Imperium (Warhammer 40,000): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Imperium of Man
Seal of The Emperor and the Imperium of Man
Form of government Dictatorship (Theocratic Oligarchy)
Official language Low/ Imperial Gothic, High Gothic, Lingua Technis
Capital Holy Terra (Earth)
Head of state The God-Emperor of Mankind
Established 30,000 A.D.
Governing body High Lords of Terra
Population Unknown but vast, likely quadrillions
Military forces
Imperial Guard

The Holy Fleet (Imperial Navy)
Adeptus Astartes
Titan Legions

Planetary Defense Forces
Adeptus Custodes

(Including Grey Knights, Deathwatch, and Adepta Sororitas)

Adeptus Arbites

The Imperium of Man (Latin: Imperium Hominis) is a fictional galactic empire of over a million planets that contains the vast majority of humans in the forty-first millennium, set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe created by Games Workshop. In the fiction, the Imperium is depicted as a loose confederation, nominally consisting of all human-inhabited worlds in explored space and united through a common imposed religious conviction, extreme xenophobia and militarism, brutal despotic rule and threat of massive disciplinary force. The founder of the Imperium, an enigmatic and mysterious persona known only as the 'Emperor of Mankind' is in theory the supreme ruler of this galaxy-spanning empire - in practice a supreme council known as the High Lords based on Terra (Earth in the 41st millennium A.D.) has ruled for ten millennia under his name.

Due to the nature of communication in the fiction (telepathic contact at superluminal speed between gifted individuals via an alternate dimension) and the numerically and spatially vast size of the Imperium, the High Lords cannot maintain any sort of detailed control of individual planets, or even star systems. Instead, such control is maintained by a series of planetary overlords known as "Imperial Commanders" or "Planetary Governors" who typically gain their positions by familial succession in the manner of feudal governments, though some planets are known to elect their own governors when the old one dies or abdicates the position. Similarly, most Governors are depicted as being sole dictators to their populace, though some are depicted as being bound by a constitution, parliament, or other democratic instrument.


The Imperium in the 41st millennium

In the 41st millennium,[1] the Imperium is nominally ruled by the "most beneficent Emperor of Mankind". However, since his ascension to the Golden Throne following his confrontation with Warmaster Horus, the duties of actually ruling the Imperium are carried out by the Senatorum Imperialis, the twelve High Lords of Terra. Those include the Fabricator General of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Master of the Administratum, the Eccleisiarch of the Ministorum, an Inquistorial Representative, the Grand Provost Marshall of the Arbites, the Paternoval Envoy of the Navigator Houses (Navis Nobilitae), the Master of the Astronomicon, the Grand Master of the Officio Assassinorum and the Master of the Astra Telepathicus. A further three seats are varyingly filled by the leaders of seven other Imperial organizations.

The immense number of worlds under current imperial control display a huge variety of conditions and ecosystems. Many worlds are huge, polluted,and very urban ecumenopoleis, housing the vast bulk of humanity, that are completely reliant on external support to sustain their huge populations. Forge worlds housing continent spanning factories sating the inexhaustible demand for arms and war machinery exist in every sector of the galaxy. Fortress worlds, like those of the Cadian System act as bases and staging areas for the Imperium's military forces. Many worlds’ surfaces have been completely given over to the production of crops and agriculture in order to feed humanity's teeming trillions, while other planets have been completely strip mined for raw materials.

Other worlds cut off from normal interstellar traffic through war, warp storms or other means have been isolated from most of humanity for decades or even centuries, the general populace ignorant of the Imperium's existence, their technology base slowly deteriorating until their society resembles that of pre-technological Earth. Feudal civilizations develop, with visiting Imperial Administration officials or cartographers being considered gods by the primitive locals, due to the decade, even century gap between their visits.

