"They shall be my finest warriors, these men who give of themselves to me. Like clay I shall mould them, and in the furnace of war forge them. They will be of iron will and steely muscle. In great armour shall I clad them and with the mightiest guns will they be armed. They will be untouched by plague or disease, no sickness will blight them. They will have tactics, strategies and machines so that no foe can best them in battle. They are my bulwark against the Terror. They are the Defenders of Humanity. They are my Space Marines and they shall know no fear."
- – The Emperor of Mankind on the creation of the Adeptus Astartes
After he conquered Terra, the Emperor of Mankind set out on a Great Crusade to re-unite the lost human colonies into a mighty Imperium. He soon realized that bog-standard humans wouldn't be enough; some situations called for a small number of devastatingly powerful warriors, a surgical strike force to smash enemy linchpins. To fill this role, he created his Primarchs, and from their genes, he created the Legiones Astartes, the twenty Space Marine Legions, in an event retroactively named the First Founding.
|Legion Number||Primarch||Homeworld||Legion Name||Allegiance|
|I||Lion El'Jonson||Caliban||Dark Angels||ABSOLUTELY LOYAL, AND HAVE TOTALLY NEVER BEEN TRAITORS AT ANY POINT. PLEASE FOLLOW ME DOWN THIS ENTIRELY SAFE AND UNSUSPICIOUS DARK ALLEY SO THAT I MAY EDUCATE YOU ON THE TOTALLY CLEAN AND LOYALIST HISTORY OF THE DARK ANGELS!|
|III||Fulgrim||Chemos||Emperor's Children||Absolutely FABULOUS traitor|
|IV||Perturabo||Olympia||Iron Warriors||Super grumpy Traitor|
|V||Jaghatai Khan||Chogoris/Mundus Planus||White Scars||Speedy, laughing Loyal|
|VI||Leman Russ||Fenris||Space Wolves||Who's a Loyal Boy? Is it you? Is it you? ruff ruff yiff|
|VII||Rogal Dorn||Terra, Inwit||Imperial Fists|| MEGA |
|VIII||Konrad Curze||Nostramo||Night Lords||Spooky traitor (dead)|
|IX||Sanguinius||Baal||Blood Angels||Loyal and fabulously DEEAADD!!!|
|X||Ferrus Manus||Medusa||Iron Hands||Loyal (also DEAD)|
|XII||Angron||Nuceria, Bodt||World Eaters||RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGE!!!! (traitor)|
|XIII||Roboute Guilliman||Macragge||Ultramarines||SUPER DUPER Loyal. DEFINITELY never made another Imperium. Nope. Never. No chance.|
|XIV||Mortarion||Barbarus||Death Guard||Icky traitor|
|XV||Magnus the Red||Prospero||Thousand Sons|| |
|XVI||Horus Lupercal||Cthonia||Luna Wolves/Sons of Horus||UBER Traitor (and also UBER dead)|
|XVII||Lorgar Aurelian||Colchis||Word Bearers||The first Traitors|
|XVIII||Vulkan||Nocturne||Salamanders||Loyal (and with a slightly weird fire fetish)|
|XIX||Corvus Corax||Deliverance||Raven Guard||Sneaky beaky loyal|
|XX||Alpharius Omegon||Unknown||Alpha Legion||It's complicated; even they might not know at this point, but according to the Imperium at large, Traitor.|
The Legio Astartes, being far larger than current Space Marine Chapters, were organized along drastically different lines. At the head of the Legion was its Primarch Commander who oversaw the Legion's headquarters. Prior to reuniting with their Primarch, this position was filled by the Legion Master, the most senior Space Marine in the Legion. Below this were the Chapters of the Legion, each of which was commanded by a Lord Commander. Each Chapter in turn was divided into a number of Battalions led by a Lieutenant Commander. Each battalion was then further divided into Companies led by a Captain. The Company, itself divided into a number of Squads, was the basic military division of the Legio Astartes. Due to the varying sizes of each Legion and the varying nature of supply and attrition, there was no fixed number of how many Chapters, Battalions, Companies, and Squads a Legion would contain. But even then, there was no fixed institution that a particular Company should be composed of certain units, with each Company specialising naturally as marines and officers became veterans of a certain form of warfare.
