The Great Scouring, or simply The Scouring, was the Imperium of Man's great counter-offensive against the Traitor Legions. It began immediately after the end of the Horus Heresy following the death of the Warmaster Horus and the failure of his Siege of the Imperial Palace during the Battle of Terra in the early decades of the 31st Millennium. It succeeded in driving the Forces of Chaos from Imperial space into a permanent refuge in the Warp rift known as the Eye of Terror.
The bitter fighting of the Horus Heresy was only the beginning of a new age for Mankind founded in blood, battle and the living enshrinement of the Emperor as a God. After the death of their leader, Horus, the Traitors splintered and dispersed, but many hard battles remained. Horus' campaign to strike towards Terra with his Traitor Legions and other Traitor forces to achieve a quick and decisive victory that would overthrow the rule of the Emperor of Mankind had ultimately been defeated during the Battle of Terra. The fledgling Imperium was wrested back from the brink of destruction by those who remained staunchly loyal to the Emperor's vision for humanity. After the death of Horus, those Traitors who had not been slain outright during the Siege of the Imperial Palace fled before the vengeful wrath of the Loyalist forces. Many made good their escape into unexplored space or disappeared into the Eye of Terror or other, lesser-known Warp rifts such as the Maelstrom.
In the wake of the Horus Heresy, the Imperium was a dismal, shattered thing. As the beauty and grandeur of the Imperial Palace had been burned black in the flames of betrayal, so great swathes of the Emperor's star-spanning realm had suffered a similar fate. The Master of Mankind was a broken husk, and his dream of unity erased forever. Yet for all this, the Imperium retained might enough to exact a bloody revenge upon its foes. There could be no forgiveness for the crimes of the Traitor Legions -- those who now ruled in the Emperor's name had neither the ability nor the desire to prevent a war of reciprocity. So began the time known in the histories of the Imperium as the Scouring. Before actually being confined for all time within the life support mechanisms of the Golden Throne, the Emperor had pronounced judgment on the Traitors: he declared them Excommunicate Traitoris, and determined that they were to be driven into the hellish region of the Warp rift called the Eye of Terror, which would hold them for all eternity. All records and memory of the Traitor Legions were to be expunged from the Imperial archives. Worlds such as Istvaan V and Davin would be scoured clean of all life because of their corruption by Chaos. The Traitor Legions' associated troops from the Dark Mechanicus, the Titan Legions or the regiments and starships of the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy that had turned to Chaos were to be destroyed or driven into the Eye. It would be as if the Traitor Legions had never existed to sully the Imperium with their betrayal.
This was a period of monumental violence, of confusion and darkness. Though the newly founded Imperium fought to root out corruption and expose wrong-doers to the cold light of Imperial justice, the galaxy's scope and dark, shadowed reaches worked against them. With new betrayals and cries for vengeance emerging daily, a great many bloody-handed deeds went unseen. The ravaged Space Marine Legions were no exception to this, with many striving to cover up their own misdemeanours or exact their pound of flesh from those who wronged them. The Dark Angels, the Space Wolves, Iron Hands and even the Ultramarines, all followed their own agendas as the wars of the Great Scouring gathered pace. Fighting continued for another seven standard years after the Heresy had ended with Horus' death on the bridge of his great flagship, the Vengeful Spirit, before the Traitor forces were wholly destroyed or exiled into the Eye of Terror. Many Chaos-corrupted star systems were cleansed and placed under the watch of the newborn Inquisition. Horus' death had not ended the fighting, but it had renewed the resolve of the Loyalists to destroy the Traitors. Many Imperial worlds during the Heresy had refused to commit their forces to either side, or seceded entirely from the Imperium to regain their independence. Such indecision was punished by Loyalist and Traitor forces alike. These forces were often bled white attacking the rebel strongholds of worlds that only wanted to be free of the Imperium entirely, whether it swore allegiance to the Emperor or to the Dark Gods.
Changes swept both the military and the offices of government. The Space Marine Legions, the vast fighting formations so instrumental in Mankind's victories during the Great Crusade, were broken down into many smaller Chapters comprised of 1,000 Astartes. Overseen by Roboute Guilliman, the Primarch of the Ultramarines Legion, he penned his magnum opus, the Codex Astartes -- a great and sacred tome which covered every conceivable topic of military organisation, strategy and tactics. This transition allowed for greater tactical flexibility without placing the command of an entire Space Marine legion into the hands of one individual -- never again would the awesome power of one hundred thousand Space Marines be misused. The Loyalist Space Marine Legions that had been decimated during the Drop Site Massacre on Istvaan V -- the Raven Guard, Iron Hands and Salamanders -- were slowly reestablished using what little gene-seed the survivors had managed to escape with. The original First Founding Space Marine Legions were divided into smaller Successor Chapters - one Chapter maintained their parent Legion's original name, badge and colours, while the remaining Chapters took new names and heraldry. These original Chapters are known as the Second Founding Chapters, which occurred in the early 31st Millennium, which coincided with the beginning of what was known as the Reformation of the Imperium.
