40K Lore: The Great Crusade

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What lessons can the past teach us in preparation for the coming Crusade?

It is an old saying, Loremasters, that those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. This is, of course, heresy. The Emperor protects–but there is a kernel of wisdom there. By studying the past we can learn how it might better prepare us for the future. With that in mind, Loremasters, today we shall examine the Great Crusade. For the Indomitus Crusade bears all the hallmarks of an endeavour of this magnitude: a special genetic project (Primarch vs Primaris), the reforging of an empire troubled by warp storms and Chaos. The leadership of a man who is more than man.

And all this, dear Loremasters, is only the beginning.


The Great Crusade (~798.M30 – 005.M31) was a brief age of rebuilding and reunification following the complete regression of mankind during the Age of Strife. It was a time when the Emperor still lived in the conventional sense and led his race in person. It followed the Emperor’s conquest of Terra in the Unification Wars and lasted roughly from the conquest of Earth’s moon to the Battle of Isstvan III and the beginning of the Horus Heresy.

The Early Crusade

Part of the Emperor’s vision of human unification was the Primarch Project, meant to be the creation of 20 superhumans to lead the Emperor‘s forces to reclaim the galaxy in his name. It also saw the creation of the Space Marine Legions from the gene-seed samples that survived the scattering of the Primarchs by the Chaos gods. These forces would play the major role in the upcoming Great Crusade alongside the Imperial Army, Titan Legions, Legio Cybernetica, Sisters of Silence, and Custodian Guard.

The subsiding of the warp storms plaguing much of the galaxy coincided with the end of the Age of Strife. With warp travel feasible again, the Emperor was able to begin the Great Crusade which would create the Imperium. Even before the warp storms and the Age of Strife had ended, the Emperor had begun to make plans for the Great Crusade. These plans included the creation of a far more advanced form of power armour required for the conditions of deep space and alien worlds.

–Here though, Loremasters, it bears pointing out that the Indomitus Crusade, occurs after the advent of a massive Warp Storm. What lies beyond the Cicatrix Maledictum can only be speculated about. Our Imperium has been cut off–gone dark across the impenetrable gulf. But as we see both in the present and the past, a Crusade (a proper one anyway, not those heretical failures that that blasphemous fool Abaddon dares to call ‘crusades’) is preceded by a vast undertaking to gather resources and craft weaponry. Like the Mk. X Power Armor and Cawl Pattern Bolt Rifles our Primarch has seen fit to commission.–

The Crusade Begins

His fleet constructed, he forged out into the depths of space, seeking out his Primarchs and spreading the name of the Emperor. Throughout the following millennium, he gradually reclaimed his Primarchs, and slowly united humanity under the Pax Imperialis. World after world fell to the Emperor’s forces, at first the Legio Astartes and Custodian Guard and later the Imperial Army, Sisters of Silence, Collegia Titanica, Legio Cybernetica, and others. Tyrants and false-rulers of thousands of worlds were overthrown by Imperial forces, who quickly outlawed religion and dogma by decree of the Emperor himself. Orks, Eldar, Hrud, Slaugth, hideous Warp entities, and many other lesser alien races were all defeated and driven back in a seemingly unstoppable tide of conquest. Worlds whose human population had become too corrupted or mutated were simply exterminated from orbit.

The Crusade lasted for around two hundred years. At its peak, it had over 4,300 Expeditionary Fleets involved in galactic conquest. The Great Crusade reached its apex with the great victory by Horus against a massive Waaagh! of Orks in the Ullanor Crusade. After this victory the Emperor declared Horus Warmaster, or acting Supreme Commander in his stead. Having seen most of humanity reunited the Emperor returned to Terra, where he began his secret project.

–What will be the apex of the Indomitus Crusade? Will its fearsome thrust be met with resistance? It seems the Imperium is beset on all fronts by threats, whether Xenos or Chaos or both.–

Without the Emperor’s guidance, the Primarchs that had previously friendly rivalries were beginning to develop into dangerous feuds. Some of the Primarchs had reached the point of intolerance with one another, others like Magnus the Red had simply become isolated in the confusion of the Great Crusade. Already the Word Bearers Primarch Lorgar had secretly turned against the Emperor decades before the Crusades end after the destruction of his “perfect city” of Monarchia by the Ultramarines. Meanwhile Leman Russ clashed with both Angron and Lion El’Jonson. Perturabo was shunned by most due to the nature of his hand in the Crusade and was in turn envious of Rogal Dorn. Konrad Curze also had a disagreement with Dorn that escalated into a brutal surprise attack that left Dorn badly injured and unconscious. This mistrust and hatred would form the linchpin of the Horus Heresy.

