A Background to the Horus Heresy, Where It Started.

Thanks for the really positive feedback I’ve received since I posted my first blog post, Horus Heresy Rising on Sunday.  One of the comments that most interested me was from Ol Knesebeck, who asked for an introduction to the heresy for beginners or even a background to the Horus Heresy. It was only then that I considered my audience for the first time, and realised it is unlikely to consist of hardened Horus Heresy veterans! I honestly can’t explain why I had originally thought that, it seems foolish with hindsight.

Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, this seemed the perfect opportunity for me to kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, a fairly (okay… extremely) self-indulgent reminiscence of what first interested me in the Horus Heresy. Secondly, and a more direct answer to Ol’s question, I’ve included a brief synopsis of the background to the Horus Heresy.

Back in Ancient History

Unlike many of things I am truly passionate about, I can trace my love for the Horus Heresy back to a single point in time. White Dwarf issue 161 featured a short story by William (then Bill) King. In fact, it featured two. But the one that got me hooked was The Assault on Earth. This is a fantastic piece of fiction, which portrays the epic scale of the heresy, mentioning huge battles across the entire 30K universe, and culminating in the brutal battle for the Imperial Palace and the climax of heresy as the Emperor teleports himself onto Horus’s battle barge. I rate this as one the seminal pieces of Games Workshop fiction, and I encourage anyone interested in the Horus Heresy to give it a read. You can find both The Assault on Earth and the second short story, Aboard Horus’ Battle Barge, here.

If the Bill King stories got me hooked, then it was another series of White Dwarf articles that reeled (groan!) me completely into the Horus Heresy. In issue 254, White Dwarf introduced the Index Astartes First Founding series. These articles were ostensibly a means to provide customised rules for specific Space Marine Chapters for use in games of Warhammer 40K, but they created a wealth of background information to each of the 18 known first founding legions.

This is purely conjecture on my part, but I believe the success of these articles must have influenced Black Library’s decision to launch the Horus Heresy series. Whether that’s true or not, it was only a few years after the final Index Astartes First Founding articles that the first Horus Heresy novel, Horus Rising, was released.

A full list of the White Dwarf issue numbers for each of the Legions.

background to the Horus Heresy.

Before Horus Rising

Whilst for me, the Horus Heresy really started with Bill King’s short stories, it has existed in Games Workshop lore for many years prior to their publication. In fact, the Horus Heresy is referenced in Rogue Trader (the first edition of Warhammer 40,000), and was used as the setting for the Adeptus Titanicus game, the precursor to today’s Epic Armageddon.

Set around 10,000 years in the distant past of the Warhammer 40K universe (hence 30K)…

The Emperor of Mankind has reunited the warring factions of Terra, formed an alliance with the tech priests of Mars, and embarked on his Great Crusade. The Great Crusade was a huge undertaking to reconquer the galaxy, reunite many lost human civilisations and recover forgotten technologies.

At the forefront of the Great Crusade were the Emperor’s Legiones Astartes – the Space Marines. Genetically engineered post-humans the Astartes are peerless warriors who provide the razor sharp cutting edge to the massed Imperial armies. Each Legion has been shaped in the image of their genetic father, their Primarch, to perform in specific ways on the battlefield.

Sources within the lore vary as to the cause, but whether by intervention of the Chaos Gods, or by design of the Emperor, the Primarchs were scattered as infants throughout the galaxy. Each rose to adulthood, and power, on the world’s they landed on (typically referred to as their homeworld), before being reunited with the Emperor and his crusading armies.

The Great Crusade lasted for approximately 200 years, culminating in the great campaign on Ullanor. At the close of this campaign, the Emperor announced his intention to return to Terra to focus his attention on governing the Imperium (actually to work on an undisclosed project). To continue the Great Crusade, the Emperor named Horus, first amongst equals of the Primarchs and the Emperor’s most trusted son, as his Warmaster. Henceforth Horus would have overall strategic command of all military operations and the entirety of the Imperium’s armed forces.

The series of Black Library novels, starting with Horus Rising, is set at this point, and progresses the story from here. Certainly the first 3 novels provide a linear introduction to the start of the heresy. However, there are a number of novels that are set at earlier times of the Great Crusade to provide background context to the heresy, or flashback to specific events. Additionally, as you might imagine, set across an entire galaxy, there are a number of events that run concurrently, with the series moving backwards and forwards across the timeline as the writers cover the key events.

So that’s all from me for now. I hope this blog has helped answer a few questions and given an insight into why I enjoy the Horus Heresy so much. If you have any feedback on this post, or anything else you would like to see covered, then you can get me on twitter @marcoos14


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