With the Emperor confined to the Golden Throne and the Imperium left effectively leaderless, the Forces of Chaos and all of the enemies of the Imperium like the Orks and Eldar pirates swept down on the defenceless worlds which had already been ravaged by the terrible internecine fighting during the Heresy. With so much of the its strength siphoned off fighting heretics, many colonised planets were ripe for invasion. Sensing this, these predatory aliens closed in on all sides until, on every frontier, worlds burned and were lost. Not even systems once thought unassailable were safe from the rapacious xenos threat.
The light and hope of the Great Crusade era was gone forever, to be replaced by the dark time known as the Age of the Imperium in which death was far more prevalent, war was the only constant in the galaxy and hope seemed far away. Without the Emperor to lead humanity directly, the sheer threats that the galaxy presented to human life led the High Lords of Terra to create an Imperial administration that was increasingly authoritarian, highly bureaucratic, ponderous and often uncaring towards individual human lives as long as its authority was maintained. Religion also became an important tool of social control as the original rationalist and atheistic Imperial Truth favoured by the Emperor was jettisoned for the growing and once-illegal Imperial Cult.
As the vengeance campaign known as the Scouring swept back over the human-controlled parts of the galaxy,these new sects followed closely behind. Within a few hundred years of the Emperor's sacrifice, the multirude of smaller cults had been absorbed into the largest and strongest sects, the most powerful of which was known as the Ecclesiarchy, after its elected leader, the Ecclesiarch. This aggtessive body grew so large and dominant over the years that, early in the 32nd Millennium, it gained the status of official religion of the Imperium and the concomitant title of Adeptus Ministorum. The growth of this church cemented loyalty to the Imperium amongst the teeming masses of humanity at the same time that religious faith provided a modicum of comfort against the often harsh realities of the galaxy. The military forces of the Imperium were reorganised and redeployed and gradually the remaining followers of Chaos were forced to flee into the galactic west, to the massive Warp rift of the Eye of Terror. Eventually the Imperium succeeded in stabilising itself, but not without heavy losses of men and materiel.
The Ultramarines Legion proved to be a major factor in the final triumph of the Imperium over the Traitor Legions and the other Forces of Chaos. This was largely because their numbers had not been whittled down through heavy attrition during the Battle of Terra due to the fighting that had consumed them in the Calth System in the galactic east against the Word Bearers Traitor Legion. Roboute Guilliman, the Primarch of the Ultramarines, was the greatest human military strategist alive after the Emperor's internment and he rallied the other Loyalist Space Marine Legions to act as a bulwark against all enemies of the Imperium. The days following the Horus Heresy were to be some of the darkest seen since the Emperor had risen to power on Terra during the Unification Wars at the end of the Age of Strife. Guilliman was said to have been everywhere during this period, rallying the Imperial defenders and reinforcing them with his Ultramarines before moving on to the next battle zone. Never once did the Space Marines take a step back, so strong was their faith in the Imperium, the Emperor and Guilliman's tactics.
The Emperor's dream of a new age of enlightenment, a time when Mankind was to be free from superstition and ignorance, has turned out very differently for the galactic Imperium he founded. The Great Scouring was followed by the ten millennia long era known as the Age of the Imperium. It is an age of tyrants and of unreason, an era of stagnation and intolerance. His people have regressed into religious obfuscation while the Emperor sits immobile, his thoughts unknown; the immortal being whose will extends over a million worlds is unable to lift even a shrivelled finger. Though the Imperium succeeded in preventing its death at the hands of the Forces of Chaos during the Heresy, the cost of that conflict was the better future for humanity that the Emperor had hoped to create.
- Codex: Space Marines (7th Edition), "The Chronicles of Heroes"
- Codex: Space Marines (6th Edition), "A Brotherhood at War," pg. 18
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pg. 7
- Codex: Space Marines (4th Edition), pg. 6
- Codex: Ultramarines (2nd Edition), pg. 8
- Index Astartes IV, "The Enemy Within - The Alpha Legion Space Marine Legion," "Dark Apostles - The Word Bearers Space Marine Legion," & "Sons of Horus - The Black Legion Space Marine Legion"
- Index Astartes I "The Unforgiven - The Dark Angels Space Marine Legion," "Bitter and Twisted - The Iron Warriors Space Marine Legion," & "Children of the Emperor - The Emperor's Children Space Marine Legion"
- Index Astartes II, "Bringers of Darkness - The Night Lords Space Marine Legion"
- Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness (1988), pg. 243
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (7th Edition), "The Age of the Imperium"
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (6th Edition), pp. 161-162
- Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (5th Edition), pg. 124
- Nightbringer (Novel) - The Ultramarines Omnibus (Omnibus)