The challenges for any human government controlling an empire 100,000 light years across has led to the development of an extremely brutal totalitarian theocracy. The sheer size of the Imperium means no meaningful existence can be applied to the majority of humans, prime Imperial concern is the survival of the species' tenuous hold on the majority of habitable planets in the galaxy, so individual freedom and liberty are of no concern as the Imperium constantly wages war against the numerous alien enemies humanity has made during its aggressive colonization of the stars over the last 40 millennia. Life is seen as cheap and plentiful, so the existence of the Imperium is largely concerned with the vast numbers of troops and material they have at their disposal. As the Imperium's Vindicare Temple motto puts it, "Exitus acta probat" - the outcome justifies the deed: the Imperium's self-preservation, as a collective entity, is its only concern.

Despite the overall dystopian theme of the Imperium, humanity enjoys a high technology base, a brutalized and battle-ready society of trillions, the largest military force the galaxy has ever witnessed, and a xenophobic stubbornness that has allowed the Imperium to stand for over 10,000 years.

The Emperor of Mankind

The Emperor was born in the form of an ordinary man on Earth in the region known as Anatolia, roughly in 10,000BC. Possessing incredible intellect, psychic power and physical strength, he is regarded as god-like, easily the most powerful human (and perhaps being) the galaxy has ever seen. The Emperor is depicted as having finally revealed himself in full in the 29th millennium to pull humanity from a dark age, teaching them how to harness technology and travel the stars again, while creating the Space Marines with his own genetic material.

By the time of the Warhammer 40,000 universe's 'current' setting in the late 41st millennium, the Emperor's original goals, intentions and lifetime have long passed into legend, and he is worshipped as a god by the vast majority of humanity. The Emperor's considerable mind and psychic presence is considered to have all but divorced itself from his body, instead fighting an endless battle with the daemons of Chaos in the psychic realm of 'the Warp', while protecting humanity through visions, miraculous intervention and a form of divination known as the 'Imperial Tarot'. The Golden Throne also serves to harness his psychic power to project a constant psychic signal known as the 'Astronomican' across the galaxy, which enables human ships to be able to navigate through the dangerous alternate dimension of the Warp for faster than light travel.


In some early literature for Warhammer 40,000 there was mention made of humans called Sensei that showed great physical power, psychic ability, morality, and all the other makings of great champions who could lead humanity to victory against Chaos. The source of their power was supposed to have come from being a direct descendent of the Emperor. There has been no mention of the Sensei in new books from the series for some time.

The Adeptus Terra

The Adeptus Terra, the great heart of Earth, is the central governing organization of the Imperium. It is an enormous and bureaucratic organization whose scriptoria, continent-sized archives and pilgrimage sites occupy nearly all of the hiveworld of Terra that is not taken up by the Sanctum Imperialis, the Emperor's vast throne room, which itself takes up the better part of the northern hemisphere. The Adeptus Terra seems to be largely synonymous with its largest component organization, the Administratum. The Adeptus Terra is so immense, and operates so slowly, that whole departments of it still service agencies which no longer exist and worlds dead for thousands of years.

The Administratum

The Adeptus Terra's main bureaucratic body and largest division is the Adeptus Administratum. This organization's purpose is the administration of the Imperium at all levels, its tasks including the assessment of planetary tithes: the goods, war materials and Guard regiments each Imperial world is regularly required to provide for the Imperium. It is a vast organization involving the efforts of countless billions of adepts, who for the most part are hereditary slave workers, bureaucratic officials and petty scribes. The estimate that ten billion adepts are involved in the mere administration of the Imperial Palace gives some idea of the Administratum's massive size. Of all the organizations of the Imperium, the Administratum is considered the least prestigious, but its highest ranking members are among the most powerful men in the Imperium. The Administratum is based in the Imperial Palace on Terra but its adepts are found throughout the Imperium.

The Ecclesiarchy

The Adeptus Ministorum, or Ecclesiarchy, is ruled by the Ecclesiarch, and is the official church of the Imperium, preaching the Divine Teachings of the Emperor which maintains that the Emperor is Humanity's saviour and god. Responsible for maintaining morale, securing allegiance, encouraging devotion, and ensuring spiritual purity among the populace of the Imperium, it sends missionaries and warrior priestesses throughout the galaxy to enforce their fanatical devotion to their beliefs.

