The Warhammer 40k Word Bearers are a Chaos Space Marines legion whose warped star has risen in recent years. Largely via their highly successful dastardly schemes in Games Workshop’s Horus Heresy novels, the exploits of Lorgar Aurelian’s faithful sons have shaped the entire modern Warhammer 40k setting, from pre-Heresy to now – this guide tells the whole story.
Few have fallen so far and so willingly as the Word Bearers in their never-ending quest for the truth. Initially deifying the Emperor of Mankind, before going on to indulge every unholy pursuit to earn the favour of dark, cackling gods, the Word Bearers have a fascinating tale behind them. If you’ve always wanted to know the truth, read on.
Some knowledge is assumed here – if you’re new to Games Workshop’s grim, dark Warhammer 40k setting, we’d recommend perusing our full guide to all the Warhammer 40k factions first, as well as our primers on the Imperium of Man and the Warhammer 40k Chaos forces. For more reading, we’ve also listed which Horus Heresy books you should pick up first. For now, though, let’s dive into the history of the Seventeenth…
Pre-Heresy Word Bearers
As with the other Primarchs, the Word Bearers’ primogenitor Lorgar Aurelian was whisked away by mysterious forces, leaving the 17th Legion to find their own way in the galaxy. Unconsciously taking after their gene-sire, the pre-heresy Word Bearers Legion approached their duties with uncommon, fanatical devotion and zeal.
Many Space Marine Legions took time to earn a name, but the Word Bearers earned theirs swiftly. Known as the Imperial Heralds, they would descend upon an unpacified planet, sending a lone herald to deliver the ultimatum of the Emperor: submit or die.
When victorious, the Imperial Heralds would scour their conquests to destroy any work they considered heretical and against the atheistic proclamations of the Emperor. This earned them a second name: the Iconoclasts.
Upon being united with the newly-discovered Lorgar on the barren desert world of Colchis, the Imperial Heralds were renamed the Word Bearers before joining the Emperor’s Great Crusade.
Unlike other pre-heresy Legions, the Word Bearers Space Marines conquered worlds at an almost glacial pace. After each successful conquest they would pause to destroy heretical works, indoctrinate the locals, and raise great monuments and cathedrals to proclaim the glory of the Emperor – who they had come to believe was a living god.
On one world, where the pre-heresy Word Bearers had raised what they considered the perfect city, Monarchia, the Legion and its Primarch were finally, and fatefully, humbled. The Emperor rebuked Lorgar and the Word Bearers for the slow pace of their conquests as well as for worshipping him, faith being something he had utterly forbidden.
Using his vast psyker powers, he forced the entire Legion to kneel while primarch Roboute Guilliman‘s ‘noble’, blue armored Ultramarines bombarded Monarchia, razing their ‘perfect city’ to dust. Lorgar and the Legion were encouraged to rededicate themselves to the Great Crusade, put aside notions of the Emperor’s godhood, and to redouble their efforts to bring worlds into the Imperium.
This did not go as the Emperor had planned. On the surface, the Word Bearers obeyed the edict flawlessly, razing their way across the galaxy to bring more worlds under the banner of the Imperium than any other Legion – but this was only a ruse.
Secretly Lorgar and his most trusted lieutenants, Erebus and Kor Phaeron, had journeyed to the world of Cadia – and from there to the Eye of Terror – to find their true gods, and learn the truth of the universe.
When Lorgar and his Word Bearers returned from the Eye of Terror, they had changed. Some Word Bearers had been augmented, twisted through contact with daemonic entities from the Warp, becoming the first Chaos Space Marine Possessed.
The Word Bearers had indeed found their gods – and they now had a new mission: to see humanity united in worship of the Chaos Gods.
Horus Heresy Word Bearers
Though the Horus Heresy is named after its figurehead, the traitor Warmaster Horus Lupercal, it is the Warhammer 30k Word Bearers who set it in motion. They infiltrated other Legions, forming secret lodges to turn once loyal Space Marines against the Imperium.