Number of Legionaries
The Legions were massive armies, and the size of each could vary tremendously. A precise number was never truly achieved and maintained. Even during the Great Crusade, some Legions were very numerous, while others were not. The numbers would always vary with new recruits and inevitable battle-losses, and also important was the availability of potential recruits and the administrative skills of the Primarch and his officers.
However the closest thing to a 'standard' legion is what the Emperor started with which was 10 chapters to a legion, 2 battalions to a chapter, five companies to a battalion and 100 marines to a company. Theoretical nominal strength: 10,000.
The most numerous Legion of all was the Ultramarines. The Thousand Sons of Magnus were of a small number as many of them had developed mutations or uncontrollable levels of psychic powers. Fulgrim's samples had been largely lost, and this left the Legion of the Emperor's Children also with a very small number. Both of these Legions would increase their numbers to acceptable standards only after their Primarchs were found. The Dark Angels, being the first Legion, were originally the largest one but their numbers declined significantly during the Rangdan Xenocides. The Iron Warriors were also quite numerous for a while, but Perturabo's unique view on what qualified as acceptable losses changes that in time.
The approximate sizes of a few of the Legions at the start of the Heresy have been given in various sources (it should be noted that originally these numbers were much smaller, a full zero knocked off until they were upped by the BL/Forgeworld writers):
- Dark Angels - Less than 166,000 following the Rangdan Xenocides, Though by the time of the Horus Heresy, one of Luther's Castellans claimed the Legion was at greater strength than they had ever been in the past.
- Emperor's Children - 110,000
- Iron Warriors - 150,000 to 180,000 but could have been more, if not for them regularly taking horrific casualties.
- White Scars - 95,000
- Space Wolves - 95,000 to 100,000(originally 130,000)
- Imperial Fists - 100,000
- Night Lords - Officially 90,000 to 120,000 but actually close to the larger Legions
- Blood Angels - 150,000 divided in 300 companies 500 strong
- Iron Hands - In excess of 113,000
- World Eaters - 150,000
- Ultramarines - 270,000+
- Death Guard - 90,000 to 250 000 (Mortarion wanted 490 000, but never attained it)
- Thousand Sons - 80,000 to 85,000
- Sons of Horus - 130,000 to 170,000
- Word Bearers - 140,000 to 250,000
- Salamanders - 89,000
- Raven Guard - 80,000
- Alpha Legion - 90,000 to 130,000 to 180,000 and possibly even more. No-one knows for sure.
Using the lowest and highest numbers this means there was 1,933,095 to 2,358,000 space marines without including the White Scars. These estimations are the Legions at the closing of the Great Crusade, though it would be a mistake to assume that the number was final and only went down during the Horus Heresy, in fact many of the Legions were still recruiting at an accelerated rate and the number actually went up, at some cost however. To put some context to that number, on the low end that's about the size of the American forces in the Korean war and on the high end that's about all the soviets that were involved in the battle of Berlin.
It's also a mistake to assume that the Traitor Legions went turncoat completely en-masse, when in fact the Loyalist elements of those Legions counted for a significant portion of their strength. Approximately 100,000 loyalist Legionaries were purged at Isstvan III, practically counting for a Legion sized force to themselves. Their destruction came at a great cost to the Traitor Legions mustered there and Horus would enter the war with his strength greatly reduced, but could count on Daemon auxiliarys for reinforcements. While rare, there were also a few members of loyalist Legions who sided with the traitors as well- the Dark Angels and White Scars in particular were very nearly torn apart by the resulting infighting.
Besides having far greater numbers of Astartes to draw on, the legions were also better equipped and had a much wider variety of arms and vehicles to choose from. Many armored vehicles that are currently Imperial Guard specific once served in the legions such as the Basilisk, while other wargear like Volkite guns or Mastodons were mothballed due to their rarity or their obsolescence for the smaller-sized chapters. Numerous tactical roles were likewise phased out, for better or worse.