The Departmento Munitorum

The Departmento Munitorum is the central command of the Imperial war machine, organizing the logistics of planetary 'tithes', troop movements and troop deployment. The Departmento is one of the many departments of the Administratum, but is far more decentralized than the other divisions of the Adeptus Terra, establishing a presence on any world with a significant tithe-grade. Distress calls from an invaded world are processed by the Munitorum, and will be passed up the ladder of system-subsector-sector-Segmentum-Imperium HQ until a division with enough reach can raise the armies needed from neighboring systems and respond. Thus, the harder a foe strikes at the Imperium the greater the retribution will be.

Due to the vast distances of space, combined with the internal bureaucracy of the Departmento Munitorum, decision making tends to be very slow, and calls for help may not be acted on for years or even centuries. It is not uncommon for war fleets to arrive at warzones to discover that the war they were dispatched to fight is long since over.

The Adeptus Mechanicus

Known as the Tech-Priests of Mars, the Adeptus Mechanicus is based on the ancient factory world of Mars, and are a quasi-independent organisation and an empire unto themselves (they control all forge-worlds and manufactoring bases in the Imperium), with their own armed forces and institutional culture. These 'engineers' and 'technicians' of the Imperium create most of the Imperium's more advanced machinery and weaponry, among other things, despite the fact that their understanding of the technology they use is limited at best - most of their procedure is based on ritual and religious dogma rather than genuine engineering or mechanical skill (though there are exceptions). Their extremely conservative beliefs regarding the advancement of human technology coupled with their stranglehold on the Imperium's manufacturing capabilities and knowledge has ensured that humanity's technological advancement has mostly stagnated and even degraded for over 10,000 years.

The Collegia Titanica (sometimes simply known as the Titan Legions) is an organisation within the Adeptus Mechanicus specifically mentioned as being charged with building and maintaining the greatest war machines of the Imperium - the Titans. These massive mechanical walkers, most millennia old, are used in the vast apocalyptic conflicts that are commonplace in the fiction's lore. Titans are usually supported by the Adeptus Mechanicus' own Skitarii (or Tech-Guard), who are the mainline military arm of the Adeptus Mechanicus (roughly equivalent to cyborg Imperial Guard Legions).

The Inquisition

Independent of the rest of the Adeptus Terra are the Orders of the Emperor's Inquisition. Its jurisdiction is all-encompassing, its agents responsible for uncovering and dealing with any potential threat to the Imperium, often using the most extreme measures imaginable.

Each Inquisitor bears a seal that grants him the right to command any citizen or resource within the Imperium to the end of carrying out his duties, from individuals or single vessels, all the way up to entire Imperial Guard regiments or Imperial Navy fleets in times of dire danger.

I carry with me an Inquisitorial seal. It is a small, unassuming object contained in a neat box of Pluvian Obsidian. It is a modest thing. Relatively plain, adorned with a single motif and simple motto. Yet with this little object I can sign the death warrant of an entire world and consign a billion souls to oblivion.

—Inquisitor Thraviam Flast of the Ordo Malleus (Chambers et al., 2003)

Alternately, the Inquisitorial seal may be carried in the form of an electronic tattoo, or electoo, generally implanted in the Inquisitor's right palm, as Amberley Vail's was in For the Emperor.

Officio Assassinorum

An inconspicuous, highly secretive, but vital part of the Imperial machinery of war, the Officio Assassinorum trains and deploys assassins all over the galaxy, to seek out and exterminate dangerous individuals. Each assassin is the product of lifelong training at one of the Assassinorum Temples, each Temple specializing in a particular facet of the art of death-dealing, each incredibly effective at their vocation. So highly skilled are these individuals that it is taken that the dispatch of a single assassin by the Officio will mean certain death to whomever (or whatever) the target may be.

The Imperial Commanders

In addition to the Adeptus Terra and the militaries, the High Lords also command the Segmentum Commanders, who each oversee one of the five galactic regions known as the Segmentae Majoris: Segmentum Solar, Segmentum Pacificus, Segmentum Obscurus, Segmentum Tempestus and Ultima Segmentum. Each Segmentum Commander oversees his sector Commanders, who in turn oversee subsector Commanders, who oversee Imperial Commanders, also known as planetary governors. The higher ranks in this system are usually combined with a basic planetary governorship as well as interplanetary duties. This system is the means by which the Imperium maintains control of the separate planets that make it up.

