- "Form ranks, draw blades and stand fast my brothers -- we shall show these traitorous degenerates the meaning of vengeance this day."
- —Sergeant Pythas, Iron Snakes 6th Company
The Iron Snakes take their name from the giant sea serpents called Water Wyrms that inhabit their frozen homeworld of Ithaka's vast oceans. One of the Chapter's most important rites of passage is to hunt and kill one of these leviathans using a type of weapon called a "Sea Lance."
The Iron Snakes Chapter's primary task is to guard a cluster of Imperial star systems known as the Reef Stars close to their homeworld of Ithaka, which are frequently plagued by the Drukhari, and less often by Orks.
The Iron Snakes are a somewhat superstitious brotherhood whose squads are named after the founding leaders of the Chapter.
Over the centuries, several Iron Snakes squads have accumulated particularly impressive strings of victories and glorious rolls of honours -- the histories of Squads Skypio, Parthus, Veii and Thebes are the stuff of many great sagas.
Unusually for a Chapter of such lineage, however, the Iron Snakes are not a Codex Astartes-compliant Chapter in their tactics or organisation. The current Chapter Master, Seydon, is the eighteenth to bear that title since the foundation of the Iron Snakes.
The first squad-leaders of the Chapter have become immortalised within its ranks, as their names have been retained as the official designation of the squads they first led. Every squad in the Chapter is known by the name of its first commanding Sergeant and careful attention is paid to recording the deeds of each squad and the glory it has accumulated.
Over the centuries, several squads judged to have accumulated particularly impressive and glorious histories are now referred to as "Notable" squads and are seen as the preeminent units in the entire Chapter, the closest formations that exist to a true Veteran unit.
There are five Notable squads within the Iron Snakes, the Skypio, Parthus, Veii, Thebes and Damocles Squads. Skypio Squad is the senior squad of the entire Chapter and is the closest thing to a conventional elite unit the Iron Snakes possess.
- The Battle of Thessala (121.M31) - The Iron Snakes accompanied their parent Chapter and five other Ultramarines Successor Chapters in battle against the remnants of the Emperor's Children Traitor Legion over the world of Thessala under the command of their Primarch Roboute Guilliman, then the Lord Commander of the Imperium. Their 4th Company was among the boarding parties sent to assault the Pride of the Emperor, the Gloriana-class flagship of the III Legion, to disable its core systems. While the 4th Company was successful in its mission to destroy the great warship's Void Shield generators, their Primarch was mortally injured in his fight against the Daemon Primarch Fulgrim and the Loyalists soon retreated back to their craft. Guilliman would not recover from the wound and would be placed in stasis and returned to Macragge, eventually to be interred within the Temple of Correction for the next 10,000 standard years.
- The War of the Beast (544-546.M32) - The Iron Snakes aided the defence of the Imperium during the great conflict with the largest Ork WAAAGH! to strike the Imperium since the Ullanor Crusade, known as the War of the Beast.
- The Sabbat Worlds Crusade (755-778.M41) - The Chapter contributed over 300 Space Marines towards the Imperial Guard's on-going Sabbat Worlds Crusade against the Forces of Chaos and fought with considerable distinction in that conflict. The Iron Snakes fought with distinction in a number of campaigns during the crusade including the assault on Pelbury Civitas, the cleansing of the daemon-infested world of Fornax Aleph, support for the extermination of the Zoican horde on Verghast, and the destruction of the mechanised mutant army of Presarius.
- The Relief of the Imperial Guard forces on Ambold XI (756.M41) - The Iron Snakes lost only 8 Astartes in a campaign that cost the Forces of Chaos 29,000 casualties.
- Ambush on Naxos (811.M41) - Led by Captain Trokus, a mere 40 Battle-Brothers ambushed and destroyed an entire raiding force of the illusive Drukhari on the world of Naxos. Despite his victory, Captain Trokus' actions were heavily criticised, for he deliberately left the local Planetary Defence Forces to fight alone, only springing his trap once the enemy had committed its entire strength. This subsequently led to heavy losses within the local militia forces as well as extensive damage to the colony itself. Yet Captain Trokus had spared the entire sub-sector a new wave of terror and havoc at the hands of the sadistic xenos.
