affiliated units called "Chapters" to make a future mass rebellion unlikely.

Creation of a Space Marine[edit]

Recruits are chosen from the best and most loyal among humanity. However, they must be adolescent males as deviating age or sex will result in guaranteed death if the subject in question has physical or mental mechanical augmentation attempted.

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 Space Marines. Those that survive but fail from surgery or screening are either retained as Chapter Serfs or sometimes mechanically augmented and turned into semi-sentient Servitors to serve the Chapter, mainly under the command of Adeptus Mechanicus members of said Chapter who perform most tasks involving creation or maintenance of technology.

The surgical process takes a great deal of time and pain, sometimes even being lethal. The recruit receives gene-seed implants, along with chemotherapy, hypnotherapy, and training necessary for allowing the functioning and development of the implanted organs. The implants transform their bodies and minds and give them near-superhuman abilities. Some notable abilities and attributes include greatly enhanced strength, unnatural reaction times, much increased physical durability, strongly acidic saliva, a closed gland that is harvested by Apothecary Marines at death for new gene-seed spores, and 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 assassination, infiltration, reconnaissance, and other duties related to light and mobile forces.

Intense indoctrination and conditioning strengthens the recruit's resolve and increases mental capabilities, honing them into dedicated, merciless warriors that become fiercely loyal to the Emperor. After more general training and the completion of their mechanical augmentations, they join the Chapter as full "Battle-Brothers", a term used often by Space Marines to refer to others in their Chapter.


Space Marines are organised into "Chapters", which typically contain about a thousand Space Marines plus an unspecific number of Initiates, support staff, and Adeptus Mechanicus maintenance units. The majority of Chapters follow the organisational structure detailed in the fictional version of the "Codex Adeptus Astartes". Typically, each Chapter is arranged into ten Battle Companies of one hundred soldiers each, lead by a Captain. The First Company of a Chapter is usually composed of veterans, privileged with suits of Tactical Dreadnought Armour aka Terminator Armour; and the Tenth Company is usually formed by newly recruited marines serving as Scouts.

Currently there are at least four Chapters which have numbers exceeding one thousand Space Marines such as the Black Templars, Exorcists, Grey Knights, and Space Wolves. Even then with their larger-than-normal troop count, these Chapters' numbers pale in comparison to the original Astartes Legions, the latter often having numbers reaching tens of thousands of men or more.

Each Chapter is a fully integrated and very heavily equipped military unit, possessing incredible resources such as multiple starships, aircraft units, and land vehicles (they do not possess battleships or other sea-based forces as the tabletop game does not model sea combat). A Chapter's main headquarters is its "Fortress-Monastery", which could either be a citadel located on a planet or a very large starship. Each Chapter also rules one or more worlds from which they draw material resources, recruits, currencies, and other components of or for the Chapter.

Each Chapter is led by a Chapter Master. Chapter Masters rank among the Imperium's highest elite. They are one of the few people in the ranks of the Space Marines with the authority to order tasks such as an Exterminatus, the total annihilation of a planet, its population, and it surface in the face of Chaos Daemon corruption or becoming an anchor for particularly dangerous forces who can threaten the Imperium's existence on a segmentum-wide or galaxy-wide scale.

Each Chapter is almost completely autonomous; there is no higher authority that commands all Space Marines (except the Emperor and the loyalist Primarchs, to a small degree). Nonetheless, any Chapter may be subject to censure or even excommunication by the Inquisition should it waver in its duty to defend the Imperium or should it turn heretic and serve the Chaos Gods.

Notable Chapters[edit]

The Ultramarines are the prototypical Space Marine Chapter, and follow the template laid out in the core rulebook on Space Marines. Some Chapters adhere to the Codex Astartes with only minor doctrinal leanings, such as the Imperial Fists who are famed for fortifications and siege warfare. Conversely, there are many other Chapters which have variant practices which are reflected in their rules. For instance, the Salamanders specialize in close ranged fire fights and flame weaponry, the Black Templars don't use psykers, the Blood Angels favour jump-packs to glide quickly to the fight, and the White Scars favour motorbike and mounted assault tactics. Perhaps the most unexpected of all are the Space Wolves with their cavalry consisting of Fenrisian Wolves that tower over the average man.

Specialist Chapters[edit]

The Grey Knights are a Chapter formed in secret to specifically hunt daemons. Each battle-brother is a sanctioned psyker who is adept at using Force Weapons. Similarly, the Deathwatch is a Chapter who specialize in hunting alien threats. Unlike other Chapters, the Deathwatch is composed entirely of marines seconded from other Chapters. This is typically welcomed as the specialist training whilst serving the Deathwatch is beneficial to the Chapter when the Battle Brother returns to them. The Grey Knights and Deathwatch work closely with the Inquisition, acting as the Chambers Militant of the Ordo Malleus and Ordo Xenos respectively and can act with their authority. Despite the Chamber Militant status however, both chapters retain a significant degree of autonomy from the Inquisition.


Space Marines were first introduced in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader by Rick Priestley, which was the first edition of the tabletop game rulebook. In this first incarnation, the religious themes that appeared in later editions were not as strong. They were described as having bodies and minds that had been toughened by "bio-chem" and "psycho-surgery"; no mention was made of "gene-seed" which would be introduced as the fictional world was developed.

The book Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (by Rick Priestly and Brian Ansell, 1990) was the first book from Games Workshop to give a backstory for the Space Marines. It introduced the original 20 Space Marine Legions, and the Primarchs (genetic fathers from which the Space Marines were cloned). It also first described the Horus Heresy, the civil war of the 30th millenium in which nine of the Legions converted to the worship of the four main Chaos Gods.

Two of the original 20 Legions and their respective Primarchs are not named and are described as redacted from Imperium history. Rick Priestley explained that this was to illustrate the Imperium's practice of erasing embarrassing or incriminating events and figures from history. This was a form of dishonour practiced by the ancient Roman Empire as damnatio memoriae.

To me the background to 40K was always intended to be ironic. [...] The fact that the Space Marines were lauded as heroes within Games Workshop always amused me, because they’re brutal, but they’re also completely self-deceiving. The whole idea of the Emperor is that you don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. The whole Imperium might be running on superstition. There’s no guarantee that the Emperor is anything other than a corpse with a residual mental ability to direct spacecraft. It’s got some parallels with religious beliefs and principles, and I think a lot of that got missed and overwritten.

— Rick Priestley, in a December 2015 interview with Unplugged Games[1]

Tabletop game mechanics[edit]

Space Marines are a playable army in the tabletop miniatures wargame Warhammer 40,000.[2] Because each individual Space Marine is so powerful, their armies tend to be small, and thus a player can 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 most mistakes and setbacks are easy to compensate for. Their tough armour means that they do not have to be maneuvered or stategised as carefully as units of other armies (such as the powerful but frail Eldar). These qualities make them ideal for beginners, and may help them have less losses in their early gameplay stages.[3]

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 that any use of the phrase "Space Marine" on content other than their own 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.[4] 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.[5][6]


  1. ^ Owen Duffy (11 December 2015). "Blood, dice and darkness: how Warhammer defined gaming for a generation". Archived from the original on 18 May 2016.
  2. ^
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  4. ^ Barnett, David (7 February 2013). "Superheroes, space marines and lawyers get into trademark fight". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  5. ^ "Row blows up over ownership of 'space marine' term". BBC News. London. 8 February 2013. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  6. ^


  • 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.