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A Space Marine with the iconic power armor and boltgun (Ultramarines Chapter).

Space MarinesAdeptus Astartes in High Gothic or colloiqually the "Angels of Death" – are the elite warriors of the Imperium of Man. They are physically enlarged super-soldiers enhanced by genetic modification, biological and cybernetic implants, extensive medical treatment and hypnotherapy. These biological enhancements and inhuman amounts of training and combat experience – made possible by barely needing to rest at all and natural lifespans lasting centuries – grant them superhuman physical and mental abilities. This is combined with the highest standard of wargear available to the Imperium, which gives them the ability to project an unparalleled surgical concentration of martial might. Their augmentation not only improves their natural capabilities, but also allows efficient use of the Space Marines' signature power armor, a heavily armored suit that augments their strength and provides a range of sensory, survival and medical functions.

Space Marines have appeared in every Dawn of War series game, although they were not a campaign faction in Dawn of War: Winter Assault.


The Primarch Project[]

Sanguinius art

Primarch Sanguinius during the Siege of Terra

The history of the Astartes reaches back to the earliest days of the Imperium of Man. It was the period known as the Age of Strife, in the 30th millennium; the human galactic nation had fallen, many outlying colonies not only lost but enslaved by abominable aliens and creatures from beyond, and the cradle of mankind, Terra, had regressed into an uncivilized battleground of power-hungry warlords and demagogues. Then the Emperor of Man revealed himself, a messianic leader with clearly superhuman physical and psychic abilities. Rumored to be immortal and already tens of thousands of years old even at this point, he began his efforts to save Mankind. The Emperor employed an early form of genetically engineered elite infantry known as Thunder Warriors in key roles, and in a stunning series of unbroken victories, rapidly secured the entire homeworld under his command.

The Emperor was planning more: to retake the galactic empire and reunite humanity scattered across the stars. To achieve this, he had a secret plan known as the Primarch Project – he was creating 20 more superhuman generals to lead his armies. These generals would be the Primarchs, demigods among men, not quite clones of the Emperor himself but possessing some of their leader's genetic code and aspects, and approaching his powers. However, the Emperor's secret laboratories deep beneath the ancient Himalayan mountain range – was struck by a disaster. The infant Primarchs had disappeared, vanishing from their birthing chambers. A Warp anomaly, probably due to the intervention of the Chaos Gods, is suspected, but the full truth is not known.

The Great Crusade[]

Emperor crusade

The Emperor during the Great Crusade

The Emperor could sense that the Primarchs were not destroyed but scattered across the stars, and immediately revised his plan. Using the progress made in the creation of the Primarchs, twenty military units of new, more advanced, genetically engineered super-soldiers were made, each unit based on the DNA of one Primarch. These units were the Space Marine Legions, much larger than the later Chapters, with up to 25,000–80,000 Marines in each Legion.

With this new elite force – and regiments of the early Imperial Army – the Emperor set out to reclaim his lost Primarchs, while retaking the human empire in the process. This 200-year expansion war became known as the Great Crusade. The first Primarch to be found was Horus, who took command of his Legion – the 16th – and named it the Luna Wolves. Horus grew close to his "father", becoming the Emperor's right hand, and later the Warmaster of the entire Imperial military.

More Primarchs were found, fully grown and more often than not rising to benevolently rule the worlds they had been cast on in their infancy. All assumed their positions at his side, some with fervor and some with reluctance. Along with Primarchs, the Legions received names: Dark Angels, Emperor's Children, Iron Warriors, White Scars, Space Wolves, Imperial Fists, Night Lords, Blood Angels, Iron Hands, World Eaters, Ultramarines, Death Guard, Thousand Sons, Word Bearers, Salamanders, Raven Guard, Alpha Legion. Eighteen Primarchs joined his side, but the fates of two Primarchs and their Legions are unknown, all records destroyed, so it is not known whether they were simply not found during the Crusade, or if some other darker fate had befallen them.

