Space Marines (Warhammer 40,000)

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For the video game, see Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.
For the Science Fiction archetype, see Space marine.
The 4th Edition Space Marine sourcebook (codex) cover

In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000 created by Games Workshop, Space Marines are genetically modified superhuman soldiers, the elite warriors of the Imperium of Man. The Space Marines are the most popular playable army[1] for the table-top miniature wargame based in the setting. 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.

Tabletop game mechanics[edit]

A fully painted set of Space Marine miniatures.

Space Marines are a playable army in the tabletop miniatures war game Warhammer 40.000.[2] 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 frail Eldar). These qualities make them ideal for beginners.[3]

Video game 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.[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]

Fictional characteristics[edit]

Space Marines are warrior-monks. 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 wear power armor and wield the finest weaponry available to the Imperium.


In the distant future, the Emperor of Mankind creates the twenty Primarchs: genetically engineered superhumans possessing immense physical and psychic power. Created from modified stocks of his own DNA, each Primarch'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 and their Legions convert to the worship of the evil Chaos Gods and rebel against the Emperor. 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.

The surgical process takes a great deal of time and can be lethal. The recruit receives implants, along with chemical- and 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 - such as enhanced strength or operating for long periods without sleep by temporarily switching off parts of their brains. After this implantation process and the associated training, the recruit becomes a "scout".

Intense indoctrination and conditioning strengthens the recruit's resolve and increases mental capabilities, honing them into dedicated and merciless warriors. After more general training, 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 only four chapters which have numbers exceeding one thousand Space Marines: the Black Templars, Exorcists, Grey Knights, and Space Wolves.

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, and the Blood Angels specialize in jump pack tactics. 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 a handful of 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 the annihilation of a planet's population.

Each Chapter is autonomous; there is no higher authority that commands all Space Marines (except the Emperor, 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.



  • 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.