- Breacher Siege Squad
- Despoiler Squad
- Destroyer Squad
- Reconnaissance Squad
- Seeker Squad
- Sky Hunter Squad
- Tactical Support Squad
- Legion Consul
- Consul Praevian
For all their power, the Space Marines and Primarchs were not perfect; (maybe) half of them were sufficiently flawed to be tempted by (or driven to) Chaos, led by Warmaster Horus. The traitors were defeated, but at a terrible cost, including the near-death of the God-Emperor of Mankind and trillions of deaths of invaluable astartes and human beans.
Roboute Guilliman decided that the so-called Horus Heresy was proof that one man could not be trusted with power over one-twentieth of the Imperial Armed Forces, so he enacted several reforms to divide the Imperial Army into the Imperial Guard and Navy, and split the remaining loyalist Legions into Chapters, in accordance with his Codex Astartes. This event was later known as the Second Founding.
Legions in 40k
Technically all of the Chaos Marines are still 'legions', at least in name. They never split into chapters so legions they technically remain. However, since they are all split up into roving warbands and there is no central control (with a few exceptions) it's hard to say they really count anymore. Perhaps most importantly it's impossible to guess how many dudes there are even technically in any legions pool. When they aren't fighting the Imperium, they are fighting each other, and since none of the Black Crusades have been successful we can reasonably assume that marines aren't pouring out of the Eye of Terror in their hundreds of thousands. It's utterly impossible to guess how many dudes they got. They obviously have enough to attack the Imperium with (especially since their recruiting practices aren't as picky as their Loyalist counterparts), but probably not much more than the Loyalist Space Marines. Probably more than they came to the Eye with though, between further recruiting and former Loyalists turning to Chaos.
As for the Loyalists... Since the introduction of the Codex Astartes, there are obviously no longer any Space Marine legions though that does not stop certain chapters from being described or implied to be at "Legion Strength". Though this is often a common Neckbeard error and sometimes even gets used in the fluff, where the term is mistakenly used to describe any significantly oversized chapter, though even then they never compare to the forces from the Great Crusade. Though some make a good attempt at it:
- Imperial Fists - As it turned out, Dorn didn't fully break up his Legion. Every Son of Dorn chapter has a secret plan dubbed "The Last Wall"- if the main Chapter were to encounter an immediate threat to Terra, it could call its successor chapters to unite them into a full Legion until the threat is dealt with; the prospect of so many chapters working in such close cooperation was something that frightened the High Lords of Terra and they did not approve. Nonetheless, this plan not only saved Terra from the largest Ork WAAAGH!! the Imperium has ever dealt with, but also rescued the Imperial Fists from actual extinction in the process.
- Black Templars are obviously over-strength in multiples of 1000 and keep to the spirit of the Great Crusade unlike any other chapter. This force is made up of three primary crusade fleets of unknown size which can end up spread over up to thirty engagements, where the size of a force could be as large as "nearly" chapter strength (but not over for obvious reasons) or as small as a single ship and a handful of squads, so can be averaged at around chapter strength for each primary fleet. This arrangement is meant to be fluid, and changes all the time as fleets merge and disperse. Respectable figures put their numbers between 2000-6000. The Templars are able to get away with this due to an obscure exception in the Codex allowing chapters to be over-strength during major Crusades in order to easily replace losses, and the Templars are always crusading. This is unofficially tolerated by the High Lords because of fanatical loyalty, constant casualties, consistent results and the fact that the Templars are so spread out. They may be legion sized 'total' but there not Legion sized at any single location.
- Space Wolves make no secret of the fact they ignore the Codex Astartes, but even then they are no-where near their original size. In M32 during the Battle of the Fang it is remarked that most of The Aett is actually abandoned. Furthermore, Logan Grimnar's own Great Company numbers 200 marines prior to the Sanctus Reach campaign and is the largest company on its own (i.e.: not including the chapter assets). Their current number was originally between 1200-3000, but following the Siege of Fenris it is almost certainly much smaller.
