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The Age of Strife, also sometimes referred to as Old Night, is the name for the chaotic and highly fragmented period of human history between the 25th and 30th Millenniums AD. According to the "official" histories of the Imperium, the precise details and dates of the Age of Strife are not known, due to the data having been lost over vast amounts of time, to the chaos of that period, and partly to censorship by various Imperial authorities who seek to prevent the people of the Imperium from learning more about the rampant uncontrolled psykers and daemonic Chaos incursions that marked many of the human worlds of the period.
Dark Age of Technology
The Dark Age of Technology is the name given to the period of human history that began in the 15th Millennium and ended in the 25th Millennium, during which huge advances occurred in human science and technology. The Dark Age of Technology saw the development of the specialized psychic mutants known as Navigators and the earliest use of the Warp for space travel by human beings, with the greatest extent of interstellar space exploration and colonisation across the galaxy taking place during this period after the development of the Warp-Drive that allowed faster-than-light space travel. Other notable developments include the development of the Standard Template Construct (STC) system and the artificially-intelligent Men of Iron, powerful combat robots.
The Age of Technology ended in inter-human war and anarchy, in an era known as the Age of Strife, as massive Warp storms cut off interstellar travel and communications across the whole of the human-settled galaxy. The STC systems lapsed into disuse or decayed. The Adeptus Mechanicus have made finding a functional, untainted STC system their ultimate goal and are willing to go to any lengths to find even the smallest printout of technology from an STC.
During the so-called "Dark Age of Technology" humanity had reached its technological peak. The "Standard Template Construct", or STC, had been perfected by human scientists and engineers and allowed an unprecedented expansion of humanity throughout the galaxy.
One of the reasons humanity was so successful at conquering a large part of the galaxy was the development of the artificially intelligent humanoid constructs now only known as the Men of Iron. These powerful and fully autonomous labour and combat robots won many wars for humanity, but for some reason turned against their masters at the end of the Dark Age of Technology. The war was eventually won by humanity, but at a great cost. The damage was catastrophic and had shattered much of humanity's power. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of mankind's misfortunes.
As humanity became widely dispersed across the galaxy during the Age of Technology, the ancient Eldar Empire began its decline; the great success of the advanced Eldar race had led to decadence and hedonism on a grand scale. Within the immaterial, psychic universe of the Warp, the spiritual corruption of the Eldar civilization was reflected in the forming of a new Chaos God, Slaanesh, which in turn caused massive disturbances in the Warp; parts of the galaxy became isolated by these Warp storms, making Warp travel and communication impossible, cutting off many human colony worlds from one another, including those of the Solar System.
Towards the end of the Age of Technology psykers first appeared among humanity. While persecuted on many backwards, regressive human worlds as witches, in enlightened and progressive societies these psykers were at first protected and accepted. The intolerance of psykers would seem prescient, as many human worlds fell to the dominance of daemons and other Warp creatures using possessed psykers as gateways into the physical world. Only worlds which had rigorously suppressed psykers survived.
The Age of Strife followed the Age of Technology, as human civilisation collapsed in widespread insanity, daemonic possession, anarchy and inter-human civil war. Terrible weapons of the golden age of technology were unleashed, devastating many human colonies and turning once-verdant worlds such as Baal Secundus into irradiated desert planets. Many isolated and vulnerable human-colonized worlds also became prey to hostile alien races, such as the Orks.
In a relatively short span of time, the once galaxy-spanning human civilization was brought to its knees, and was forced to endure nearly five millennia of anarchy, terror, war, genocide and slavery. Other than tales of great suffering, little information has survived this dark time to be known to the men and women of the Imperium.
Earth and Mars
Earth and the rest of the settled worlds of the Solar System were surrounded by terrible Warp storms, isolating the human homeworld for several thousand years from the rest of the galaxy. Control of the Solar System shifted constantly between the worlds of Earth and Mars during the first half of the Age of Strife. By the 28th Millennium almost all traces of civilization on Earth were long gone; instead, techno-barbarians battled one another over the scraps of the ancient human civilization. Little information remains from this dark time, but it is known that tyrants such as Kalagann of Ursh (northern Asia/Russia), Cardinal Tang, and ("the half-mad, half-genius") Narthan Dume of the Panpacific Empire ruled during this era. Other known Earth nations of the time period include the Yndonesic Bloc, the Urals (a centre of industry), the Jermani, Gyptus, Merica, Afrique, the Terrawatt Clan and Alba. Another ethnicity mentioned are the 'Nordyc' people.
