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 warrior-monks, 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.


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. Their bodies and minds were toughed by "bio-chem" and "psycho-surgery"; no mention was made of "gene-seeds", thus Space Marines did not carry the blood of their Primarch.

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 of the Space Marines). It also first described the Horus Heresy, which was the civil war in which nine of the Legions converted to the worship of the 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 events and figures from history (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

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, 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.[3]

Fictional characteristics

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. Recently introduced are the Primaris space marines, an even more powerful variant of astartes released at the very end of the 41st millennium, and largely seen in action in the 42nd millennium.


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

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.

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. 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 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 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 defend the Imperium.

Notable Chapters

The Ultramarines are the prototypical Space Marine Chapter, and follow the template laid out in the core rulebook on Space Marines. There are many other Chapters which have variant rules, which are described in their own dedicated rulebooks. For instance, the Salamanders specialize in close combat and flame weaponry, the Black Templars don't use psykers, the Blood Angels are prone to irrational bouts of rage, and the White Scars favor motorbikes. The most unexpected of all are the Space Wolves with their cavalry consisting of Fenrisian Wolves that tower over the average man.

Videogame appearances

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

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]


  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. ^
  3. ^
  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.
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