- The Timeaon Deliverance (940.M41) - The Iron Snakes were ambushed during the Timeaon Planetstrike by Tau Battlesuits and saved from certain death only when the spectral Legion of the Damned appeared and launched a devastating assault on the aliens' flanks.
- 13th Black Crusade (999.M41) - The Iron Snakes were one of the many Loyalist Space Marine Chapters who participated in the defence of Cadia against Abaddon the Despoiler's 13th Black Crusade.
- Defence of the Reef Stars (999.M41) - The Iron Snakes are currently involved in preemptive strikes to safeguard the Reef Stars region against the encroaching threat of the Tyranid Hive Fleet Leviathan.
While the nominal fighting strength of the Chapter (or "phratry" as it is referred to by the Iron Snakes) is kept at the Codex Astartes-approved 1,000 Space Marines, the Iron Snakes do not appear to use the Codex's prescribed company structure, instead basing its organisation around that of the simple 10-man Space Marine squad rather than the 100-man company.
Like most Chapters, the Iron Snakes possess elite Battle-Brothers (referred to as "Notables") that make up a core group of Veteran Space Marines (which they do not refer to as such), since the Iron Snakes' Notables do not properly represent a pool of Veteran Space Marines as in the 1st Companies of most other Chapters.
Therefore, like other Chapters, the Iron Snakes Notables more than likely make up the Chapter's Terminator-armoured elite, although it is unknown if they are deployed exclusively as a part of their own Notable Phratry Squad or are spread out amongst the various Phratry Squads of the Chapter.
The Phratry Squad
Each squad, named after its first squad leader, is treated as an individual tactical formation held equal in the line of battle with almost all of the other phratry units. Only those squads referred to as the Notables are seen as an elite of the Chapter, and even then the Notables do not properly represent a pool of Veteran Space Marines as in the 1st Companies of most other Chapters.
This is due to the way in which the Iron Snakes field their new Initiates. Recruits, referred to as "Petitioners" within the Chapter, do not appear to take to the field as Scout Marines like the Neophytes of most other Chapters; instead they operate as Chapter staff and personal servants for the full Battle-Brothers. When casualties incurred require the elevation of Petitioners to the rank of full Space Marines, the Petitioners try out for the positions by engaging their potential squadmates in single combat competitions.
Winners of these competitions, or those judged particularly skillful by the squad sergeant, are chosen to become full Battle-Brothers and phratry-members. Places in the Notables are competed for in the same way as in other squads, which means that the Notables are just as likely to have Petitioners in their ranks as they are to have hardened Veteran Space Marines. Of course, the Petitioners that manage to win a place in a Notable squad are likely to be the best of their generation.
When a squad is completely wiped out, it is reconstituted under the original name, with its new sergeant being promoted from the ranks of the elder and more Veteran Battle-Brothers of the other squads. Each squad-leader is expected to eventually nominate a successor from within his squad, who will be chosen to accompany him to officer-level briefings and take over command in the event of his death.
This Astartes will likely remain tied to his squad until his own death, as such "seconds" are not promoted out to command other squads. Each squad will also contain a Standard Bearer, who fixes the squad's colours to a special mounting upon his armour, and a support weapons trooper (with the Plasma Gun and Flamer appearing to be Chapter favourites for the weapons support role in a squad).
The Notable squads also appear to customarily include an Apothecary as one of their number, and such specialist Space Marines are a common feature of other Iron Snakes squads as well; the number of field Apothecaries in the Iron Snakes appears likely to be higher than that of a fully Codex Astartes-compliant Chapter.
The Iron Snakes recruit their Neophytes from Ithaka, an Imperial Ocean World (commonly referred to by its people as the "Cradle of Snakes") which is largely covered in very deep oceans and home to a variety of sea life, including the great serpentine Water Wyrms. Ithaka does possess significant landmass, including tropical islands and viciously cold polar regions.
