Lore Explainer: The Blood Angels

In The Lore Explainer, we take a deep look at the lore behind our favorite games, movies, and books, and talk about the story behind them and sum up what you need to know and how you can find out more. Today we’re talking about the lore behind the Blood Angels chapter of Space Marines.

Ah, the Blood Angels. Our boys in Carmine. They’re handsome hunks in highly ornate armour, artists, craftsmen, noble defenders of the ordinary Imperial citizen. But it’s not all dreamy swooning, for you see, they are tormented by a dark secret! Not the same one as the other Angels chapter, mind you – but it’s a big one!

The Blood Angels are the IX Legion of Space Marines, led by their winged Primarch, Sanguinius. They’re known for their red armor and their melee prowess, which they often combine with aerial strikes using drop pods and jump infantry. And also being vaguely vampires and more than a little willing to drink blood. To really understand the Blood Angels, we must first understand their Primarch, the favourite son and brother, Sanguinius.

Ten Millennia Worth of Daddy Issues

After the Primarchs were scattered all over the galaxy by the machinations of Chaos (or maybe because of their mum, the Perpetual named Erda… it’s unclear, but we’ll cover that more in a future Lore Explainer on the Emperor), Sanguinius landed on a radiation-blasted desert moon orbiting the planet Baal. It’s fair to say that this was not a very nice place to end up. With a great deal of the population mutated or malformed in some way or other, the rest of humanity organised itself into a tribe called “People of the Pure Blood” (very troubling political implications here!) that warred endlessly with the mutants for control of the moon’s extremely meagre resources. Our boy had the same accelerated development as the rest of the Primarchs and by the time he was discovered by the Pure Bloods he’d already killed a Fire Scorpion, one of Baal’s nastiest creepy crawlies. Clearly this was no ordinary mysterious one-year-old orphan the size of a grown man; no, something was different about this guy, even aside from the large white-feathered wings sprouting from his back.

Oh yeah, at this point we should mention that Sanguinius had literal honest-to-goodness angel wings. Nearly slipped my mind. Sanguineus [sic] is the latin term for “Of blood”, and he had wings, so in the same vein (har har) as the other incredibly on-the-nose Primarch names, he was a literal Angel of Blood. On top of his fully-functioning wings, Sanguinius shared a trait with his brother, Konrad Curze: He would receive visions of the future. Unlike Curze however, he didn’t freak out about it and become a blubbering mess but instead used it to win more battles.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

So Sanguinius used both his precognitive ability and his fighting skill to help the Pure Bloods win their forever-war against the mutants and they started worshipping him as a god (as one does). Not long after this, the Emperor turned up and went incognito to Baal to see what had been going on. Unlike some of his less observant brothers, Sanguinius used his psychic precog powers and recognised the Emperor straight away, joining up with the dad and brothers who’d already been rediscovered.

Problem Children

The Space Marine Legion created from Sanguinius’ genes was given the designation IX as the Ninth Legion and quickly gained a reputation for being a little… extreme. The Emperor deployed them mostly as vanguard forces, tasked with absolutely ravaging the shit out of His enemies in close combat, something they excelled at despite their recklessness leaving them with heavy losses each time. All well and good, you might think, but people started to notice that these Space Marines in their blood-soaked grey armour had a nasty habit of uh, eating the corpses of their enemies after a fight. Not an ideal trait for your saviours of mankind to have when it comes to putting together propaganda. The Blood Angels kept being thrown into the nastiest parts of battle and lost so many fighters each time, and yet they always managed to replenish themselves before the next battle.

This status as the Comeback Kids led everyone’s favourite creepy grandpa, Malcador, to give them the nickname “Revenant Legion.” Dark rumours began to spread and grew with each telling. Worlds wiped clean through insane violence, blood rituals, and charnel cults taking root among the legionaries. During the Second Siege of Yarant, IXth legion Marines made a show of eating prisoners of war in front of the walls as the defenders watched on, horrified. The legion was also reprimanded by Rogal Dorn for chowing down on wounded allied soldiers as they retreated, a major faux pas if ever there was one. Though Dorn liked to complain a lot about his brothers, so nothing was done about it. Eventually things became so bad that the Imperial machinery was reluctant to provide them with weaponry more advanced than bolters and chainswords for fear of what they might do.

