Space Marine (Warhammer 40,000)

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A fully painted miniature of a Space Marine in Mark VII Power Armour, for use in the miniature wargame Warhammer 40,000.

In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, the Space Marines, also known as the Adeptus Astartes, are warrior-monks who fight for the Imperium of Man. They wear mechanized suits of armor and have modified genomes that grant them superhuman abilities. Some Space Marines have defected from the Imperium and worship the evil Chaos Gods, and are thus known as Chaos Space Marines.

Warhammer 40,000 is a miniature wargame, and Space Marines are one of the many playable factions available to the player. They are the most well-known and popular army, always featuring in the artwork and starter set of each edition of Warhammer 40,000 and other spin-off games such as Space Hulk and Epic (excluding the 2nd edition Titan Legions). Space Marines also feature prominently in other Games Workshop media, such as books, films (Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie), and video games (Dawn of War, Space Hulk: Deathwing).

Publication history[edit]

Space Marines were first introduced in Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1987) by Rick Priestley, which was the first edition of the tabletop game.

The book Realm of Chaos: The Lost and the Damned (Rick Priestly and Bryan 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 as well as their "Primarchs". It also first described the Horus Heresy, the civil war of the 30th millennium 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 the records of the Imperium. Rick Priestley explained that this was to illustrate the Imperium's practice of erasing embarrassing or incriminating events and figures from Imperial records (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 an interview with Unplugged Games, December 2015[1]

Miniature design[edit]

Bob Naismith created the initial design for the Space Marines, which was modified by Jes Goodwin and Aly Morrison when the design was translated to models. The original Space Marines in Power Armor had helmets with prominent conical snouts, which were based on a type of single-filter gas mask; and not medieval hounskull helmets as some may believe. This original design is popularly remembered as the "beaky" design, and in the lore it is known as "Mark VI Corvus". Jes Goodwin designed the second edition (1993) "Mark VII Aquila" iteration of Power Armor, where the helmet's beak was replaced by a flat grill, and the chestplate features a winged skull. With the eighth edition (2017), a new look of the Space Marine models in Power Armor was unveiled; these are known as Primaris Space Marines in "Mark X Power Armor"; the new Primaris Marines have enhanced capabilities and are meant to as reinforcements to complement existing Marines in older types of Power Armor.

Space Marine Terminator miniatures were first released in the Warhammer 40,000 spin-off game of Space Hulk (1989). Terminators are described in game lore as first company veterans in each Space Marine Chapter, having earned the right to don the sacred Tactical Dreadnought Armor or Terminator Armor. Space Marine Terminators were originally only used in Space Hulk-type scenarios and not the open battlefield, but rules were added in White Dwarf magazine and subsequent releases of Warhammer 40,000 and Epic for their deployment in conventional battles. As part of gameplay changes, the plastic Terminator five-man squad miniatures which were originally only available in Space Hulk game sets were made available in a separate box set since 1997, alongside metal Terminator individual figures and five-man Chapter-specific sets (for the Dark Angels Deathwing and Space Wolves Wolf Guard). Subsequent Terminator models have been all-plastic in order to make them more affordable/customizable, and the Terminator range has expanded to include close combat Terminators, Terminator command squads, and Dark Angels Deathwing Knights. Most Warhammer 40,000 army list game rules restrict the deployment of Terminators to a small part (1-2 squads of 5 men each) of a player's Space Marine army since they are considered elite troops. The Dark Angels' Deathwing Company is unique among Marine first companies in being composed of only Terminators. The Dark Angels can field a Deathwing army which features an all-Terminator force, that also includes Land Raider tanks as transports and Dreadnought walkers for support.[2]

Tabletop game mechanics[edit]

Warhammer 40,000[edit]

Space Marines are a playable army in the miniature wargame Warhammer 40,000.[3] As far as regular infantrymen go, Space Marines are rather powerful, so Space Marine armies tend to be small. This means that 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 roughly substitute in other roles, meaning most mistakes and setbacks are easy to compensate for. Their tough armour and generally unspecialised weaponry 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, and may help them succeed more often in their early gameplay stages.[4]

Fictional characteristics[edit]

Space Marine Chapters 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 waging war, though a major difference being in their lack of religion and superstition as has been set down by the emperor of mankind. From the time of their initiation to their deaths in battle, they spend their entire multi-century lives fighting in the name of the Emperor of Mankind, and fight also for the survival of Mankind.

Each Marine has 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. This is so he can physically don a mechanized suit of armor, a fully powered and ceramite-crafted shell known commonly as Power Armor, which in turn would give the Marine protection and capabilities far beyond that of a normal man. The common Space Marine equipped with Power Armor stands 8 feet (2.4 m) and wields the finest small-arms weaponry available to the Imperium.