With the Legions now led by their Primarchs, the Imperium was unstoppable. They retook their previous territory and expanded beyond, claiming up to a million worlds of men. The Emperor became satisfied and left the command to Warmaster Horus, then left the frontlines and returned to Terra to begin a great and secret undertaking. Some of the Primarchs felt that the Emperor had abandoned them.

The Horus Heresy[]

Horus Heresy battle art

Heresy era battle

In the golden age of the Imperium, disaster struck again. Horus was severely wounded in battle by unnatural and suspicious means, and became close to dying. The desperate situation called for help from natives – later believed to be Chaos cultists – and during his weakness, the recovering Horus was apparently tainted by Chaos. He began to plan a rebellion and secretly converted other Primarchs to his cause.

Emperor vs Horus

The Emperor confronts Horus

Horus' betrayal culminated in a massive civil war known as the Horus Heresy. Nine of the Legiones Astartes turned traitor and almost overthrew the Imperium, turning on back on their father and instead casting their lot with the Dark Gods of Chaos, and the galaxy was engulfed in a conflict the scale of which was never known, and has yet to be matched. Brother turned on brother, and loyalist Primarchs were betrayed, ambushed, and killed, their Legions decimated. Space Marine turned on Space Marine, slaying their kin in the thousands. Inevitably, events culminated on a massive siege on Terra itself. On the verge of defeat, the Emperor, and loyal Primarchs Sanguinius and Rogal Dorn, teleported aboard Horus' colossal flagship- but were separated and each came upon Horus' command chamber separately, in turn. Sanguinius was killed by Horus, and it was in this state upon which the Emperor came upon Horus. Ultimately, Horus was slain by the Emperor. However, the Emperor himself was mortally wounded in the titanic duel in which unearthly energies of incredible magnitude were unleashed. Thus did Rogal Dorn find the Emperor's broken form, and returned him to his palace on Terra, and to the Golden Throne, which was the arcane device that the Emperor had built in a great undertaking to improve the lot of all Mankind- though now it was repurposed into a life support system sustaining his withered physical husk in suspended animation.

The traitor legions, effectively decapitated, broke and retreated deep into the Eye of Terror. However, the Imperium was severely crippled and without its leader as well.


In the aftermath of the Heresy, the Primarch Roboute Guilliman began the painstaking work of consolidating the Imperium, and in the process realized that if another such conflict were to occur, it would be an undoing from which Mankind would not recover.

To this end, he proposed to his remaining loyal brother Primarchs that they each split their Legions into smaller independent Chapters, each consisting of no more than 1,000 Space Marines, such that no one man would ever again command the power that could threaten the Imperium as a whole, in the event of a rebellion. Though there was some dissent at first among the Primarchs, eventually all acquiesced, and thus the Space Marine Chapters were formed, and so they exist, for ten millennia until the year 40,000.

Creation process[]

Space marine terminator procedure

Space Marine being fitted with Terminator armor

Now, as with ten millennia ago with the birth of the original Legions, the creation of a Space Marine begins with selecting a suitable recruit. The subject must be male, possess tissue types compatible with the gene-seed, and be young enough (the Index Astartes source book states that the implantation process must be started at age 10 to 14 and finished at age 16 to 18), because the transformation process augments and overrides the normal course of puberty. He must be fearless, sufficiently aggressive and physically powerful. For this reason, primitive warrior cultures from uncivilized worlds may be used for recruitment. Additionally, the phase 6, 10 and 12 implants require the subject to be receptive to hypnotherapy. Potential recruits are called "aspirants" and must usually face challenges such as fighting tournaments and other screening.

When the aspirant is deemed to have a chance of surviving the process, he is termed a "neophyte" and subjected to heavy biological augmentation that consists of 19 stages. Each organ is cultivated from the same gene-seed implanted in his body, and has a specific purpose. 