Forces of the Imperium

In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Imperium represents Mankind's only hope for survival in a grim, merciless future set in the forty-first millennium. The Imperium is surrounded by alien species, and is also under continual attack by the forces of Chaos and by extragalactic species such as the Tyranids.

The Imperium's defense forces consist of the:

  • Imperial Guard
  • The Holy Fleet (Imperial Navy)
  • Adeptus Astartes (Space Marines)
  • Adeptus Custodes (Emperor's personal bodyguard and guardians of the continent-spanning Imperial Palace on Terra)
  • Adeptus Arbites (the police force of the Imperium)
  • Adepta Sororitas (female warriors belonging to the Ecclesiarchy)
  • The Inquisition
  • Adeptus Titanicus (the Titan Legions; giant doom robots created by the Adeptus Mechanicus)
  • Adeptus Mechanicus (the engineering obsessed lords of Mars that oversee the Imperium's technology)
  • Officio Assassinorium (the Imperial Assassins)
  • Various other specialized organizations

In addition, every populated world in the Imperium is required to possess its own government military forces for the planet's own defence. Individual Planetary Defence Forces vary widely from planet to planet, even more so than Imperial Guard regiments, because they adhere far more to the culture and traditions of their homeworld. Some are of the lowest quality, whilst others are better trained and equipped than most regiments in the Imperial Guard (such as the PDF of Cadia). The Imperium has many other organizations than just those listed here that are highly specialized. These groups are rarely seen or heard of except in background and when they are mentioned they are presented as forces to be reckoned with.

Language in the Imperium

In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man contains many languages. High Gothic is the official language while Low Gothic is used to describe the many local variations of High Gothic. In the literature Low Gothic is often represented with English, and High Gothic with Latin, although these are only representations as the languages used so far in the future would be vastly different from anything used today. Lingua Technis is a specialized variant of High Gothic used by the Adeptus Mechanicus, sometimes also called "tech cant" by those not initiated into the Adeptus Mechanicus itself but who have cause to be exposed to it on a regular basis.

High Gothic

High Gothic is the official language of the The Imperium of Man. Its origins lie with the languages of Terra, and was the dominant language used by the population of Earth before the Emperor united the tribes of Earth under one banner and began the Great Crusade. The language is considered a "higher class" language, mostly used by highly educated members of the Imperium. As such, it was chosen to be utilized as the common language of the Imperium, and was asserted upon the reconquered cultures during the crusade. High Gothic is utilized as a classical tongue within the Imperium, and is used during rituals and such like. Only highly educated members of the Imperium would ever use the language, and then only when the circumstances dictate.

Though Latin is used to represent High Gothic in the official fiction published by Black Library it has been stated by high ranked Games Workshop officials that this is not the actual language, and is instead used to simulate what High Gothic would sound like to a Low Gothic speaker.

Low Gothic

Low Gothic is the language used by the all of the populace of the Imperium of Man. It is not really one language, but is instead a generalized "catch-all" term for any of the hundreds of debased, corrupted, or specialized local variants of the Imperium's standard linguistic form High Gothic. Literally billions of daughter tongues, dialects, and cultural variants exist.

Cultural Variants come into existence when a population, or section of a population is isolated from the main Imperial culture for a prolonged period of time. Words are twisted or re-purposed to better describe the conditions they must deal with. One of the classic examples is the Low Gothic Trade Tongue of Catachan which has 52 different words for green including 'Sinople' which literally and in use means both red and green at the same time.

Dialects can mostly be attributed to simple expedience. To properly say something in High Gothic can take a very long time if the subject is complicated or at all ambiguous as the language is designed to be exceedingly exacting and precise. Most dialects attempt to speed up conversation by paring down excessive verbiage. This does however make the language less clear and exact, which is why High Gothic is preferred for diplomacy and administration.