“Sanguinius beheld the gathered warriors of the IXth each bearing the scars of unrelenting battle both on their proud faces and in the dark recesses of their spirits. These were not men to be impressed by the pomp and ceremony of his escort, nor by simple strength of arms. The winged Primarch, amid the rain and storms of that far world, took a knee before the rough-cast killers and scarred blood-drinkers and, rather than demand their allegiance, he offered them his own.

The warriors who had offered up everything to the new Imperium and in return been granted only scorn and mistrust, were now offered a Primarch’s loyalty, given freely and without reservation. Sanguinius had won their devotion with his actions.”

The fortunes of the Ninth legion shifted dramatically upon the return of their gene-sire. Through liberal use of his winning personality, his aesthetic sensibility, and calm wisdom, the character of his sons began to change. Where once there had been a barely-contained horde of ultra-violent killers in grey blood-spattered ceramite, there now stood a gleaming host of beautiful, noble warriors, resplendent in red and gold. Sanguinius carefully moulded the legion, previously composed of brutal criminals from Terra, by introducing those Baalites that had accompanied him, the champions of his tribe. The newly christened Blood Angels cleverly shed their old image and formed a new one, emerging as a legion respected and admired across the galaxy.

There was just one tiny little problem.

They were, ah… vampires.

The Flaw

Yep, that’s right, vampires. Not really in the “evil castle in a forest” way, but more in the handsome, charming Anne Rice way. But their good looks and love of the arts only went so far – on the inside they were at the mercy of a genetic defect called The Flaw. This caused their vampirism, and manifested itself in the manner of a junkie searching for their next fix, a powerful consuming thirst for the red stuff pumping around the fragile veins of those normal people, so easy to just reach out and grab. Suddenly the dark rumours legionaries chowing down on the dead began to make sense. Sanguinius was horrified to discover his sons occasionally drinking the blood of the dead, and a growing sorrow filled him upon the realisation that a flaw within his gene-seed had caused his grisly compulsion. Although, I dunno, maybe he could have looked at his own name for a few minutes and figured it out himself.

Remembering the fate of the IInd and XIth legions, the Primarch desperately hid the truth from his father and brothers, lest his now-beloved sons get squashed by Big E. Of the brothers, only Horus discovered this truth, when Sanguinius somewhat accidentally let slip to the totally trustworthy Lupercal that something was up with his crew.

Driven by the desire to keep the cover-up going, Sanguinius embarked on a rigorous program of mental conditioning for his sons, training them to resist their urges and focus that desire into other, more productive avenues, like many who struggle with dark compulsions, the Blood Angels became peerless artists and craftsmen, decorating their arms and armour with unparallelled ornate flourishes to match their own physical beauty.

The Blood Angels adopted the winged blood drop of Sanguinius into their legion’s heraldry, and so there are drop and wing motifs absolutely everywhere. They are not a subtle group.

Blood Angels Sanguinary Guard
Blood Angels Sanguinary Guard. Credit: Jack Hunter

Golden Boys

Every leader worth his salt needs a bodyguard of extra special guys that are the best of the best, a cut above the rest. For Sanguinius, these guys were the Sanguinary Guard, and their elite status is very apparent just from how they look, shining in armor of gold and adorned with white wings to match their primarch. Each is equipped with rare, immensely valuable weapons and they wear elaborate, masked helmets. For all their faults, no one could ever accuse the Blood Angels of subtlety.

The Heresy

Sanguinius was well liked among his brother primarchs and revered by the whole of the Imperium, particularly Guilliman, who at one point asked him to lead his own upstart empire. In terms of toe-to-toe prowess, Sanguinius was considered to be an equal of Horus, but despite this rivalry, the two actually became close friends during the Great Crusade, to the point that Sanginius confided in him and Horus kept his secret, though as we mentioned, that may have had more dastardly motivations.

