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Warhammer 40k Lore, Part 1: The God-Emperor of Mankind

Warhammer 40k has forever changed the face of wargaming and tabletop gaming in general. Over the course of 34 years, the game has built up an immense and loyal following. Games Workshop, the proverbial progenitors of this amazing hobby, has continued to add more and more to the game. Now, there are countless ways to build an army, dozens upon dozens of books published about the lore, and multitudes upon multitudes of players who make sure to keep themselves updated about every new release.

One aspect without which the game would not be the same is its rich and expansive lore. Some players are attracted by the aspect of painting and creating their own armies, others by the challenging mechanics and strategies, and many by the meticulously crafted lore.

As homage to the game, this article will start at the beginning: the God-Emperor of Mankind. The canon may or may have not changed since this article was written, and there may be spoilers in this article that you want to avoid.

Who and What is the Emperor?

The origin stories of the God-Emperor of Mankind have changed over the years, but the current canon refers to him as the New Man, the first and most extraordinary member of the next step in human evolution. He was also born of a mutated branch of humanity known as the Perpetuals, who have unbelievable regenerative capabilities. 

As the reincarnation of the extinct shamans, sorcerers, and wise men who guided humanity in their prehistory, He attained godlike power even before He united Terra at the end of the Age of Strife in the 30th Millennium. His great power, wisdom, and knowledge are the culmination of thousands of reincarnations and generations of knowledge recalled and collected in one single, powerful being. 

The God-Emperor Himself.

An account in the fiction of the 40k universe states that He was born in 8000 BCE, during the early days of humanity in the Neolithic era. As a boy, His powers manifested as He was readying His father’s body for funeral rites. He received a vision that His uncle had murdered His father, after which He stopped His uncle’s heart with his mind—with neither guilt nor pride in the act. 

Thus did He decide that mankind needed law, order, and a ruler to realize its potential. It is theorized that He founded an early human civilization, a city-state under Mesopotamia.

He guided humankind through the millennia, present in various incarnations important to the history of humanity. The Emperor strove for peace and harmony on Earth in every lifetime and form. He would steer the path of humankind into survival again and again throughout history through his great knowledge and prowess.

The Chaos Gods in the Warp

He discovered the existence of these dark gods by traveling to the Knight World of Molech, where He and His companions discovered a Warp Gate to the Realm of Chaos. It was here that he discovered that they were feeding and growing more powerful because of the dark side of human nature and humanity’s growing psychic abilities as a race.

He was no Emperor yet, but he made a deal with these gods, the terms of which remain unknown. What is known is that He emerged with even greater powers and knowledge than before; it was this deal that likely forged His path to becoming the God-Emperor of Mankind, and that brought the creation of His beloved Primarchs, twenty genetically engineered immortal “sons” of the Emperor. 

Nine of the twenty Primarchs.

Second to Him alone in strength, size, and speed, the Primarchs each represented an aspect of war and were meant to command His great armies and unite them under His rule. Crafted from his own being, the Primarchs were immune to disease, old age, and (supposedly) the weaknesses of lesser humans. He intended for his sons to spread the Imperial Truth to the galaxy, which is the name for the ideologies upon which the Imperium of Man was built. 

Despite forging a deal with these Chaos Gods, He is said to represent and is the greatest embodiment of order in the galaxy. Even then, they recognized Him as “The Anathema,” the greatest enemy of Chaos in the galaxy. 

It was after His return from the warp that He fought and conquered the warring factions of humanity after the Age of Strife, feeling great remorse at the millions of innocent lives violently lost and sacrificed for what He believed was the greater good.

After His successful conquest of Old Earth, the Mechanicum on Mars submitted to the rule of the Emperor’s burgeoning empire in what was known as the Treaty of Mars. Thus was founded the Imperium of Man—through blood, conquest, and, finally, diplomacy.  

The Imperium of Man

The Imperium of Man allowed humanity to become one of the most powerful sentient races in the galaxy, fighting off invasions, the dark forces of Chaos, and many other enemies of humanity. He and His followers have forged an empire from violence and endless war—one bent on bringing the Milky Way Galaxy to order.

The first Space Marines were created right after the founding of the Imperium of Man—twenty legions fashioned from the genetic makeup of each of His Primarchs. Alongside their creation was the construction of an interstellar starship armada to carry them across space and bring order to the galaxy in the spirit of the Great Crusade.

It was also through His incredible powers that humankind retains the ability to travel faster than light through the warp. The sheer power of His mind drives and empowers the Astronomican, which makes warp travel and communication possible—the very fabric of humanity’s success in the 40th millennium. 

Upon the Golden Throne

The Emperor upon the Golden Throne

At the present time, the Emperor of Mankind has officially been non-responsive for 10,000 years, after having been mortally wounded in the betrayal of his own son—a plot referred to as the Horus Heresy. He is currently seated on and sustained by the Golden Throne on Terra; however, even then, his body has begun to decay. To keep His powers over the Astronomican active, thousands of living psykers are recruited and die to maintain the functions of the Golden Throne—a sacrifice that is seen as a duty for those born with psychic abilities.

While He has not responded in centuries, His rule has been upheld by his loyal followers in the Imperium of Man. And though he wanted to free humanity from the shackles of religion and superstition, he has been worshipped by most humans for thousands of years as a god, both in life and whatever life He lives upon the Golden Throne. 

Conclusion

The Emperor of Man is by far one of the most interesting characters in the lore of Warhammer 40k. It is around His rule that much of the conflict centers in the main canon. There are many more stories surrounding the God-Emperor; some of these remain canon, and others might have been set aside in later editions. Though His life is shrouded in mystery and can change with each new version of the game, there is no denying that He is one of the most important figures in the hobby.

For more lore about Warhammer 40k, stay tuned to our blog for upcoming posts in our Warhammer 40k lore series. After all, the Dragonforge is not just the premier hobby shop in the Philippines. We’re also a bunch of geeks who like talking and writing about geek stuff. And if you’re interested in building a Warhammer 40k army but don’t know where to start, make sure to check out our shop and give us a message. We gladly help fledglings interested in the hobby.