  1. Secondary heart: The Marine is implanted with a second heart to improve his physical performance and keep him going in spite of catastrophic injuries.
  2. Ossmodula: An endocrine gland causing the skeleton to grow larger and harden considerably. Combined with special ingested ceramic-based supplements, the bones of the Space Marine solidify into a compound as strong as steel, while the ribcage ossifies into solid protective plates.
  3. Biscopea: An endocrine gland stimulating muscle growth. Size and density of muscle tissue increases, becoming akin to knotted steel ropes.
  4. Haemastamen: An intravascular implant that controls the phase 2–3 implants and improves the composition of Marine's blood, increasing its efficiency to deliver nutrients and oxygen at rates that his enhanced biology demands.
  5. Larraman's organ: Generates and stores Larraman cells, which instantly form scar tissue when coming in contact with air, quickly closing wounds, staunching blood loss and promoting healing.
  6. Catalepsean node: Brain implant allowing the Marine to "switch off" limited areas of the brain sequentially, prolonging the time he can go without proper sleep while maintaining combat effectiveness.
  7. Preomnor: Pre-digestive stomach allowing the Marine to eat and extract nutrition from many poisonous or normally inedible things.
  8. Omophagea: An organ that absorbs genetic material from animal tissues, enabling the Marine to gain a measure of impressions and memories from creatures he eats.
  9. Multi-lung: A third, additional lung that works more efficiently than the original ones and tolerates toxic atmospheres. Upon exposure to hostile atmospheres, a sphincter can voluntarily stop breathing to normal lungs, while this organ is used exclusively.
  10. Occulobe: Hormonal implant making certain eye enhancement procedures possible, and improve receptiveness to hypno-therapy. Indirectly results in improved visual acuity and a degree of night vision.
  11. Lyman's ear: The ears are modified so that the Marine can consciously enhance or filter sounds and becomes immune to debilitating inner ear symptoms (vertigo, nausea, etc.)
  12. Sus-an membrane: A brain implant that requires medication and training to function. Allows the Marine to enter a state of suspended animation, surviving even if wounded mortally.
  13. Melanochrome: An implant mainly controlling pigmentation of the skin, providing protection from ultraviolet light, but offers limited protection against other radiation types as well.
  14. Oolitic kidney: A kidney-like implant providing improved blood filtration and detoxification, increasing the Marine's tolerance to poisons and toxins. Also improves the functionality of other implants.
  15. Neuroglottis: A mouth cavity implant that allows assessing the composition (possible poisons, etc.) of a food by taste.
  16. Mucranoid: A instestinal implant that is activated by medication, causing the Marine to excrete oily sweat that protects against extreme temperatures.
  17. Betcher's gland: A paired mouth implant that secretes a corrosive poison, allowing the Marine to blind enemies by spitting and even disintegrate inorganic materials (such as metal chains), given time.
  18. Progenoids: Two progenoid glands are implanted; one in the neck and one in the chest cavity. These glands "mature" in 5 and 10 years, respectively, and contain the Chapter's gene-seed. The neck gland is typically removed at maturity, while the chest gland is only removed upon the death of the Space Marine. Progenoids must be recovered in order to create more Space Marines.
  19. Black carapace: The final implant is a black film or sheet which is implanted under the skin of the torso, where it hardens and extends invasive neural bundles that integrate with the Marine's nervous system. Interface ports on the body surface are installed later, which allow integration with their signature power armor. The Black Carapace is what allows Astartes to control Space Marine power armor suits as if it were an extension of their own bodies, beyond the level of integration of more mundane and cumbersome powered suits built for normal humans.

As the neophyte is being implanted, other treatments begin. Chemical and hypnotic therapy is required for the implanted organs to activate and work properly, which can continue for years until the Space Marine is able to subconsciously control and stabilize his own enhanceed metabolism. The neophyte will be indoctrinated and subjected to rigorous training. He will learn to control his new physique, command his implants, think and react faster, remember clearer, suppress pain and fear. This process is dangerous by nature, and even more so because of loss of understanding of the methods and techniques involved. Already dangerous, some operations and other procedures may have become highly ritualized among some Chapters, sometimes to the point of compromising efficiency. Thus many of the neophytes will not survive the complete transformation.