These were so effective they managed to expose the grudges many Primarchs held towards the Emperor, causing cracks to appear in the once unified Great Crusade. Even Horus was eventually turned through the machinations of Lorgar and the Word Bearers Dark Apostle Erebus, using dark magics to twist the Warmaster’s thoughts and beliefs.
When the first shots of the Horus Heresy were fired on Isstvan V, the Word Bearers openly embraced rebellion against the Imperium of Man. As the second largest Space Marine Legion after the Ultramarines, they were integral parts of many fronts of the war.
Lorgar’s mentor Kor Phaeron and his Legions were responsible for bottling the Ultramarines up by ambushing the loyalist forces at Calth, and, while they were eventually repelled, the Word Bearers were still able to slaughter millions, devastating the planet to the point that it still has no atmosphere ten thousand years later.
The Word Bearers inflicted a colossal rift on the universe by unleashing the Shadow Crusade alongside the World Eaters, eventually summoning a Warp storm that cut off Terra from the rest of the galaxy. It was also this Shadow Crusade that saw Lorgar and the Word Bearers push Angron, Primarch of the World Eaters, into his dark apotheosis – becoming a Daemon Prince of Khorne, damned for all eternity.
For the Word Bearers, the Horus Heresy ended with a whimper. Their Primarch had begun to view Horus as weak and planned a coup to unseat him, taking over command of the war in the name of the Chaos Gods.
Unfortunately for Lorgar, the Word Bearers Dark Apostle Zardu Layak betrayed him to Horus, scuppering the coup, and forcing Lorgar and much of the Legion to retreat first to Colchis, and then to the Eye of Terror.
For his part, Zardu Layak and five thousand Word Bearers joined Horus for the final part of the war: the Siege of Terra itself.
30k Word Bearers models
For Word Bearer fans wishing to recreate battles from this period, Forge World have created several 30k Word Bearers models and units for use on the miniature wargame battlefield.
These include units like:
- 30k Word Bearers Legion Praetor
- The Gal Vorbak – the original Possessed
- Zardu Layak and his Blade Slave
- Legion Tartaros Praetor, clad in Word Bearers Terminator armour
Oh yes, the Word Bearers are well represented on the Warhammer 30k Horus Heresy tabletop.
Warhammer 40k Word Bearers
Since the events of the Horus Heresy, the Word Bearers have not been idle. Lorgar himself has not been seen for millennia, leaving the Warhammer 40k Word Bearers to be ruled over by the so-called ‘Dark Council’ from the cathedral-covered Daemon World of Sicarus.
Despite Lorgar’s absence, the Word Bearers remain a mostly unified Legion, though they often fight amongst themselves and pull in different directions. Word Bearers in 40k are still zealously obsessed with bringing down the Emperor and the Imperium of Man.
Some of the Word Bearers’ contemporary ef
forts are documented in the Word Bearers Omnibus by Anthony Reynolds. This volume consists of the Word Bearers Trilogy: the novels Dark Apostle, Dark Disciple, and Dark Creed.
Focusing on Marduk, they chart his rise from First Acolyte to a Dark Apostle to joining the Dark Council itself through several campaigns across the galaxy.
Now – at the close of the 41st Millennium – it’s said that Lorgar has roused himself from his ten thousand years of solitude in his tower on Sicarus. He has been seen walking at the head of a colossal Word Bearers force, preaching the word of the Ruinous Powers, resplendent in unholy glory as he converts thousands to the worship of Chaos.
Alternatively, if you’d rather deep further into heretical lore, we’ve got full guides to Konrad Curze (primarch of the 8th Legion Night Lords) and Fulgrim the Phoenician, lord of the 3rd Legion Emperor’s Children. If you hadn’t heard, there’s also a snazzy new Fulgrim 30k model coming out.