A Marine recruit must pass their Chapter's rigorous tests and have centuries of battle experience in order to earn the right to wear the different armor suits in their Chapter's inventory. These include non-powered Scout Armor (for new recruits to prove themselves), Power Armor (the most common type among rank-and-file, standard for Tactical, Devastator, and Assault Marines), Centurions (an exosuit that fits on existing Power Armor, enhancing Assault or Devastator capabilities), Tactical Dreadnought Armor or Terminator Armor (extremely rare and usually only for the First Company veterans), and Dreadnought (a mortally wounded Marine entombed permanently inside a powerful cyborg battle walker).[5] Recently introduced are the Primaris Space Marines, with their new Mk X armour being a more potent variant of the common Power Armor suits used by most Space Marines. They were created by the Mechanicus Archmagos Belisarius Cawl, and are largely seen in action with new chapters of Primaris Space Marines constantly being created and existing chapters welcoming Primaris reinforcements.

In-universe origins and history[edit]

Roughly 28,000 years in the future, the Emperor of Mankind creates twenty genetically engineered superhumans called "Primarchs". Demigod-like giants, their genomes were based on the Emperor's own genome, making them in a way his sons. The Emperor then creates the Space Marines for his armies. Just as the Primarchs are the genetic sons of the Emperor, the Space Marines are the genetic sons of their Primarch. There were twenty Space Marine Legions, one for each Primarch, and each Primarch became the commander of his respective Legion.

The Emperor uses the Space Marine Legions to conquer the scattered human worlds of the galaxy, uniting them under the Imperium of Man in the Great Crusade. Over time, two Primarchs would disappear from Imperial records while others would have difficulties with their father and each other. As the campaign drew to a close, nine Primarchs and their Legions convert to the worship of the evil Chaos Gods, rebelling against the Emperor and sparking a galaxy-wide civil war known as the Horus Heresy. During the final hours of the war, Horus Lupercal, the Emperor's favorite Primarch-turned traitor, and the Emperor fight each other in a duel. Horus is killed, but the Emperor himself is so badly injured, he is placed on permanent life support.

As the Imperium is rebuilt, the Space Marine Legions are split up into Chapters so as to make another mass rebellion less likely. The remaining loyalist Primarchs either die or disappear over the next few centuries.

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 augmentation attempted. Popular recruits for a Space Marine Chapter may include anything from tribal humans on a feral world, to underhive gangers, to normal hive city denizens, but have to be purely unmutated humans and fanatically loyal to their race.

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 surgery or screening are either retained as Chapter Serfs or mechanically augmented and turned into semi-sentient Servitors to serve the Chapter, mainly under the command of Adeptus Mechanicus aligned Tech Marines of the 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 different stages of implantation must occur in a precise order at different times of development, lengthening the process to a significant degree. First, 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 to give them near-superhuman abilities, with 19 special organs found in Space Marines and an extra 3 in their Primaris brothers. Some notable abilities and attributes of a Space Marine include:

  • Greatly enhanced strength - allowing them to overpower even a gargantuan Ork in physical prowess.
  • Greatly enhanced speed - Allows them to move very quickly across and around the battlefield.
  • Unnaturally quick reaction times - Grants them nanosecond reflexes, important in battle to let them fight hand-to-hand with fast aliens like the Eldar.
  • Much-increased physical durability - to last longer physically in battle or hostile conditions like the vacuum of space.
  • Enhanced vision - Allows a space marine to see much farther than a normal human as well as having natural night-vision.
  • Enhanced metabolic processes - enabling them to fight with minimal rest, clot wounds in seconds, or enter a self-healing coma.
  • Increased survivability - A secondary heart and third lung increases oxygen absorption, filters toxins, and take over if the primary organs are destroyed.
  • Improved digestive system - enables ingestion of dangerous substances like raw and toxic alien flesh, absorb their prey's genetic memories, and the ability to spit blinding, corrosive acid.
  • A closed gland (Progenium) - harvested by Apothecary Marines at death for new gene-seed spores to create new Space Marines.

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. Slightly prior to the completion of their implantations, they become Scout Marines, light and mobile forces charged with reconnaissance and infiltration. After more general training and the completion of their augmentations, they join the Chapter as full "Battle-Brothers" and earn the right to full use of their iconic Power Armor and Boltgun.


Space Marines are organised into Chapters, autonomous armies which retain their own heraldry, fleet and distinct identity. Chapters 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. 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 Terminator Armour, and the Tenth Company is almost always formed by newly recruited marines serving as Scouts.

Currently there are at least four Chapters which have numbers exceeding one thousand Space Marines:

  • Black Templars (6,551)
  • Space Wolves (2,500)
  • Grey Knights (Unknown)
  • Exorcists (1,200)

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 (at its peak during the great crusade, the Ultramarines legion reached up to 250,000 legionares, before 3/4 were wiped out at Calth by the Word Bearers).

