• Robison Wells

Warhammer 40k Lore: Where To Start -- Space Marine Legions

With the Space Marines the most well known faction associated with Warhammer 40k, to the point of even being synonymous with the game, it's only fair that someone would want to know the origin of the Space Marine Legions, how they're organized, and what happened to all of them. This article will answer those questions.

Where Did The Space Marines Come From?

The Space Marines were made from the gene-seeds of the twenty Primarchs, who were themselves the genetically engineered creations of the Emperor. The Emperor used his own DNA in the makeup of the Primarch's gene-seed, so the Space Marines are each genetically descended from the Emperor.

In the engineering process, each of them was made to be far superior to humans, in strength, toughness, speed, and intelligence.

There was an original group of super warriors created by the Emperor in this way, the Thunder Warriors, but while they had all of the enhanced traits of the latter Space Marines, they were unstable and short-lived.

Who Were The Original Twenty Space Marine Legions?

The original twenty Space Marine Legions were, in order:

  1. Dark Angels (Primarch: Lion El'Jonson) Loyal

  2. Unknown

  3. Emperor's Children (Primarch: Fulgrim) Traitor

  4. Iron Warriors (Primarch: Perturabo) Traitor

  5. White Scars (Primarch: Jaghatai Khan) Loyal

  6. Space Wolves (Primarch: Leman Russ) Loyal

  7. Imperial Fists (Primarch: Rogal Dorn) Loyal

  8. Night Lord (Primarch: Konrad Curze) Traitor

  9. Blood Angels (Primarch: Sanguinius) Loyal

  10. Iron Hands (Primarch: Ferrus Manus) Loyal

  11. Unknown

  12. World Eaters (Primarch: Angron) Traitor

  13. Ultramarines (Primarch: Robute Guilliman) Loyal

  14. Death Guard (Primarch: Mortarion) Traitor

  15. Thousand Sons (Primarch: Magnus) Traitor

  16. Sons of Horus (Primarch: Horus Lupercal) Traitor

  17. Word Bearers (Primarch: Lorgar Aurelian) Traitor

  18. Salamanders (Primarch: Vulkan) Loyal

  19. Raven Guard (Primarch: Corvus Corax) Loyal

  20. Alpha Legion (Primarch: Alpharius) Traitor

Why Were Some Space Marines Loyal and Some Traitor?

In the 30th Millenia, there was a civil war called The Horus Heresy. During this time, the Emperor, who was leading the Imperium in uniting all of humanity to rule to galaxy in peace, retreated to Terra to work on a secret project--the Webway. The Webway would allow Imperial vessels to move through the galaxy without needing to navigate the perils of the Warp. However, the Emperor did not share this secret with the Primarchs and left many of them feeling betrayed or abandoned.

At the same time, the Emperor founded the Council of Terra, a group that also did not include the Primarchs. He also disciplined the Word Bearers, who were spreading the word that the Emperor was a god. This discipline left them feeling humiliated, and they turned toward Chaos.

With that kindling in place, the match was lit when Horus was wounded with a weapon cursed by Nurgle, and while he was being treated for the wound he saw a dark vision of the Imperium as a harsh dictatorship and the Chaos gods were the victims of abuse. Waking from his vision, Horus began to persuade the other legions to betray the Emperor and to make a pact with Chaos.

The war began when Horus attacked the world of Isstvan III and there began to gather his forces for an assault on Terra. During this, he purged the loyalists in his own legion by sending them down to the planet and then wiping them out with virus bombs.

The war and rebellion spread throughout the Imperium and eventually ended at The Siege of Terra. After protracted fighting, the Emperor left his Golden Throne and met Horus in battle. In a blast of psychic energy, the Emperor shot Horus through the heart. Horus saw in his dying moments that he had been wrong, and he asked the Emperor to finish him before he could be fully consumed by Chaos.

Now, in the 41st millennium, the loyal Space Marines serve the Emperor, who is worshipped as a god, and fight against the Chaos Space Marines, who have totally given themselves over to the Warp.

Who Are The Two Unknown Space Marine Legions?

The two unknown legions are written to have "all records expunged from the library". There are varying accounts in different books, but it appears they were expunged before the Horus Heresy, and that they were lost in tragedies. Some accounts (such as Ultramarines 2nd Edition Codex) imply that the two unknown legions were traitors in the Heresy. Other accounts, such as the Horus Heresy books and Prospero Burns, suggest that the Space Wolves could have been ordered to execute the unknown legions. In the art book Visions of Heresy, the second legion is listed as "ERROR #CDIV- file not found" while the eleventh legion is listed as "-CENSORED-".

Are the Dark Angels Loyal or Traitor?

The Dark Angels are both loyal and traitor, as the legion had its own internal civil war, The Great Betrayal. While many of the Dark Angels went with Primarch Lion El'Jonson to Terra to fight for the Emperor, the remaining Dark Angels on their homeworld of Caliban followed leader Luther to Chaos. When Lion El'Jonson returned after the Heresy, Luther killed him, and the Chaos gods scattered the Fallen Angels throughout the galaxy. The Dark Angels bombarded Caliban, destroying the planet completely.

Their act of killing their own homeworld is a secret that is known only to the Dark Angels, and no others in the Imperium know the truth about the Fallen or Luther either. Luther is still alive, though insane, and believes that Lion El'Jonson is sleeping and will return.

Where Do The Other Space Marine Chapters Come From?

Seven years after the Horus Heresy, the Second Founding occurred, in which the remaining loyalist legions were divided. It is not known how many successor chapters there are. The majority of the successor chapters come from the Ultramarines--it is known that at least 23 chapter came from them--while others like the Space Wolves only spawned one, and the Salamanders never split.

There have been at least twenty four Foundings since that time, with the most recent being the Ultima Founding, which introduced the Primaris Space Marines.