Warhammer 40,000: The Empire of Man Timeline Explained

Warhammer 40,000, also known as Warhammer 40K or simply 40K, is a popular tabletop game and a rich universe with an intricate timeline. This summary barely scratches the surface of the vast lore and stories within the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

It is a bleak and brutal universe where humanity’s fight for survival takes centre stage against the backdrop of ancient evils, Xenos species, and the dangers of the Warp. Starting around 30,000 years after mankind first came out of Africa, here is a brief description of the timeline of the Empire of Man.

The Dark Age of Technology

The Dark Age of Technology is a fascinating and enigmatic period within the vast universe of Warhammer 40,000. Spanning several millennia, it represents a golden age of human civilization, characterized by incredible scientific and technological achievements.

During this era, humanity reached the pinnacle of its knowledge and power, with advancements in space travel, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering. It was a time of prosperity and progress, as humans colonized new worlds and built vast interstellar empires.

The Age of Strife

However, hubris and ambition ultimately became humanity’s downfall. The rebellion that followed the Dark Age resulted in the collapse of the united human empire and plunged the galaxy into the Age of Strife. The once-glorious achievements of the Dark Age were lost or destroyed, leaving fragments of technology scattered throughout the universe.

The Age of Strife, also known as Old Night, was one of the darkest periods in Warhammer 40,000’s history. The rebellion against humanity’s rule following the collapse of the united human empire paved the way for an era of chaos and destruction.

Warp storms isolated human worlds, cutting off communication and resources, and leading to the loss of advanced technology and scientific knowledge. Mutant, psyker, and xeno threats emerged, leading to widespread conflict and suffering. The Age of Strife serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the fragility of civilization and the dangers of chaos and ignorance.

The Great Crusade

The Great Crusade stands as a defining chapter in the expansive lore of Warhammer 40,000. Led by the Emperor of Mankind, this ambitious campaign aimed to reunite all human colonies under the banner of the Imperium of Man. With the Emperor’s genetically enhanced and revered sons, the Primarchs, commanding the mighty Space Marine Legions, the Great Crusade sought to reclaim lost colonies and eradicate threats to humanity’s survival.

The Great Crusade was marked by glorious victories and brutal wars, as the Space Marine Legions fought against xenos races, heretic factions, and warp-spawned horrors. The Imperium expanded rapidly, establishing new worlds and bringing civilizations into compliance through diplomacy or, if necessary, brutal force.

The Primarchs played a pivotal role in the Great Crusade, each embodying unique traits and leading their respective legions with unmatched skill and strategy. However, this era was not without its shadows. Seeds of corruption were sown within certain legions, as Chaos insidiously worked to undermine the Emperor’s vision.

Horus Heresy

Despite the remarkable advances driven by the Great Crusade, it eventually found itself mired in the corruption of Chaos. The tragic betrayal of Horus, the favoured Primarch, sparked the devastating Horus Heresy, tearing the Imperium apart. Brother fought brother in a fierce civil war, resulting in the fall of several legions to the forces of Chaos and a schism that would forever define the Imperium of Man.

During the Horus Heresy, the traitorous Primarch Horus launched a massive assault on Terra, seeking to overthrow the Emperor and plunge the Imperium into darkness. This siege became a gruelling conflict that shook the very foundations of the Imperial Palace, the heart of power on Terra.

The Siege of Terra

Legions of Chaos Space Marines clashed with loyalist Space Marine legions, while daemons and other twisted creatures of the Warp wreaked havoc. Epic clashes between Primarchs and their legions unfolded, with blood and sacrifice marking each step of this momentous fight.

The Emperor, recognizing the desperate stakes, strode into battle to confront Horus personally. Their monumental duel aboard Horus’s flagship witnessed a titanic struggle between light and darkness, good and evil. In the end, the Emperor emerged victorious but mortally wounded, while Horus met his demise.

The Siege of Terra vindicated the Emperor’s sacrifice and shattered Chaos’s plan for humanity’s ultimate downfall. However, its repercussions lingered, forever altering the Imperial Palace and the psyche of the Imperium. The Emperor became interred into the life-sustaining Golden Throne, a bittersweet victory that saw him become more of a symbol than a living presence.

The Imperium of Man

With the Emperor’s physical form mortally wounded but his spirit alive, he is interred within the Golden Throne, a life-sustaining device that keeps the Warp at bay. The Imperium of Man continues its existence as a theocratic regime, with its vast bureaucracy, Space Marine Chapters, Imperial Guard, and Inquisition battling countless foes, both external and internal.

Gathering Storm

This apocalyptic event began with the opening of the Great Rift, a vast tear in reality that ripped through space and time. The Imperium of Man found itself besieged on all sides as daemonic forces and Chaos legions poured forth from the Warp. Their incursions plunged countless worlds into darkness and despair.

In response, the Eldar race, sensing the impending doom, embarked on a desperate plan to resurrect their god of the dead, Ynnead. This momentous ritual brought the Eldar into direct conflict with the forces of Chaos, resulting in epic battles and the sacrifice of many Eldar warriors.

Meanwhile, the enigmatic and powerful Primarch Roboute Guilliman returned to lead the Imperium’s defence. With his arrival came a renewed sense of hope and determination, as he sought to rally loyalist forces in the face of overwhelming odds.

The Psychic Awakening

In the wake of the Great Rift’s creation, the Psychic Awakening unleashed a surge of psychic energy throughout the Imperium and beyond. This awakening had profound consequences, as psychic phenomena began to manifest with increased frequency and intensity.

The event brought about the emergence of powerful psychic characters, such as the Sisters of Battle commanders, the Silent King of the Necrons, and the psychic might of the Orks. Each faction experienced a profound transformation as latent psychic abilities were brought to the forefront.

This psychic renaissance led to clashes between rival psykers and culminated in brutal conflicts known as the “Psychic Wars.” Chaos cults flourished, seeking to exploit the newfound psychic energies, while Imperial forces struggled to contain the unleashed power.

Current Status

The 41st millennium is a grim future where the Imperium teeters on the brink of collapse. Chaos, Orks, Tyranids, Necrons, Eldar, Tau, and countless other factions fight for dominance. The Imperium struggles to maintain order while fending off these threats, all while the Emperor’s psychic presence wanes, and hope dwindles.

The rule of the Empire of Man is now handled by what could closest be described as a religious order, despite the Emperor’s galaxy-wide ban on religion.

These were the defining eras in the 10,000-year-long history leading up to the time Warhammer 40,000 took place. Well, Mankind’s part in it at least. There is still much to explore, as Warhammer 40,000 has a very rich and deep lore, but this is it for now.

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