The Iron Snakes are therefore able to train in a number of environments, although the sea is most precious to them. Ithaka's oceans are home to a variety of sea-life, including the indigenous giant Water Wyrms. A kraretyer, or mature male bull Water Wyrm, is known to grow up to 300 metres in length.
The Chapter uses these Wyrms in hunting exercises for its Initiates, and in the ritual punishment of Oethanar. The Water Wyrms are known to cause retyarion ("Wyrm-Storm"), ferocious squalls that seem to follow the movement of the marine serpents. A retyarion eventually causes seunenae ("the folding walls of iron"), giant tsunamis that rise out of the deep waters and come crashing into the settled islands while standing kilometres-high.
The Iron Snakes' actual fortress-monastery, which they refer to as the Chapter House, is located on Ithaka's fortress moon, Karybdis, and features a great bell as large as a Space Marine Drop Pod. The Chapter House is a mighty bastion with sloped turrets lined with Earthshaker Cannons, massive curtain walls, and hardpoint blisters of Hydra batteries.
The Chapter House contains armouries, forges, training halls, a chapel and an Apothecarion. It also contains a main bath pool known as the Hall of the Balneary. The Balneary is fifty metres square and filled with sacred sea-water imported from Ithaka.
The Tholos lies beneath the Chapter House, anchored deep in the rocky crust of Karybdis. This is a stockade for Astartes of the Iron Snakes that is seldom used due to the meticulous discipline of the Chapter. Its most common residents are prisoners of war, held pending interrogation under the watchful eyes of the Veteran Astartes who serve as the wardens known as "Archons."
Chapter Combat Doctrine
When a mission, referred to within the Chapter as an "undertaking", is decided upon, the Iron Snakes' Chapter Master announces how many squads he believes are required to ensure its success. All squad-leaders who wish to volunteer their units for the mission then place their tokens into a kylix (a form of drinking cup whose origins lie in ancient Greece on Terra). The Chapter Master then decides which squads to assign to the undertaking based upon which tokens he finds in the kylix.
While the squad is the principal tactical unit of the Chapter, sometimes even less manpower is deployed. In cases of responding to general aid requests from the worlds of the Reef Stars, it is customary to dispatch only one Battle-Brother from the closest squad to investigate.
The Astartes chosen is often either the newest member of the squad, or a member being considered for the role of successor by the squad-leader; a one-person undertaking is seen as a fitting challenge for such Space Marines. Historically, only one warrior usually suffices in cases of general aid requests, though it is no shame for the individual to request the presence of his Phratry-Brothers once apprised of the specific situation.
Though the Iron Snakes are able to deploy an acceptable number of vehicles, and also include Dreadnoughts and Librarians amongst their forces, the primacy of the combat squad means that they concentrate on basic infantry tactics in battle.
The Chapter's Armoury is able to issue Combat Shields, Warblades (short Power Swords) and Sea Lances (javelin-type fighting spears commonly referred to as Astartes Power Spears) to all Battle-Brothers, enabling them to close up and use phalanx (shield-wall) tactics.
They are particularly skillful with the Sea Lances, as part of a Petitioner's training on their homeworld of Ithaka involves the hunting and slaying of the large, predacious Water Wyrms native to that feral planet.
Each Iron Snake is issued with 2 Sea Lances before battle, to be used and disposed of, and phratry Battle-Brothers are issued fresh lances before the next engagement.
The Reef Stars
The Iron Snakes were stationed in the sector of Imperial space known as the Reef Stars and charged with its protection as their primary mission many thousands of Terran years ago. The inhabited worlds of the Reef, while varied in their level of technological development, were each given a form of summoning technology for the Iron Snakes that was then ritualised into their society.
The Iron Snakes are a myth or legend to some worlds, an awe-inspiring reality to others. Regardless of how they are viewed, the Snakes of Ithaka take their duty to the Reef Stars as seriously as only the Astartes can, and will go to any lengths possible to protect the sector and its citizenry.