When the initial process is finished, the neophyte becomes an "Initiate". He will now serve as a Scout (normally in the 10th Company) while his training is continued, wearing a light suit of normal Scout armor. He must improve the control of his mind and body as well as gather substantial battlefield experience and familiarity with different weapons and tactics. This stage may take years, or even decades.

When the Initiate is considered to be ready, he will attain the rank of "Battle-Brother", and finally be gifted a suit of full power armor to take his place alongside his brothers as a full Space Marine.


After the Horus Heresy, the original Legiones Astartes – the nine loyal Legions still remaining – were reorganized according to Roboute Guilliman's Codex Astartes and split into smaller Chapters. From each Legion, one of the new Chapters, referred to as the First Founding Chapter, kept the name of the old Legion, while the others took new names and became Successor Chapters. Over the ten millennia that followed, over twenty separate Foundings taken place, each creating a new generation of new Chapters, but ever are there only nine original First Founding Chapters, bearing the same names granted them by their Primarchs in the distant past.

According to Codex Astartes, a proper Chapter is organized into 10 companies of 10 squads of 10 men each, setting the strength of a fully manned Chapter to approximately 1,000 Space Marines plus commanders and support personnel. Each Chapter has the resources to function as a completely autonomous force with its own space fleet and other necessary matériel.

A Chapter is commanded by the Chapter Master, who has his administrative staff and other necessary personnel at his disposal. Each of the ten company is commanded by a Captain and assigned a Chaplain and an Apothecary. Additionally, there are the Librarium – the psychic Librarians – and the Armory, which is maintained by Techmarines and Servitors. The companies of a standard "Codex Chapter" should be divided accordingly:

  • 1st Company (Veteran Company)
    • Veterans deployed as 20 Terminator squads or 10 Tactical squads
  • 2nd to 5th Companies (Battle Companies)
    • 6 Tactical squads
    • 2 Assault squads
    • 2 Devastator squads
  • 6th and 7th Companies (Reserve Companies)
    • 10 Tactical squads
  • 8th Company (Reserve Company)
    • 10 Assault squads
  • 9th Company (Reserve Company)
    • 10 Devastator squads
  • 10th Company (Scout Company)
    • Scout squads (exact number depends on recruitment and promotion rate)

Adherence to these guidelines varies between different Chapters. Most hold to the tenets of the Codex Astartes rigidly, some partially, while a few (especially certain First Founding Chapters) disregard it entirely.

Games in the Dawn of War series obviously stray from this detail somewhat, as you could play a single campaign and lose more Marines than a Chapter is supposed to have. Likewise, some games (including the tabletop wargame and the first Dawn of War series) have in-game portrayals that significantly reduce the capabilities of individual Space Marines significantly for purposes of game balance while maintaining high unit counts. Others (such as Games Workshops' Specalist Games' Inquisitor, FFG's Deathwatch roleplaying game, and Relic's Warhammer 40k: Space Marine and the Dawn of War II series) have a higher level of granularity and detail, demonstrating the incredible skill and might of individual Space Marines, though with numerically small forces, as is described in the wealth of background material.

Notable Chapters[]

  • Blood Ravens (Dawn of War, Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, Dawn of War: Soulstorm, Dawn of War II, Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising, Dawn of War II: Retribution)
  • Ultramarines (Dawn of War: Winter Assault, Warhammer 40k: Space Marine)

Numerous other Chapters appear as aesthetic multiplayer options in all Dawn of War games, but make no proper appearance.

See also[]



  • Cavatore, Alessio et al. Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook. 5th ed. Nottingham: Games Workshop, 2008. Print.
  • Priestley, Rick & Thorpe, Gav. "Rites of Initiation: The creation of a Space Marine." Index Astartes. Nottingham: Games Workshop, 2002. 2–9. Print.