The First Litany of Man

Meet the Backbone of the Warhammer 40K Imperium

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As recited by an Imperial Commissar, at the top of his lungs while extolling you to greater effort in a battle you can’t possibly win but must. While he sings, his enemies lay down before him like wheat, and not for the first time you wonder if he is truly Human.

As a dervish of death he immerses you in history so you don’t notice your overwhelming terror in the face of the alien scourge or that you are the last member of your squad, standing on their bodies, picking up their weapons, and slaying the enemy until you die or they do.

His shouts rally your legion, your battle brothers form up beside you, the legion condensing upon itself like a living thing, growing more solid as the enemy presses upon it.

The commissar’s voice assumes a soothing murderous rhythm. A sonnet to slay a world by.

Once, seventy millennia ago, there was a single unremarkable planet circling a tiny G-type star. Upon this tiny blue world, called Terra, there was an apex predator which had managed to survive and create the technology to escape their world. A world choked in people, in pollution, and many other kinds of problems. They left their world in tiny ships, desperate to get anywhere they might be able to start again.

A troubled species, Humans would travel to hundreds of worlds. Free of the restraint of their ancestors, they developed their worlds, exploited their technology, improved their sciences a thousand fold. Now they could moved to new worlds in decades rather than centuries. Fecund humanity filled their worlds faster, in thousands rather than ten thousand or twenty thousand years.

This exodus would happen again and again, faster each time as technology improved and new worlds open. This unremarkable species had suddenly become more remarkable than it had ever imagined. Until it bumped into another intelligent species. It doesn’t really matter who it was. Humanity, unbridled, uninhibited, reckless, would meet this enemy and treat it like so many other problems that stood before them on their conquest of the Universe.

Poor humanity. So used to being the apex predator and waging war upon itself, it never realized just how formidable the Universe could be. This new threat would set humanity back, because compared to most of the aliens in our galaxy we were simply the least sophisticated. We had been at it for a far shorter time than almost any race we encountered.

There was a learning curve. And while we learned on the front line, behind the lines of our own empire, cancer lay hidden. The Imperium’s mighty armies, forged in wars of expansion, of domination of on that most unfortunate of occasions, extermination, would turn upon each other over the centuries.

Until the mightiest of these warriors the Adeptus Astartes would expose the Imperium to the threat of Chaos.

And then the Emperor of Man would fall.

Though the Golden Throne would save Him.

The Emperor’s Power Sustained Him and Lit the Way for his Legions.

By this time, Humanity lived on millions of worlds, some of these overworked planets would house trillion of inhabitants in hive-like structures, where life was brutal and short. These hive-worlds litter the Imperium, many barely capable of sustaining their citizens.

But these worlds never runneth over with the Sons and Daughters of the Empire, for there would be enemies on every doorway at the edge of the mighty Imperium of Man.

These brave souls would man the greatest army ever created and though they be only Human, one must remember this:

Only Humans tamed their world. Matter and energy were ours to command.

Only Humans tamed their star system, filling every corner, managing every resource.

Only Humans left their star, many times in many ways until there was no corner of the sky that did not know of Humanity’s heavy boot. We perfected our art. War became the essence of what we were. Our gift to the uncaring Universe.

Only Humans created the Space Marines who are the Right Hand of the Emperor. Hallowed be these men made in the image of He Who Lights the Imperium, the Way and the Glory. To be fortunate enough to stand on the same battlefield with the Adeptes Astartes is to feel the blessing of the Emperor before thee, cold, irresistible; men who have slain tens of thousands for each single foe you have laid low.

Only Humans man the great ships which carry the Empire’s greatest warriors to their battles. These stalwarts who brave the icy cold spaces between worlds, who are the first to discover the alien, to reveal the hidden heretic, to battle the ships of long dead civilizations lost in the Warp and Weft of the Universe. Driven mad by their knowledge, looking into the underbelly of the Universe, these men are also Human.

Only Humans fill the greatest fighting force this galaxy has ever known, one whose numbers are greater than the sand on every beach on Terra. An army which travels on its belly, low to the ground. To hear the steps of my enemies, to count them, to court them. To know their screams of agony as my sanctified weapons scourge them from planets which belong to the Imperium.