- Astral Claws were actually accused of Legion building and declared heretics even when they were not yet followers of Chaos, their number at the time of the Badab War was around 3000, though they never even used that number as a single force and spread themselves throughout their PDF forces
- The Unforgiven are most likely one of the closest examples of a true Legion in that each of the successor chapters arrange themselves under one secret command structure (the Inner Circle). Though they each obey the letter, if not the spirit of the Codex Astartes and maintain mostly standard chapters of ten companies. The combined numbers of Dark Angel's successors would put them at around 150,000 marines, and this is just a rough estimate, though we don't know if all of the Dark Angel's successors actually consider themselves part of the Unforgiven. Some definitely do though. Oh yes indeed. The Inner Circle has been known to send a random successor chapter across the galaxy to do the space marine equivalent of getting them a six pack (of traitors) when the main chapter is too busy.
- Ultramarines - The 23 Second Founding chapters of the Ultramarines are all represented in the senate of Ultramar and some of them would cooperate on matters of Codex orthodoxy to ensure that there were no deviations. The Genesis Chapter in particular routinely loaned squads and officers to the Ultramarines to fill in gaps, while other successors could loan squads to the Ultramarines Honour Company and get to wear the blue uniform. Because the Ultramarines account for nearly half of the later-founded chapters in the Imperium, they would amount to around 500,000 marines and nominally look to their progenitor for the source of their leadership and guidance, with instances of Marneus Calgar stepping in to settle disputes between chapters not even of his bloodline or issuing decrees against chapters in matters that have nothing to do with the Ultramarines directly. With the return of Roboute Guilliman and his re-organisation of both the Codex and the region of Ultramar; even though chapters officially maintain their sovereignty apart from each other, he has formally created a cross-Chapter command structure of Tetrarchs to coordinate and protect the Five-Hundred Worlds.
All of the original legions maintain ties with with their subsequent founding chapters (except for the Salamanders, who don't have any confirmed successors, and ignore the unconfirmed ones), though the level of formality is different from Chapter to Chapter. The Blood Angels occasionally call all their bros together and go to war, even going to far as to demand they provide the Blood Angels with new squads so that they could rebuild their weakened chapter. The Imperial Fists successors did the same thing during the war of the Beast; donning Imperial Fist colours to ensure that the Chapter would not go extinct. But even in those cases, Gabriel Seth had to remind Dante that he had no authority to actually demand troops from his successors and might get further by asking nicely. The new Imperial Fists considered changing their colours controversial and a little bit blasphemous, with the High Lords of Terra generally protesting about Space Marines working in such close cooperation at all. While musing with Aeonid Thiel, Guilliman's original dream for the Codex was not to simply split up the Legions at all, but to create a single unified Legion formed of self-sufficient chapters that would come together or break apart as necessary, irrespective of their individual bloodlines, while making it harder for a taint in one chapter to effect the whole. Given the number of times multiple chapters from different legions have gotten together for a big crusade, he arguable succeed in this goal. Much of what goes on with the Ultramarines tended to done out of starry-eyed respect and deference towards them rather than grudging support, so in this case, their high level of cooperation appears to be following the spirit of Guilliman's original idea quite well. Obviously, the High Lords would prefer to think otherwise because they were scared to death of the possibility of a second Space Marine unification and uprising, even going so far as to plotting to overthrow the resurrected Lord Guilliman before he took control over the Senatorum (which instantly backfired when the Custodians got whiff of it in about ten minutes).
Two Unknown Legions
In the First Edition of Warhammer 40,000, the twenty First Founding Chapters were all known. It seems that Games Workshop had more love for some than others; when they made fluff revisions in the transition to Second Edition, the Valedictors and Rainbow Warriors were demoted to one of the "Later Foundings."