When Horus turned against the Emperor he took the chance to betray Sanguinius early on, suspecting that the Blood Angels’ Primarch would never turn on the Emperor. The Blood Angels were diverted to the planet Signus Prime, ostensibly to fight a group of xenos called the Nephilim, only to be ambushed by daemons led by Ka’Bandha. The legion then fell to the Red Thirst, fueled by Khorne’s machinations, and were nearly lost until the Apothecary Meros sacrificed himself to save the legion.

The Blood Angels were one of the legions present on Terra during the siege, going toe-to-toe with Night Lords, World Eaters, Death Guard, and more, acting as the swift-striking hammer to the anvil of the Imperial Fists. While the other fast attackers, the White Scars, liked to ride their bikes around, the Blood Angels were far more at home making daring jump-pack assaults and mixing it up in the melee. Sanguinius and his angels made many appearances on the front lines of the siege, finally leading the doomed defence of the Delphic Battlement and the Eternity Gate, eventually being forced to slam shut the portal, condemning those still outside to a painful death.

Vengeful Spirit

At the final hour, when all was lost, the Emperor, the Praetorian, the Angel, and the Captain General teleported aboard Horus’ flagship, The Vengeful Spirit, accompanied by the elites of their legions for one last scrap to put an end to the heresy once and for all. Sanguinius, blessed with the gift of foresight, knew that this would probably be the last thing he’d ever do, yet went willingly to his doom. The force were scattered in the teleportation process, split up in the labyrinthine corridors of the warship.

Sangunius was accompanied by all but one of his Sanguinary Guard and every one of them would fall to the traitors’ onslaught as they fought through winding corridors and warp-spawned madness toward Horus. Only Sanguinius himself managed to meet the Warmaster and in the desperate fight between the two, the beautiful Angel was killed (just as he’d forseen), though through his incredible prowess and noble self-sacrifice he managed to wound Horus a bit – just enough to give the Emperor (who arrived just a little too late to save his most beloved son) a fighting chance against the Lupercal. The rest is history. But for the Blood Angels, this history is always sort-of present. How come? Well…

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Perfectly Flawed

The intense shock and trauma of Sanguinius’ death had a sort of psychic hocus-pocus effect on his gene-seed, rippling out into the DNA of every Blood Angel, a dark little seed planted at their roots alongside the Red Thirst. This “Psychic Imprint” lays dormant in marines of the Blood Angels and their successor chapters, and every one of them dreads the day it becomes active within them. It’s not known precisely what triggers this activation, but during or prior to battle, a marine bearing the gene-seed of Sanguinius may become insane, believing himself to be the Primarch during the assault on the Vengeful Spirit. Locked into a world of desperate fury and frothing at the mouth, he’s unable to control the violence in his being. He roars, insensate, and fights with reckless fury and superhuman strength beyond even his Astartesian enhancement.

Blood Angels Chaplains monitor their brothers on the eve of battle and test them for signs that they will soon fall to The Rage. Should a brother fail this test, he’s taken off on a one-way trip to the Death Company, a deeply sorrowful occasion for his comrades. His armour is painted black and decorated with red saltires, representing the wounds borne by Sanguinius, and given free choice of armament from the chapter’s stash. Often, soon-to-be Death Companions choose close-combat weapons and jump packs, to better make use of their blind rage tearing the enemy to pieces up close.

Once the Black Rage takes hold members of the Death Company can’t be easily controlled or directed like other companies of Space Marines, howling the name of Horus Lupercal and screaming in fury, unfeeling and immune to pain, the Death Companions are shepherded into battle by Chaplains like rabid dogs before being loosed on the foe, in order to achieve a glorious, if tragic, death in battle. Should a Death Companion survive the battle to the end, creepy Astorath, the High Chaplain of the Blood Angels stalks the battlefield, finishing them off with his axe. Even Dreadnoughts can fall to the Black Rage. Unlike their conventionally armoured comrades, Death Company Dreadnoughts can’t be subdued after battle for a swift execution, and will rage and stomp around for days after battle before a Techmarine can get near enough to turn off the life-support system |zand remove the occupant.