Mars underwent a very different transformation. After a brief period of anarchy, the tech-priests of the Adeptus Mechanicus emerged victorious over the psyker mutants and unified their homeworld beneath their theocratic rule. The tech-priests then visited Earth but were appalled at the destruction there and saw nothing worth saving. Instead, the Martians studied the Warp and after many lifetimes learned to detect 'lulls' in the Warp storms. At the same time the immense robotic fighting machines known as Titans were created, to defend the Red Planet.
For over a thousand years the Cult Mechanicus watched and waited. Whenever a break in the Warp storms occurred, an expedition was sent, complete with a full Titan Legion and thousands of servitors and tech-priests. Some of these expeditions were lost in the Warp or died on faraway worlds. Others succeeded in establishing 'Forge Worlds' - replicas of Mars. Broken messages were transmitted to Mars, but it was not until the time of the Great Crusade that the Forge Worlds and Mars would be reunited.
Rise of the Emperor
Eventually, an immensely powerful human leader and psyker known only as the Emperor of Mankind divined that the final birth of the new Chaos God Slaanesh was nearing, as well as the effect this birth would have on the turmoil afflicting the galaxy and he began to accelerate his preparations for this history-changing event. From the beginning of the Age of Strife the Emperor had no longer been content with guiding humanity from the shadows under a myriad of different historical identities, some of them quite well-known even in the 41st Millennium. The Emperor had come to believe that If his species was to survive, he would have to take charge himself, openly and without subterfuge. Within his underground gene-labs beneath the Himalayas, the Emperor began to experiment on the human genetic code. Using his own DNA as a template he created the nineteen gene-seed organs of the Space Marines and then the super-human Astartes themselves. Through deeds of great valour and his own personal charisma, the Emperor recruited from the techno-barbarians that wandered Terra's surface and implanted the geneseed into them, turning them into the geno-warriors. Once he had gathered sufficient military forces, he conquered Earth and later its satellite of Luna, and began the genetic engineering processes necessary to create the Primarchs and, from the Primarchs' own genes and the genetic blueprints of his geno-warriors, the Space Marine Legions.
Upon the birth of Slaanesh sometime in the 29th Millennium, the crippling Warp Storms ended (which allowed for easier galactic travel and astropathic communication between worlds), the Eldar race was nearly annihilated in what they termed the Fall and the Eldar empire's hold over much of the galaxy disintegrated, and the Emperor began to carry out his plans to reunify Mankind under his rule. With the Emperor's ascension and the creation of the Imperium of Man in a political and military alliance between Terra and the Adeptus Mechanicus of Mars, the Age of Strife was finally ended and a new age, the Age of the Imperium, had begun. This age of conquest, heroism and unity began with the Emperor's Great Crusade, to reunite all the scattered worlds of humanity beneath the rule of the Imperium and it would in turn be forever tainted and corrupted at its inception by the terrible tragedy and original sin of the massive interstellar civil war now known only as the Horus Heresy.
The Age of Strife had a tremendous impact on human civilization. Humanity barely survived the period, and most of the knowledge of the previous golden era was lost, much of it irrevocably; in particular, the loss of the STC system is seen as a serious setback for the advancement of the Imperium. The Adeptus Mechanicus regards the STC as holy and constantly searches for remnants of STC systems. Although much lost information has been recovered by the efforts of the Adeptus Mechanicus, by focusing on re-attaining knowledge from the ancient STC and spending little energy inventing new technology, the Imperium advances at only a snail's pace technologically. This is further compounded by the centralization of knowledge in the hands of the Adeptus Mechanicus, preventing the dissemination of known science and technology that might speed up the process of innovation.
Humanity as a whole became more superstitious and distrustful because of the horrors perpetrated during the Age of Strife, something which the Imperial government goes to great lengths to encourage. In particular, the Imperium's people distrust mutants, aliens and psykers; this distrust runs so deep that the Imperium has a complex secret police force, known collectively as the Inquisition, devoted to finding and destroying all aliens, daemons, mutants, unsanctioned psykers and "heretics" (anyone deemed to be straying from official Imperial doctrine) existing within the Imperium. Despite the general distrust of psykers, they perform many critical functions for the Imperium, most notably the maintenance of the Astronomican, so they are often rounded up by Imperial agents and forced into service. The Adeptus Ministorum ("the Ecclesiarchy"), the official religious hierarchy of the Imperium, enforces a strict dogma including absolute devotion to the Immortal God-Emperor of Mankind, the embodiment of Jehovah, Jesus Christ, Allah, the Buddha, Brahma and every other divinity ever worshipped by humanity, all rolled up into a single personage.
In short, the authoritarian, often harsh Imperium of Man possesses its unique characteristics in large part due to the great suffering endured by humanity during the Age of Strife.
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 167
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition), pg. 122
- Codex: Sisters of Battle (2nd Edition)
- The Outcast Dead (Novel) by Graham McNeill
- Mechanicum (Novel) by Graham McNeill