Imperium (Warhammer 40,000)

From Academic Kids

The Imperium of Man is a fictional galactic empire that contains the majority of humanity, set in the Warhammer 40K universe created by Games Workshop.


History of the Imperium

The Imperium was founded by the Emperor (Master of mankind, ruler of humanity and God of the human race) at the end of the "Age of Strife", a period of anarchy, lawlessness and senseless destruction that lasted for dozens of centuries and during which all but the faintest traces of the vast, advanced galactic civilization built by men in previous eras disappeared.

However, when the warpstorms of the Age of Strife subsided the Emperor set forth to unite mankind under his rule, turning his hordes of techno-barbaric warriors into the first superhuman Space Marines.

After having secured the docks of Luna and the factories and weaponshops based on Mars the Emperor built a huge warfleet with which he undertook a Space Crusade that lasted two full centuries and ended with the formal establishment of Imperial Rule over all but the most scattered and distant human colonized worlds.

This Crusade is referred to in the annals of Imperial History as the Great Crusade. During this period, the Emperor employed his most potent soldiers, the Space Marines, and their born leaders, the Primarchs. These, coupled with the combined might of the Imperial Army/Navy (later the Imperial Guard and the Imperial Navy as separate functioning organisations), made Mankind the number one force to contend with in the galaxy, as its teeming numbers fulfilled what many saw as Man's destiny to rule the galaxy.

Forces of the Imperium

In the 40K universe, the Imperium represents mankind's only hope for survival in the grim, merciless future of the forty first millennium. The Imperium is surrounded by alien species and is continually attacked by forces from an alternative reality (the warp) and other galaxies (Tyranids).

The Imperium's defence forces consist of the:

There are also specialist that prevent 'corruption':

Together, these help defend the Imperium from various enemies, including:

And more recently:

The Immortal God Emperor of Mankind

The origins, and original name, of the Emperor are not known. Some have theorized that he was born approximately 8000 BCE (-8M) in central Anatolia. He grew up within an isolated and meagre territory, and it was rumoured that he has the power to stop his own aging and numerous other psychic abilities. After many years passing, the Emperor became more wise and focused. He intuitively knew of the corruption of Mankind's behavior and set out to correct it. Each time he intended to stay in the background. He was not always successful,and without intent, he became a leader. Over the years he collected even more advanced wisdom and is known as the facilitator of most of the important inventions of mankind.

The first mention of him in Imperial records is when he conquered Earth after the Age of Strife (sometime in the 29th Millennium). The Emperor's use of genetically engineered warriors enabled him to reunite the people of Earth, and to set his sight on the stars. With the assistance of the Adeptus Mechanicus on Mars the Emperor created the first Space Marines and fleets of interstellar ships to carry his glorious armies to the farthest reaches of the Galaxy. The Emperor also created the Primarchs from whom the Space Marines' gene-seed was developed, however the Chaos gods had scattered them across the Galaxy. During the Great Crusade all of the Primarchs were found and reunited with their Legion of Space Marines. However the Emperor's most trusted servant Horus turned on the Emperor and along with nearly half the Space Marine Legions started a massive civil war. This period of turmoil became known as the Horus Heresy. Though the Emperor defeated Horus, he was badly wounded in the battle, after which he "ascended" the Golden Throne, where he remains to this day, neither living nor dead.

The Golden Throne is a complex life support device located in a massive complex in Earth's Himalaya mountain range. There the Emperor's physical form is preserved and his life functions are carried out by carefully-maintained machinery. The Golden Throne is connected to a massive warp beacon known as the Astronomicon that generates the system of signals making faster than light Warp travel in the Imperium possible. To provide the psychic energies necessary to maintain the beacon, hundreds of carefully-selected psykers are brought into the Golden Throne complex every day, where their life energies are absorbed by the Emperor, leaving them lifeless husks in a matter of weeks. Those selected to replace the used-up psykers consider it a great honor.

Background to the Imperium in other Science-Fiction

The Imperium itself, keeping with the dystopian themes of Warhammer 40K is a highly oppressive techno-theocracy, (akin to that in the Empire of the Fading Suns), with extreme persecution of those questioning the morality or validity of the endless conflicts and divine rule of the Emperor. The Imperium has an Inquisition, carries out crusades and uses a debased form of Latin extensively, and so may be an indirect criticism of historical episodes in the Catholic church. The Imperium's foremost enemy, Chaos, is said to 'corrupt' weak beings in a manner very analogous to 'sin'.

Whilst the Imperial Guard are human soldiers, considered expendable and used in great numbers with heavy artillery support, (deliberately akin to the First World War), the Space Marines are meta-humans with modifications to their physical and mental make up for combat, much like the Armoured Mobile Infantry of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Their unswerving and blind loyalty to their militaristic God Emperor is an indirect criticism of soldiers motivated by religious zeal, much like the Fremen in Dune. Similarities to Dune also exist with the use of Navigators very similar to those of the Spacing Guild in Frank Herbert's work

The Imperium is also highly xenophobic and can barely comprehend serious dialogue with any alien species - even clearly civilised ones like the Eldar (elf-like and cultured) and Tau (peaceful utilitarians) - highlighting the common human potential for hatred and savagery.

Comparisons to the Nazis

The Imperium draws some obvious parallels with the Nazi regime, but it is rather shallow-minded to compare the two directly; as already stated, the Imperium represents 'the evil that men do' as a whole, not just one specific political/racial ideal. The most obvious parallels are:

  • The theme of maintaining genetic purity within the human race
  • The strong Roman-inspired iconography; eagles, classical architecture, decorative banners, etc.
  • The idea of genetics dictating role or importance within society (the Space Marines are all genetically descended from the Emperor, by way of the Primarchs. This makes them superior to other beings).
  • The unswerving loyalty to their leader, and the God-like status their Emperor is given by them.
  • The Terminator Cross (Crux Terminatus), a distinction given to the greatest veterans and heroes of the Space Marines, is similar in shape to the German Iron Cross (though the Iron Cross pre-dates Nazi Germany).

Crux Terminatus: [1] (

Iron Cross: [2] (

  • The Imperial Guard especially contains very obvious references to the Nazis; the game rules allow the use of a 'Blitzkrieg' attack. One of the elite Imperial Guard units are called 'Stormtroopers', and this unit's logo is a lightning flash, which is obviously similar to the SS logo and the uniforms worn by Imperial officers is very similar to the garb worn by Nazi officers (espicialy those of the Armageddon line).

It is unfair to say that the Imperium is meant to ape the Nazis completely; there are also references to the Soviet Red Army (Commissar, the Vahallan line, Cadian Shock Troops etc). But as the Warhammer 40,000 universe is representative of a bleak and unenviable future (where the cost of a life is nothing in the grand scheme of things), where conflict and death are rife, it seems obvious that the game designers would draw inspiration from the very worst chapters of human history. As the games literature explains: "in times such as these we can not afford the luxury of morality"



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