Dante’s Inferno

After the Horus Heresy, the Blood Angels were reconstituted from a legion to a chapter, alongside their many successor chapters “of the Blood”, the two most notable of which are the Flesh Tearers and the Lamenters. Each of the Chapters of the Blood keep to the same traditions as their parents, but sometimes alter them to suit their particular temperaments. The Flesh Tearers are more brutal and violent than their refined forebears, whle the Lamenters are cursed with absolutely abysmal levels of luck, constantly rolling ones on the galactic stage again and again. But we’re not talking about the successors, so let’s focus back on The Original And Best, our Boys in Red.

In the present era of the Warhammer 40,000 story, the Blood Angels are led by Commander Dante, perhaps the most legendary living space marine, famed across the Imperium as a peerless military leader. You see, one trait of the Blood Angels that I neglected to mention before now is that they are very, very long-lived, Dante himself boasts a lifespan of approximately 1,400 years, making him by far the oldest non-Primarch living subject of the Imperium not currently interred in a Dreadnought, and he feels every single one of those years. Being a hero isn’t easy, you see, the weight of command and expectation lie heavy on the ol’ fella’s shoulders, and yet he lives on, taking the field in his beautiful golden armour, wearing the death mask of Sanguinius to project the inspirational image of a dauntless, noble warrior. The only thing preventing Dante from falling into despondency are the seemingly-prophetic dreams that plague him in which one golden warrior stands defiant between The Emperor and the encroaching darkness. This belief that one day he must protect the body of the Emperor with his own isn’t bourne of grandeur, arrogance, or pride – but a simple, uneasy understanding.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to ever fall upon the Blood Angels occurred in the final year of the 41st Millennium. The inexorable approach of Hive Fleet Leviathan inched ever closer to Baal, hundreds of thousands of bioships transporting all manner of horrors. Dante, blessed with at least a little wisdom, did the responsible thing and put out the call for all of the Chapters of the Blood to come back home and defend mother Baal, perhaps to his surprise, many of their successor chapters turned up in the time preceding the Tyranid arrival, enabling Dante to plan an elaborate defense of the Arx Angelicum – the Blood Angels’ Fortress-Monastery. By the time the Hive Fleet was too close for safe interstellar travel, some thirty thousand Space Marines stood ready to defend Baal, on the ground and in orbit. Despite desperate naval action to forestall the shredding advance, the fleet made contact and deposited the swarm on the planet’s surface. What followed could probably appear alongside “Pyhrric Victory” in the Imperial Dictionary, and indeed, only the timely arrival of Guilliman’s Indomitus Crusade prevented a catastrophic defeat that would have seen the Chapters of the Blood all but wiped out. Dante himself almost died on the field of battle, defeating a monstrous Swarmlord but being mortally wounded in the process. As he lay dying, Dante saw visions of his gene-sire, the great angel Sanguinius. Exhausted both mentally and physically, Dante begged the angel to take him, to finally let him die, but the angel sadly refused – the old man’s time was not yet done.

Note: You can read more about this conflict in our Lore Explainer on the Tyrannic Wars.

Following the big dust-up, Dante had a meeting with the newly-revived Roboute Guilliman in which the Primarch named him Regent of Imperium Nihilus. So not only does The Tiredest Man In The Galaxy have all his other shit to take care of, now he’s responsible for half of the Imperium (and it’s the half with no support), gee, thanks Rob.

Most recently, the Blood Angels played a major role in the Arks of Omen event, being the ones to discover and shepherd Lion El’Jonson, primarch of the Dark Angels, to the newly rebuilt daemon world version of Caliban (it’s a long story we’ll cover in a future Lore Explainer). Dante personally delivered the Primarch and the Blood Angels helped the Unforgiven assault the planet in an attempt to stop Abaddon and Vashtorr’s plot. They didn’t succeed, but it was a pretty cool battle.

Where to Read More

There’s a lot on the Blood Angels, who have always been fan-favorites among Space Marine chapters dating back to the 2nd edition release of Codex: Angels of Death. Guy Haley’s Devastation of Baal is a pretty good starting points if you want to dive deeper into current day lore, while Sanguinius: The Great Angel details the origins of the chapter’s primarch. After Devastation of BaalDante and Darkness in the Blood are oft-recommended next steps.

Have any questions or feedback? Got a lore topic you’d like to see us cover? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.