40K Lore: Symmetry Between Space Marine Legions

Rick Priestly Was a Wise Man.

Today we take a look at the lore of 40K and explore the symmetry between the original Space marine Legions.

I have always found it interesting that the original 18 Space Marine Legions had such symmetry between the traitors and loyalists. Like opposites sides of the same coin, each Legion has its counterpart in another legion. Each pairing of Legions shares similar values and attributes, but express them in different ways.

For example, the Ultramarines and Black Legion are obviously analogues to one another. Both are the “standard” chapter representing their faction. Both have exemplary leadership characteristics, adhere to doctrine, and are described as being the best all around forces for their side. This is a pretty obvious comparison but what about the other Legions?

The Iron Hands and iron Warriors are also closely related. Both abhor the weaknesses of flesh and value stoicism. “Iron within, Iron without,” the war cry of the Iron Warriors, could easily apply to the Iron Hands. Both have war leaders that are a hybrid of Techmarines and Captains: The Iron Fathers and War Smiths. Both legions value tangible things and generally steer clear of mysticism. They are associated with the forge, and implement extensive bionics.

The Salamanders and Death Guard correlate. Both are physically though, slow, implacable range forces. In the old rules, Salamanders were even toughness 5 and Initiative 3. Both forces employ assault weaponry and prefer close range encounters.

Space Wolves and World Eaters are both ferocious warrior Legions, bordering on a lack of control. As the fluff progressed, World Eaters did become truly berserk, but the Space Wolves also have Wolfen to counter this. Both Legions are violent, don’t follow the rules other chapters value, and are wild in nature.

Blood Angels and Emperor’s Children both admire physical beauty and perfection in skill. Both Legions are noted as being amazing to behold on the exterior but both possess deep flaws beneath the surface. These Legions are also noted for their hubris.

The White Scars and Night Lords are both chapters noted for rapid strikes, and speed. The Night Lords have changed somewhat to more of a stealth oriented force, but in older fluff were that plus a heavy emphasis on fast attack with Bikers and Raptors featuring prominently.

Raven Guard and the Alpha Legion are both known for using stealth, disruption and trickery to achieve their ends. Both forces will undermine their enemies and use hit and run, and disruption to weaken their targets before destroying them.

The Imperial Fists and Word Bearers both exemplify their sides faith. The Imperial Fists are closest to the Emperor and defended him both at the Siege of Terra and in the current setting of the game. They are stalwart defenders of all that the Emperor stands for. The Word Bearers are closest to the Chaos Gods, and instigated the Horus Heresy. They preach the counter gospel to the Emperor and seek to undermine the Imperium at every opportunity.

The Dark Angels and the Thousand Sons both possess terrible and secret knowledge. They both have levels of initiation in their order and their is some similarity between the inner circle of the Dark Angels and the Sorcerers of the Thousand Sons. I think over time the connection between these two Legions has become the weakest, but they still fit together better than with any of the others.

What do you guys and gals think of this? Any more connections between the two that bear mentioning? I always loved the fluff of this game and exploring its intricacies is fun. What do you all think about the similarities between the Legions?

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11 Responses to “40K Lore: Symmetry Between Space Marine Legions”

  1. Avatar
    Anon January 27, 2012 3:58 am #

    You’re right that there are parallels, but thats not how it shapes up. You’re thinking too literally. The Emperor didn’t pick them to have same traits, he picked them to COUNTER one another. Vis a vis (and btw, this is backed up by in-universe conversations between Primarchs and others). Even more disturbingly, it is heavily implied throughout the lore that the Emperor not only designed them this way, he knew that half would rebel (as something that just ‘had to happen’). He also knew some would have to be sacrified, either literally or spirtually, in order to not lose to Chaos (not win, just deny them victory).