Trade Cants

Trade Cants are derivatives specialized forms of Low Gothic tooled to efficient use for one specific topic of industry, such as farming, machine work, fishing or war. This is perhaps the most prevalent category as many Imperial planets are 'designed' and administered to use one narrow field of effort. (See also: Forge world, Agri world.) The so called "Combat Cants" of the Imperial Guard are based more closely on High Gothic than most of these variants. In some cases however this can become rapid, clipped 'hoc-com' Languages for one or more regiments after they are retired from duty as active wartime cyphers.


While technically a separate language, Proto-Gothic is in many places used as nothing more than yet another variant of Low Gothic. Proto-Gothic is the original language from which High Gothic was derived. Represented in the fiction by Old English, it is a holdover from an earlier era of civilization. Found on backwards worlds and sometimes among the most extremely erudite of the Emperor's followers, this archaic tongue has been all but erased by its advanced, refined successor High Gothic.

Lingua Technis

Lingua Technis is an obscure language used by the Adeptus Mechanicus. It is currently only used by the Adeptus Mechanicus for scientific work, but it was the norm among the worlds of the Imperium during the Dark Age of Technology . It was derived from English, European, and Pacific languages spoken during the Dark Age of Technology. In the novel Dark Adeptus (Counter, 2006), the language is however described as a series of zeros and ones with a metallic edge to it, and is primarily used to command servitors. This gives it a close resemblance to binary coding, and as such it has become the "programming language" of the Imperium. It is used within the logic engines and machine spirits of the Imperium's technology as the higher processing language, and as such is used for inter-communication between machines, and machines and tech-adept.

Some writings in the Black Library also suggest that there are multiple dialects of Lingua Technis or other machine languages in use by the Adeptus Mechanicus. For example, in Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn trilogy, savant Uber Aemos attempts to decipher an Adeptus Mechanicus transmission dump and speculates upon it being a member of the Mechanilingua family of languages or 'one of the Servitorware' scripts.

Background to the Imperium in other Science Fiction

The dystopian Imperium has been compared with other fictional empires. Its rigid social system is somewhat similar to the strictly feudal Empire found in Frank Herbert's Dune. It also closely resembles Isaac Asimov's Galactic Empire in the Foundation series, with millions of star systems only loosely connected with the governing center, where technology is becoming a myth rather than a science, with extreme persecution of those questioning the morality or validity of the endless conflicts and divine rule of the Emperor.

A number of institutions and policies of the Imperium reflect the influence of seminal British SF comic 2000 AD; the "Arbitrators" of the Adeptus Arbites, as heavily armed law enforcers, have a similar role to the Judges in Judge Dredd (and indeed resemble them in some artwork), whilst the nature of the Imperium as a theocratic, human-centered society, revering Earth and despising aliens and those who traffic with them and kept in line by a secretive and paranoid Inquisition, is highly reminiscent of the empire of Termight (or "Mighty Terra") in Nemesis the Warlock. Games Workshop and 2000 AD have, in fact, had a long association, with 2000 AD writers John Wagner, Alan Grant, Gordon Rennie and especially Dan Abnett writing fiction for Games Workshop and the Black Library over the years.


  1. ^ In Games Workshop published materials, the Imperium denotes years by the notation <year of millennium>.M<millennium>. For example, the year 40,999 would be 999.M41, while 41,002 would be 002.M42; however, 41,000 would be 000.M41, since the millennium starts on 001.M##.
  • The Emperor of Mankind of Warhammer 40,000 universe resembles the King-Emperor Huon of Granbretan and the life-sustaining Throne Globe in Michael Moorcock's Dorian Hawkmoon Dorian Hawkmoon novels.


  • Warhammer 40,000. Glen Burnie, MD: Games Workshop, 2004.
  • Chambers, Andy, Haines, Pete, and Hoare, Andy (2003). Warhammer 40,000 Codex: Imperial Guard, 4th Edition, Nottingham: Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-410-8.
  • Counter, Ben (2006). Dark Adeptus. Nottingham: Black Library. ISBN 1-84416-242-7. 
  • Abnett, Dan (2004). Eisenhorn. Nottingham: Black Library. ISBN 1-84416-156-0. 

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address