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The Waning is one of the major time periods of the Imperium of Man. It was preceded by the Age of Redemption and followed by the Time of Ending, stretching from the beginning of M39 to mid-M41.

So remember how the Age of Redemption had all that crusading and whatnot going on? As predicted (by rational people), this ended up being a bad idea. Basically, it was "Shit Falling Apart: Imperial Edition," as xenos took back everything they had lost (and more), Chaos cultists started rebelling like crazy, and the High Lords of Terra imposed ever-stricter rules to stave off total collapse, including turning over whole systems to Space Marine Chapters for direct governance.

And if that sounds bad, well... it's called the Waning, what the hell did you expect?

In a surprising case of subverted expectations the Waning actually saw general growth of the Imperium's territory, with few major losses (like the Gothic War and the Macharian Heresy) and several major expansions recorded during this period. The Imperium would as an entity continue to expand until by the 41st Millenium, it was described as being at its greatest territorial extent ever. This leaves the Waning as a rather perplexingly named period of time. It only really makes sense if it was named after the Time of Ending became a thing. (Perhaps including some overlap with the ToE's early period, due to all the chaos it involved).

Redemption Crusades[edit]

One of the many, many, many topics the rulebook mentions in passing but doesn't give much detail on, the Redemption Crusades were an era where five great warriors, one in each Segmentum, appear and launch a crusade. These crusades restore hundreds (maybe even thousands) of worlds to Imperial rule, extending Imperial borders to the greatest they've been in 500 years during the middle of the Age of Redemption. The rulebook actually compares the heroes to the "Primarchs of old."

And then they all disappear without a trace. This leads Ecclesiarch Inovian III to immediately declare them all "saints returned to the Emperor's side."

Gothic War[edit]

Main article: Gothic War

Also called the 12th Black Crusade, Failbaddon launched a massive invasion of the Gothic Sector, largely to capture a couple Blackstone Fortresses. Long story short: Chaos nicked a couple artefacts and Exterminatus'd several planets, the Eldar and Imperium allied to kick the shit out of them, and Abadabbadoo gets away with two Blackstone Fortresses, setting up the basic plotline for the Gathering Storm.

This Black Crusade in particular is famous as the setting for Battlefleet Gothic.

Macharian Conquests[edit]

Main article: Macharian Crusade

Lord Solar Macharius, a tactical genius that puts Creed to shame, reconquers over one thousand worlds, thereby pushing the boundaries of Imperial space the farthest they had been since the Great Crusade - in only seven years. Yeah, Macharius is pretty boss. He even has his own super-heavy tank! The guy is basically the reincarnation of Alexander the Great. Right up to the him dying and everything falling apart due to ambitious generals part.

Macharian Heresy[edit]

Main article: Macharian Heresy

When Macharius died, it was sad for most of the Imperium but utterly disastrous for his territories as his former generals immediately began bickering among themselves over who got to take his place. They collapsed into insurgency, civil war, and other general nastiness. It took seventy years and multiple Space Marine Chapters to end. At least they kept their gains unified in the end, which is more than what can be said for the Greeks.

Timeline of Warhammer 40,000
The Times of Old Wars of Secession - War in Heaven (60.000.000 BC) - Fall of the Eldar (M30)
Pre-Heresy Age of Terra (M1-M15) - Dark Age of Technology (M15-M25) - Cybernetic Revolt (M23-M25) - Age of Strife (M25-M30)
Great Crusade (Late M30-005.M31) Unification Wars - The Last Church - Rangdan Xenocides - Interex - Gardinaal - Faash - Council of Nikaea
Horus Heresy (005.M31-014.M31) Battle of Isstvan III - The Burning of Prospero - Battle of the Alaxxes Nebula - Drop Site Massacre - Thramas Crusade
The Battle of Phall - Battle of Calth - Signus Campaign - Imperium Secundus - Battle of Trisolian - Siege of Terra
Time of Rebirth (015.M31-M32) The Great Scouring (~015.M31) - Start of The Long War (M31) - The Legion Wars (M31) - The Battle of Skalathrax (M31)
The Battle of Harmony (M31) - Creation of the Codex Astartes (M31) - Second Founding (021.M31) - Battle of Thessala (121.M31)
The Forging (M32-M34) The War of The Beast (544.M32-546.M32) - The Beheading (546.M32) - The War of the False Primarch (780.M33-860.M33)
Nova Terra Interregnum (M34-M36) 21st Founding (M36)
Age of Apostasy (M36) Plague of Unbelief (310.M36)
Age of Redemption (M37-Early M38) Abyssal Crusade (321.M37-121.M38)
The Waning (Early M38- Early M41) Gothic War (143-151.M41) - The Macharian Crusade (392-399.M41) - The Macharian Heresy (400-470.M41)
Wars for Armageddon (444.M41, 941.M41 and 991.M41) - Damocles Crusade (742.M41)
Time of Ending (Early M41-999.M41) The Vaxi Atrocity (731.M41) - First Tyrannic War (745-746.M41) - Sabbat Worlds Crusade (755.M41-780.M41) - Siege of Vraks (813.M41-830.M41)
Massacre at Sanctuary 101 (897.M41) - Badab War (901-912.M41) - The Vaxhallian Genocide (926.M41) - Second Tyrannic War (990.M41-993.M41)
Orphean War (991.M41-Ongoing) - Third Tyrannic War (997.M41-999.M41) - Taros Campaign (998.M41) - Fall of Shadowbrink (998.M41)
Octarius War (999.M41-Ongoing) - Conquest of Uttu Prime (Late M41) - Devastation of Baal (999.M41) - 13th Black Crusade (999.M41-M42)
Age of the Dark Imperium (000.M42-Ongoing) Ultima Founding (999.M41-012.M42) - Indomitus Crusade (999.M41-Ongoing, first phase ended on 012.M42)
War of Beasts (001.M42-025.M42) - Plague Wars (~012.M42) - Psychic Awakening (M42)