The actions they have fought in the Reef Stars are numerous, as the whole area appears to be under constant threat by Drukhari raiding parties. As a result, the Iron Snakes have amassed considerable experience fighting the Drukhari, who they (and the people of the Reef Stars) also refer to as "Primuls", a word for these xenos derived from an ancient dialect of High Gothic once spoken in the region.
The Iron Snakes also fought a ten-year-long all-out war against a large Ork invasion. The Ork forces, made up of multiple WAAAGH!s, were so large that it was impossible for the Iron Snakes to defeat them by martial means. However, having managed to secure a relic apparently considered sacred by the Orks, the Iron Snakes were able to draw the Ork forces out of the Reef Stars and into unclaimed/xenos territory. The remainder of the Orks were expunged, and the Reef Stars were judged Greenskin-free for over a thousand Terran years.
Reef Stars Worlds
- Ithaka - Though their fortress-monastery is actually based on Ithaka's moon, Karybdis, the Iron Snakes frequently descend to the surface of the Feral World of Ithaka itself, using its many hostile environments in training exercises to sharpen their Battle-Brothers and new recruits alike. Ithaka's dangerous oceans are home to the vast reptilian leviathans called the Water Wyrms whose death serves as an Iron Snake Aspirant's final task before being accepted into the Chapter's ranks as a Petitioner. A krareter, or mature male Water Wyrm, can grow up to three hundred metres in length. The Chapter uses these Wyrms for hunting exercises for its Initiates, and in the oethanar, the Trial by Wyrm which is used by the Chapter and the Ithakan people to determine guilt or innocence in certain cases. These marine serpents can cause retyarion (or Wyrm-storm); ferocious squalls that seem to follow their movements. A retyarion also causes seunenae, the "folding walls of iron", which are giant tidal waves that would rise out in the deep waters and come crashing in kilometres high to wipe away Ithakan settlements on the myriad islands that dot the world's deep seas. The water from Ithaka's oceans is considered sacred by the Iron Snakes, and is carried by the Chapter's Astartes to anoint every planet that they step foot on. This ritual is called the Rite of the Giving of Water. When Iron Snakes return home, what remains of the water they took with them is given back to Ithaka.
- Baal Solock - A sparsely populated world which has occasionally come under attack from Drukhari raiders whom the locals term "Primuls", a word used for those particular xenos that belongs to an ancient dialect of High Gothic.
- Rosetta - A dry, arid world where promethium fuel is drilled and carried off-world to provision the Imperial Guard. Rosetta was subject to an invasion from a warband of Chaos Space Marines named the Dark Tusks. The Damocles Squad of the Iron Snakes was tasked to retake Rosetta's Excelcius Refinery Nine for the Emperor and reconnect the world's crucial fuel supply to Imperial forces. During this battle, Brother-Sergeant Raphon was killed in action but not before passing off squad leadership and the symbolic Lightning Claw he carried to his successor, Battle-Brother Priad. Following the discovery that the Chaotic forces were on Rosetta to try and bring forth a dark daemonic power of the Warp that had been imprisoned millennia before deep beneath the refinery, now Sergeant Priad decided to go against his previous directive and attempt to destroy the refinery and the evil that was awakening below it. To this end, his squad strapped all its remaining explosives to one of the mining drills and sent it straight down into the earth before evacuating the planet. Not long after the initial explosion beneath the refinery, Rosetta experienced a chain reaction of events that culminated in the death of the world as the Warp energies of the daemon housed beneath its surface were explosively released during that entity's death throes.
The Iron Snakes are a meticulously disciplined Chapter, though they deviate significantly from the Codex Astartes. The water from Ithaka's oceans is considered sacred by its people, and when Iron Snakes Battle-Brothers are called to go to a distant war they perform one last act before leave-taking, a ceremony known as the Rite of the Claiming of Water.