Humans, no matter where they live, no matter how mean or humble their world have only one driving force burning within every breast. The urge to be free, to move, to see the stars, to serve the Imperium or die trying to escape its maw, hungry for the lifeblood of worlds to fuel its never-exhausted engine of perpetual war.

Men rain down darkening the sky like locusts. We expect aliens, except when it isn’t. Those are just heretics and they die as well as anything else. Otherwise we battle damned aliens whose minds and manner cannot be understood, whose ways can never truly be trusted. Creatures of metal, cold and dead, they resurrect themselves while we shoot their corpses. Or they could be the Green screaming terrors. Wave after wave of ’em, flow toward our line, dying so the next can get ever closer…

Each battle thirsts for thousands of lives, sometimes we give them millions.

When we are done, either a world is filled with the raucous shouts of crude men, savoring their moment of victory over an alien or a heretic, looking down at the men who moments ago may have stood beside them.

Bold Humans sneering at their potential demise, brave souls who know one day this will be their fate, scoop up their weapons, check their former allies for any resource they can scavenge from the battle. They’re with the Emperor now, they’d understand. They know war is always coming and they will never be ready enough. They laugh on their way to their next battle.

Or they don’t shout at all. The alien, the heretic, the creature of cold Chaos skitters away into the darkness, drawing one world closer to the heart of the Imperium.

How could anyone live in this Universe? How could anything want to?

By dragging anything stupid enough to get in front of the dreaded machine that is Humanity’s into Hell itself. Praise be his Name!

How can we be here? Who else could do it. How are we doing? We’re doing just fine, thanks for askin’.

Only Humans built the fucking Imperium of Man, a bulwark hundreds of millions of worlds wide, protecting the only thing that matters. Praise be to the Emperor. We die in his name.

The Imperium of Man from a Human Perspective

Humans in the Imperium of Man do not possess any significant difference from modern humans outside of environmental variances based on worlds they may inhabit, lifestyles and cultures on the worlds of the Imperium. Heavy worlders will be stronger and shorter, light-worlders are weak and better left to serve in the Imperial Navy.

  • There are two major differences between Humans in the Imperium and modern humans. The first is their potential for prodigious psychic ability. If caught early and properly trained, the psyckers in the Imperium are capable of incredible feats of psychic ability. The greatest and unparalleled example of that psychic potential is the Emperor of Mankind.
  • The second and more important is the advanced technological capabilities of the Imperium. Entire Forge Worlds are dedicated to the Imperial war effort. It is the cornerstone of the Imperium of Man and the primary reason Humanity has not already been extinguished in the Imperius Dominatus and the threats that assail it from all sides and even from within.
  • It is the highly regulated, highly structured Imperial order which keeps the Imperium able to grind out new weapons, technologies and maintain order in this fractious galaxy. At the top of that hiearchy is the Emperor. At the bottom lies the footsoldiers of the Imperium, the Imperial Guardsman.

The Imperium of Man has tens of quadrillions of citizens scattered across millions of worlds in the Empire. Each fighting arm of the Imperium’s vast armies recruits for its soldiers differently.

Imperial Guard

Despite the fame of the Imperial Space Marines, the bulk of the fighting done in the Imperium is done by the Imperial Guard.

  • The Imperial Guard is the primary defense against many of the enemies of the Imperium. While they are still baseline humans, they are fitted with a variety of mechanized equipment, tanks, and energy weapons that are easy to reproduce on nearly any world.
  • Their mechanized might is augmented by cybernetic prosthetics, relic weapons, and social control agents called Commissars. These fierce warriors recite the Litanies of the Empire, promoting and extolling each member of the Guard to greater effort.
  • In the face of overwhelming enemy and alien threats. Commissars can and do kill members of a squadron to drive others toward greater valor.
  • Imperial Guardsman are most often recruited from Hiveworlds. These are worlds where billions of inhabitants are squeezed into hive complexes of varying qualities of social management.
  • Most hiveworlds are dangerous, others are downright lethal, where the members struggle for their very survival. It is from those worlds, most of the Imperial Guard are chosen. Their training will vary from world to world, but all of the members of the Guard were chosen for their ruthlessness and fearlessness. Only the most brutal will become leaders of this army of cut-throat warriors.