    Peturabo and Dorn: One tears down fortresses, one builds and defends them
    Corax and Konrad Qruze: Masters of shadow warfare
    Vulkan and Ferrus Manus: Both are forgemasters
    Lion and Alpharius: Ruthless masters of strategy, one fights conventionally, the other is always unconventional and hidden
    Russ and Angron: Beserkers and close-combatants without equal, one has intelligence behind his fury, the other is lost to his madness and rage
    Sanguinus and Fulgrim: One is flawless without trying, the other is obssessed with perfection
    Lorgar and Magnus: Scholars not warriors, one is a true believer in higher powers, the other wields the higher powers without restraint

    The Odd Ones Out:
    Roboute Guilleman: The forger of empires and kingdoms, a master of order and stability
    Jaghati Khan: The lightning strike, the speartip faster than any other, master of ambush
    Mortarion: Deathless vigour, contemptous of mortality
    Horus: The least, the diplomat and peacemaker

    The Emperors obviously envisioned each Legion would be able to fight conventional campaigns against most opponents, but against truly diabolical threats, differing
    temperaments and tactics would be brought to bear.

    The Lion was the perfect general, and most suited to the task before him. His was the perfect Primarch template upon which all others were based.
    The others variously had their own biases towards waging war, or the organisation of their
    forces. The Lion wielded his Legion was it was intended, and nothing more or less. That he resisted corruption so steadfastly, and even purged his own Legion of traitors,
    speaks volumes as to the lengths the Dark Gods went in trying to either kill him or corrupt him. Caliban was a world bathed in the tides of the Emperyean, yet even there,
    they couldn’t break him. Not even the man who raised him could crack his resolve or blunt his purpose. He remains the greatest of the Primarchs, purely and simply because
    he was the best general the Imperium ever had. Hence why his Legion is the First.

    Alpharius was loyal, but his purpose was no longer that of his fathers by the end. He had been gifted a vision of the future, if Horus were to fail. A conclave of aliens (working for their own interests) distorted his view and corrupted him in a more earthly sense, twisting his purpose ironically towards Chaos despite it being ostensibly to save humanity through a quick death. He was to be the hidden eyes of the Imperium, able to corrupt and twist the enemy into a vulnerable position to be decapitated later.

    If the enemy were attempting to enroach upon the Imperium from beyond, Rogal Dorn and his Legion were the shield. They would be near-unmatched in matters of defense and
    fortress-building. However, a measure of pride was their weakness, and although not as corrupting as Fulgrims, it was enough to cause them tragedy later down the line.
    The reverse of the equation was Perturabo. Granted the thankless task of breaking enemy strongholds, his Iron Warriors were exactly that, warriors who gave up all empathy
    for themeselves or the enemy, and simply destroyed. Dorn’s irritating pride was enough to break his faith, and his shame of Olympia’s fall and subsequent purge was enough
    to tip him over the edge. Ironically, he may have been the most loyal and determined of the Primarchs. Who else would accept such assignments?

    Vulkan and Ferrus Manus were a strange duo. One was a forgemaster by toil and experience, but the other was gifted with a partial necrodermis from a destroyed Necron
    construct. One was destined to die or fall of course, and Ferrus Manus was the catalyst for the Horus Heresy. Both supposedly perished during the Dropsite Massacre,
    with the elite of their respective Legions.

    Corax and Qruze had similiar origins, but their stories could not be more different. Corax was the oppressed slave who overthrew a corrupt empire, being the open
    symbol of defiance and freedom. He had to use stealth to evade his enemies, as if the raven itself, for he was always outnumbered and outgunned. But he always outran
    them, and the same skills saved him from the Dropsite Massacre. Corax was to be the master infiltrator, able to achieve victory against superior foes through stealth
    and guile.
    Qruze became the hidden tyrant of his planet, breaking the status quo through fear and maintaining rule through fear. He did not realise of course how futile fear was,
    for once he left, the fear left with him. Subsequently, the rot of his planet (a whole world of criminals essentially) spread to his Legion, and he died rather than
    face up his failure to both his sons and father. In his bitterness, he commanded them to tear down the empire they had begrudgingly built. Unleashed to their true desires
    (to enslave, tyrannise and destroy), his sons have done just that. They were the shock troops of the Imperium literally, as they were to cow the mortals of the empire
    (aliens and stranger creatures wouldn’t be as affected by fear).

    I could go on, but there is a more interesting issue (which will be resolved with the ‘Lost Primarchs’ novel by Abnett, due later in the series but before the Siege of Terra). How do the Odd Ones, and the Lost Primarchs fit in?