nothing little concrete is known about the Legions II and XI, and likewise their unknown Primarchs. Officially, the Imperium deleted all records regarding the "Lost Legions"; the only reminder of the two legions were empty plinths in the Hegemon where statues of the Primarchs stood at the Imperial Palace. Throughout the Horus Heresy series, it is suggested that the Space Wolves destroyed them for some reason. The Horus Heresy: Massacre includes a timeline of the events at the end of the Great Crusade, and in 965 and 969.M30, the Space Wolves engaged in two missions from which all data was redacted. In the book The First Heretic, when a daemon takes the Word Bearers on a trip back in time to show them the creation of the Primarchs, the Word Bearers dialogue indicates that the XI Legion in particular did something bad enough for the Emperor to lead their purge himself. In the book Fear To Tread, Sanguinius tells Horus that he hasn't revealed the existence of the Red Thirst to the Emperor because he fears that the Blood Angels would be purged as well, indicating that gene-seed flaws may have also been a factor. Deliverance Lost has a dialogue between taking place during Corax's first meeting with the Emperor where he asks why only sixteen of his brothers were waiting to meet him if he was the nineteenth Primarch to be found, only for the Emperor to deflect the question; consequently, we can assume that the Legions were purged sometime before Corax's discovery (and were never around for the Horus Heresy). He also forced the remaining Primarchs to swear an oath never to speak of their absent brothers, so whatever they did must have been extraordinarily bad. In Legion, a ship's captain notes that the naughtiness of the Alpha Legion isn't the first time that a Legion has "overstepped it's mark" and that the Imperial Army fleet should report the Alpha Legion "before they become too powerful," which might imply that one of the Legions got away with naughtiness for a long time and then used their entire Legion to fight the Emperor. 'Horus Heresy Book 3: Extermination also hints at the fate of the two missing Legions, first hinting that one Legion did not pass the "Alpha" intake (to take them up to Legion-Strength) when going through testing and the other saying that "the disaster of [REDACTED] had proven the folly of attempting to recruit Legiones Astartes stock from potentially tainted sources." These could be in reference to the same Legion (using tainted stock in the Alpha intake) or two separate ones, with Legion A fucking up in the Alpha intake and Legion B using tainted stock in the later Great Crusade.
Since Horus and the other traitor Primarchs managed to keep their records un-expunged during the Horus Heresy (and afterwards, since the Space Wolves clearly know who Magnus is, the Grey Knights clearly know who Mortarion is, and Horus' name seems to have become a swearword), it can be assumed the missing Legions' naughtiness was something even worse. Possibly they refused to wear pauldrons, we don't know. In The Palatine Phoenix, shortly before his Legion's first solo mission, Fulgrim notes that "even the normally contemplative master of the Second had broken his silence to accuse Fulgrim of hubris", so at least one of the missing Primarchs had spent some time around their brothers, and was active during the Great Crusade. In The Chamber at the End of Memory, Dorn said that very few among his brothers interacted with the II and the XI Primarch, and he was one of them. Millennia later during the Ultima Founding, Belisarius Cawl proposes using gene-seed from the II and XI legions to make Primaris marines, so there is either surviving genetic stock from the two Legions, or possibly actual legionaries that Cawl had been experimenting on for the last ten thousand years.
The Chamber at the End of Memory revealed that not only the entire Imperium were forbidden to speak of the II and XI following their fall (which according to Malcador and Rogal Dorn was terrible enough to overshadow the entire Horus Heresy up to the Siege of Terra) but those who had interacted with them were made to undergone mind-cleansing (or memory adjustment in the case of the Primarchs) so as to wipe out knowledge of the incidents. More interesting however was that Dorn and Gulliman came up with that idea to spare the Astartes from said two legions from death, and they allowed Macaldor to mind-wipe them all. There was a very good chance that these Astartes ended up with the Fists and the Ultramarines (as the theory above described).
Or there may simply be no missing Legions. According to a source who allegedly worked for Games Workshop for five years (seen here), Rick Priestley (who helped write the first Rogue Trader) read about the Roman notion of Damnatio Memoriae, and simply threw in the idea of two "missing" Space Marine Legions as a "nod" to Imperial Rome (specifically, the three Roman legions whose numbers (XVII, XVIII and XIX) were never used after they were wiped out in the disastrous Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. So, nothing significant can ever be revealed about them, because they never really existed in the first place. Except they totally existed in the current canon, even if they started as a joke. Also, the real reason that they were kept around between Rogue Trader and recent revelations was so that people could make up their own pair of Primarchs for model painting and personal fanon (although this has lost its effect as doing so is synonymous with making them Mary Sues).
Although one possible name for at least one of the legions is the Stormcast Eternals.