The Imperial Navy

Worlds where the population may be more intellectually inclined are used to staff the millions of ships of the Imperial Navy who are lead by senior Space Marines.

The Imperial Navy is one of the armed forces of the Imperium of Man. While the Imperial Guard represents the Imperium’s ground forces, the Imperial Navy is responsible for the fleets of starships that maintain order between the stars and planets in the Imperium, for all space and air support provided to the infantry of the Imperial Guard, and for transporting those Guardsmen across the galaxy to the Imperium’s myriad warzones. The battlefleets of the Imperial Navy are constantly engaging threats both inside and outside the Imperium’s borders.

  • The Imperial Navy protects the worlds of the Imperium, destroys enemy fleets and is capable of providing the most heinous of services to the Empire, Exterminatus, the destruction of entire worlds lost to psychic corruption, alien infestation or the forces of Chaos.

Imperial Space Marines

Also know as the Adeptus Astartes are most often chosen from particular worlds where only the fiercest of humanity can be found. These recruiting worlds often have warrior cultures where Darwinistic training is used to winnow out the best humans that world has to offer.

  • Space Marines Chapters will then hold contests where hundreds of warriors are chosen to battle until only a few or one remains. That one is chosen for the potential honor of being implanted with specialized materials called “gene seeds” that will herald their transformation into the eight foot tall super-soldiers of the Imperium.
  • Would-be Space Marines start their careers as Scouts and prove their mettle supporting and providing reconnaissance for Space Marine groups. If they live long enough or establish themselves in battle, they will be fitted for a career as fully armored Space Marines.
  • They are then given a variety of organ implants that will give them the incredible resilience, damage resistance, enhanced senses and superhuman strength required to use the Space Marine equipment. Only the best of the very best will eventually be fitted for the most powerful of armor systems called Terminator armor.

The Inquisition (Ordo Malleus, Ordo Xenos, Ordo Hereticus)

These may be the only humans who are potentially different from baseline humans as we recognize them. They possess psychic abilities that are genetically passed down certain lines of humans.

  • These psychic powers are of controversy in the Imperium because alien forces can use the untrained psychic as a means to take over a civilization by allowing forces from a shadow universe to corrupt the population.
  • As a result, the Imperium does not allow untrained psychics in its populations. Those psychics whose abilities cannot be harnessed are taken to Earth and fed to the Emperor of Man as psychic sustenance. Thousands of psychics a day must be found so there is a constant search for untrained psychics.
  • Psychics with the fortitude and ability for training become members of the Ordo Malleus and their powers are harnessed for the protection of the Imperium from its many threats, internal and external.
  • Inquisitors, the agents of the empire who are known to investigate issues of corruption, psychic infestation or potential alien conquest come from these ranks. Despite their control of their prodigious intellect and psychic ability agents of the Inquisition are some of the Imperium’s most feared operatives.
  • The Ordo Malleus are demonhunters who seek out demonic position, sites of demonic incursion and engage demonic legions. The Ordo Xenos seeks out, catalogs and destroys potential alien incursion into Empire territories and Ordo Hereticus ferrets out treason, mutation and heresy in the Imperium.


Since the Imperium of Man has thousands of trillions of humans on its millions of worlds, spanning an entire galaxy, it is always able to find and conscript potential members for its various armed forces.

  • Because of the nature of many of the worlds in the Imperium, many welcome a death as a member of the Imperial Guard, simply because it sets them apart from the billions of faceless members of their worlds.
  • Others despise the Imperium and resent their conscription. If they are not careful or speak heresy against the Empire, they are summarily executed. The Imperium is constantly recruiting and conscripting members for these forces because of its xenophobic, militaristic, fascist and despotic rule.

With the forces arrayed against the Imperium, the enigmatic Eldar, the ever-expanding Orcs, the threat of the deathless Necron, the extra-galactic threat of the Tyranids and the constant assault of the forces of Chaos and the powers of the Chaos Marines, the Imperium of Man, literally a machine grinding out weapons, tools, ships and armies, weathers the alien assault but it does so at a fantastic cost in terms of manpower, technology and social order. To call it a hostile universe would be an understatement.

Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon.

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