    My feeling is the odd ones balance somehow, and the Lost Legions are the counters of eachother. What they did to earn such a permanent purge from both record and memory is interesting. We’re talking about an Imperium that records the fall of half the Legions to Chaos, but refuses any record of mention of the Lost Legions.

    • Avatar
      Son Of Dorn January 28, 2012 10:17 am #

      While these are true now, I think what the article was trying to convey was the patterns between the legions that were established when the game designers originally laid everything down. These are what they’ve molded them into since. Though that does answer my question marvelously 🙂

      • Reecius
        Reecius January 29, 2012 10:29 am #

        Exactly. I was talking about originally. However, as you said, Anon’s post was really informative.

  2. Avatar
    James January 27, 2012 5:23 am #

    Thanks for a very interesting article. I’ve tended to see more similarities between the Iron Warriors and Imperial Fists, rather than the Iron Hands, and had never really given much thought to the connections you’ve made between the two.

    The background has tended to play up the similar ways of warfare of the Iron Warriors and Imperial Fists – both excelling at sieges (attacking or defending) – and of course their rivalry.

    I agree that the Iron Warriors and Iron Hands share a great deal but their ways of fighting are quite different – the ‘Warriors tending towards seiges, while the ‘Hands having a more all-round approach, albeit backed by a lot of heavy armour.

    As for the Black Legion, do they really adhere to doctrine in the same way as the Ultramarines? Especially if you look at the first three Horus Heresy books, the Lunar Wolves/ Sons of Horus had a simple military doctrine: do what you need to win. They seemed quite pragmatic compared to other legios, straightforward and almost brutal. Not to the extent of the World Eaters, of course, but there were echoes of the ‘we do what we must’ doctrine of the Space Wolves.

    • Reecius
      Reecius January 27, 2012 2:28 pm #

      Glad you liked it.

      What I meant with Black Legion is more that they follow the standard “Chaos Doctrine” as they are represented now in the game. They are the typical Chaos Army, not so much that they follow rules like the Ultramarines do.

      My comparisons were more of an as they are now look as opposed to how they are represented in the HH books,

  3. Avatar
    Son Of Dorn January 27, 2012 9:01 am #

    What about patterns with legion rivalries?

    • Reecius
      Reecius January 27, 2012 2:27 pm #

      What are some of them?

  4. Reecius
    Reecius January 27, 2012 2:26 pm #

    @Anon
    Thanks for the in depth reply! You make some excellent points and I think the developing story in the HH series is really fantastic. The fluff has changed quite a bit over the years and some of the connections that they make now significantly differ than they did (and as they should, the Chapters have changed). It is interesting to see the direction they are taking everything and I sincerely hope they reveal the hidden Legions as they have hinted at.

  5. Avatar
    Kurt March 3, 2016 2:58 am #

    n Prospero burns heroth longfang says each priMarch has his wyrd or fate
    Heir to the emperor- im guessing Horus but in another book Horus said it should have been sanguinus for war master???
    One to build the defenses- Rogal Dorn because perturabo was a master at siege warfare not necessarily building Dorn was selected to build the defenses of the imperial palace
    From what I’ve read on corax guerilla warfare fighter so like to rouse resistance and sap the enemies strength from behind enemy lines Alpharius Omegon could be seen to Match that but his was covert operations or task oriented strikes and intelligence
    Leman Russ was said to be the emperors executioner no matter what the order he would carry it out in the novel it says the the space wolves were let loose twice before they destroyed Magnus and the thousand sons im thinking the two missing legions???
    I’d like to know all of them but if you check out the lexicanum and other sources it cites each primarchs style of war fare id like to know each ones purpose it doesn’t seem to be symmetry some do resemble one another in certain aspects but what I get from it all was each was designed to fullfil a certain role in the imperium of you look at all the info this seems more likely then using 2 tools for the same Jon

  6. Avatar
    I DOn't Know January 19, 2019 3:56 pm #

    I believe that Night Haunter and Vulkan were opposite pairs, at least in regards to treating civilians.

    • Reecius
      Reecius January 19, 2019 10:12 pm #

      Wow, nice, this article is 7 years old! Glad to see people are still finding it.

      And yeah, the certainly are opposed to one another in the books too as Night Haunter kills him over and over again.

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