The age of the Great Crusade ended with the virus bombing of Isstvan III by Warmaster Horus, which announced the beginning of his Rebellion. The loyalist legions were recalled to Terra to defend against the traitor Warmaster, but not all of the Legions were able to return. The Ultramarines were mired in the Ultramar system fighting Kor Phaeron and his retinue of Word Bearers that had come to destroy them. The Space Wolves were finishing their battle at Prospero with the now openly traitorous Thousand Sons, the White Scars were mired in the Chondax Campaign, and the Dark Angels were in the midst of a civil war on Caliban and a slow campaign against the Gordian League.

In many ways the Emperor was now gone, The Imperium suddenly finding itself without the great leadership of the Guardian of Mankind. The brief age of recovery which the Great Crusade represented was over, and mankind began to decline into the state it is now, with fear and chaos rife, Inquisitors seeking out heresy at every corner and billions of people living in forced, and willing, slavery to their God-Emperor.

In many ways, the Imperium realized that, while sacrifices had to be made, the Emperor was protecting all who served him faithfully and loyally. The Great Crusade led to a greater disaster, but it was only because of the splintered leadership and frailty of those who were not the Emperor. Guilliman, however, wrote the Codex on being a Space Marine–surely in the Emperor’s Stead he cannot fail?

Read more about the Fated Victory on Ullanor

What will history remark of the Indomitus Crusade, Loremasters?

  • Bonesaw1o1

    1. Don’t leave Horus in charge

    • Evil Otto

      Or, if you do, let him know what you’re actually planning as if he’s actually important and not hired help. The Heresy could have been prevented if Emps would have just let Horus in on his actual projects. Oh, and let your primarchs know that, yeah, gods actually exist and they all want to nom humanity’s souls, so that’s why we’re doing the whole anti-religion thing.

      • Corvak

        “chaos gods exist, it is our job to kill them” There. Done. When you see a planet full of plague demons? Nuke that sucker from orbit.

        • Evil Otto

          Exactly. What, did Emps think that his galaxy-wide crusade wouldn’t encounter chaos at some point? So much of what happened could be attributed to his arrogance.

          1) Explain to Lorgar why religious worship is bad, because gods are bad. Tell him the truth instead of recreationally nuking his prized city and then forcing him to kneel in the ashes while the Ultramarines look on like daddy’s favorite kids. If he won’t give it up THEN you act against him, but not in a humiliating way.
          2) Horus should have been in on the plans from the start. If you can’t trust your brightest and best son from the start your empire is never going to thrive.
          3) Prepare the Astartes for what they’re going to face rather than have it be a surprise. The existence of demons should have been something they knew about from the start.
          4) Have a plan in place for the end of the Crusade. Let your loyal soldiers (who have been fighting and dying for centuries) know what to expect when victory has been achieved.
          5) Do I even need to go into how Emps screwed up with Angron?

          • Andrew

            And Purturabo, and Fulgrim, and Mortarion, and Konrad Curze.

          • Evil Otto

            Y’know… really, the whole thing could be summed up with “Big E’s kinda a dick.”

        • Spacefrisian

          I blame those pesky Word Bearers should have nuked that place right from the get go.

      • TenDM

        I dunno, the Primarchs seemed very immature, with some even being outright petty and childish. I get the impression a few of them would have ran straight to Chaos if they knew about it.

        I mean really, the guy left them with some of the most powerful armies ever assembled at their disposal. The armies he built and relied upon to maintain his empire. The armies that were powerful enough to thrust the empire into civil war with ease.
        Yet they still couldn’t handle the idea of the Emperor trusting them with the fate of his Crusade and returning to Terra to work on a project.

    • LordKrungharr

      Horus was weak!

  • Corvak

    If you’re in charge of the largest army in the galaxy, dont zip off to Terra and turn off your phone.

    • LordKrungharr

      All part of the plan, the long plan, meant to bring balance to the Force, but three movies after everyone thought it would be balanced.

  • Krizzab

    “sire, horus has revolted”
    “iam working”
    “sire, half of your sons have revolted”
    “iam working, malcador”
    “sire, Guilliman has founded a imperium secundus”
    “iam WORKING!!!!”!

    Many cycles later…

    “Behold malcador my magum opus!!, the golden throne…”
    *explosion, crank sounds* the throne is trashed..*

    “Yo, dad your favorite son Magnus here!!, horus and half my brothers are revolted,… wait dad why are you so red!!”

  • Lord_Summerisle

    Where do I read up on all this new lore about the return of Guilleman and the Primaris marines? New black library novels?