Each Chapter is a fully integrated, developed and very heavily equipped military unit, possessing incredible resources for rapid mobilization and firepower. This includes a space-faring fleet of battle barges (equivalent to other faction's battleships) and strike cruisers. Compared to the manpower-intensive warships of the Imperial Navy, the Space Marine Fleet's heavily automated vessels are designed particularly for transport and planetary assault, deploying troops via Drop Pods or teleportation (Space Marine Terminators), while their hangars carry numerous craft including space/atmospheric transports (Thunderhawk Gunships and Stormraven Gunships, both of which are also capable of aerial attack), and atmospheric strike craft (Stormhawk Interceptor, Stormtalon Gunship). Space Marines operate wide range of armored fighting vehicles, including armored fighting vehicles (Predator Destructor and Annihilator, Vindicator, Whirlwind) and transports (Rhino, Razorback), most of which emphasis mobility over armor protection (in contrast to the Imperial Guard), although the Marines' Land Raider tank/transport is among the Imperium's best-protected of that type due to its thick all-around armor. Fast attack and recon elements utilize motorbikes and land speeders. A Chapter's main headquarters is its "Fortress-Monastery" which is a citadel located on their homeword, although some Chapters are fleet-based as they are headquartered on a battle barge instead of a planet. Each Chapter also owns and controls one or more planets from which they draw material resources and recruits.

Each Chapter is led by a Chapter Master. Chapter Masters are still Space Marines, but they rank among the Imperium's highest elite strategists and warriors. They are one of the few in the ranks of the Space Marines with the authority to order heavily consequential tasks such as an Exterminatus. Their rank grants almost as much authority as an Inquisitor, barring the ability to massacre "suspected" traitors.

Each Chapter is almost completely autonomous; there is no higher authority that commands all Space Marines, even the Inquisition or High Lords of Terra. Instead, they retain a degree of autonomy from all outside forces save for the Emperor's will. Nonetheless, any Chapter may be subject to censure or even excommunication by the Inquisition should it waiver in its duty to defend the Imperium or should it join Chaos and serve the Chaos Gods.

Notable Chapters[edit]

The Ultramarines are the prototypical Space Marine Chapter, and follow the template laid out in the principal rulebook on Space Marines; it consists of the 1st Company (Veterans including Terminators), the 4 Battle Companies (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th), 4 Reserve Companies (6th, 7th, 8th and 9th), and the 10th Company of Scout Marines. Some Chapters adhere to the Codex Astartes grudgingly, with only minor doctrinal leanings, such as the Imperial Fists. The Dark Angels (the very first chapter founded) are similar, however their 1st Company known as the Deathwing consists of all Terminators, while their 2nd Company is the Ravenwing which consists of only landspeeders and bikes for fast attack.

There are many other Chapters which have variant practices which are reflected in their rules and organization. For instance, the Salamanders specialize in close-ranged firefights and flame weaponry, the Black Templars eschew psykers, the Blood Angels favor melee combat, and the White Scars favour hit-and-run assault tactics with mounted troops (bikes and land speeders). Perhaps the most peculiar of all are the Space Wolves whose organization is completely contrary to the Codex Astartes.

Specialist Chapters[edit]

There are two known specialist chapters in the Imperium: The Grey Knights and the Deathwatch. The Grey Knights are a Chapter formed in secret to specifically hunt daemons from every shade of the Chaos spectrum. Each battle-brother is a sanctioned psyker who is adept at using Force Weapons, and they possess different tactics, training, and resources compared to typical Astartes. Similarly, the Deathwatch is a Chapter who specialise in hunting alien threats such as the Orks, Aeldari, or T'au. 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 act under their authority. Despite the Chamber Militant status, however, both chapters retain a significant degree of autonomy from the Inquisition.


The equipment of the Adeptus Astartes encompasses a very wide variety of machines, weapons, and armour, but the two universal pieces of Astartes equipment are the Boltgun (also known as a "Bolter") and a set of Power Armour. A Bolter is a powerful, rapid-fire weapon that fires explosive kinetic projectiles towards its target, referred to as Bolts, and serves as the primary weapon of the Adeptus Astartes as most Space Marines carries a Bolter or other Bolt weapon as a primary armament. Space Marines also make frequent use of Directed-energy weapons, Missile launchers and Flamethrowers. A Space Marine's protection is provided by their Armour, known as Power Armour. Power Armour is a fully enclosed suit of armour that is built from Adamantium, Plasteel, and Ceramite. It performs many other functions than just protection, including hostile-environment life support, combat first aid, extra mobility and enhanced strength. The armour is fully powered by a Power Pack attached to the back plate of the set of armour. The Power Pack serves as the power generator for the armour, as well as the housing for emergency power generators. Additionally, field officers or specialist ranks have access to special wargear such as protective force fields, jump packs, active camouflage cloaks, powered melee weaponry, and other rare war relics.

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.[6] 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.[7][8]


  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. ^ UK White Dwarf WD112 04/1989
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Forge World - Tau Battlesuits and Drones". 2013-11-23. Archived from the original on November 23, 2013. Retrieved 2016-02-26.
  6. ^ Barnett, David (7 February 2013). "Superheroes, space marines and lawyers get into trademark fight". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  7. ^ "Row blows up over ownership of 'space marine' term". BBC News. London. 8 February 2013. Retrieved 8 February 2013.
  8. ^


  • 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.