This lifewater is carried in a copper flask by every member of the Chapter, to anoint every planet that they step foot on in a ritual ceremony called the Rite of the Giving of Water. When these Battle-Brothers return to their homeworld, the remaining water in these vials is given back to the oceans of Ithaka in a rite known as the Rite of Returning.
The cremated remains of those Iron Snakes Astartes slain in battle are also returned, in ceremonial copper urns known as eusippus. Usually the senior-most Battle-Brother in the squad of the deceased performs this last sacred duty. As the Lament of Dysse is intoned, the lid of each eusippus is unscrewed in turn and the grey ash is shaken out. The fallen's remains are sieved away into the wind and returned like the water to the sea.
The fallen Astartes' squad leader carries prepared statements written on a scroll of paper about the valiant dead's life, actions and death, sealed and ready to be placed within the archives of the Chapter House. Often these scrolls also contain full orders of merit laying out the full details and particulars of an Iron Snakes Space Marine's service with the Chapter as well as all of the commendations and decorations he has earned.
Another common practise of the Iron Snakes is a ritual punishment, used against those Astartes who have committed a terrible crime, known as Oethanar -- or "Trial by Wyrm" in the dialect of High Gothic used in the sector.
This is the worst fate a man of Ithaka can undergo. The accused is left alone and unarmed on a stilt rock, forced to face the Wyrms as they are summoned. If the accused man is still alive at the end of 6 solar hours, he is considered guilty of the charges against him.
The people of Ithaka believe that the Water Wyrms will not defile themselves by touching a guilty man. If they take the accused, he is one of Ithaka's chosen children and his innocence will be celebrated in funeral songs and grief-rites forever after.
Notable Iron Snakes
- Chapter Master Seydon - Seydon is the Iron Snakes' current Chapter Master.
- Chief Librarian Petrok - The Iron Snakes current Chief Librarian.
- Chief Librarian Nestor (Deceased) - The Iron Snakes former Chief Librarian, and mentor to Petrok.
- Hero-Captain Phobor - Phobor is a Hero-Captain (Veteran Officer) of the Chapter.
- Captain Cules - Cules is a Captain of the Chapter and commanded the Iron Snakes forces deployed during the Sabbat Worlds Crusade.
- Captain Didymos - Didymos is a Captain of the Chapter.
- Captain Pheus - Pheus is a Captain of the Chapter.
- Captain Skander - Captain Skander of Phocis Squad became possessed by a vile daemon after it fled the body of the dying brother Krates. He was later killed by Sergeant Priad, who recognised the daemon by its smell, with a flamer, defeating the daemon within his body.
- Captain Trokus - Captain of the Iron Snakes who led 40 Battle-Brothers during the Ambush on Naxos in 811.M41 using highly disputed tactics that led to heavy losses to the local PDF yet spared an entire sub-sector from the horror of the Dark Eldar.
- Chaplain Christos Constantine - Christos Constantine is a Chaplain of the Chapter.
- Apothecary Khiron - Khiron was an Apothecary who originally served with Ridates Squad. On the world of Cozan, Ridates Squad came up against a daemon, who haunted them and directed its minions against them. Ridates Squad was caught in a deadly crossfire with the Forces of Chaos in a gully and the entire squad was decimated in less than six minutes. Through sheer chance, only Apothecary Khiron survived when a stray round brought down the rocky wall of the gully, burying him in rubble. As Khiron lay buried and unconscious, the daemon passed over him, believing that he was dead. This encounter left Khiron with knowledge of the vile creature's unforgettable smell. When Khiron finally emerged from the rubble, all he could do was recover the Progenoid Glands from the bodies of his fellow Battle-Brothers. Thebes Squad later overran the daemon's minions, but the creature fled and hid within the wounded body of Brother Krates. Blinded by the daemon's malefic powers, Thebes Squad brought Brother Krates back to their fortress-monastery on Karybdis. But Khiron recognised the daemon's signature smell, and immediately set upon Krates with his Bolter, slaying him. His fellow Battle-Brothers were horrified, thinking Khiron had lost his mind to the taint of Chaos, and jailed him in the Tholos beneath the Chapter House. While incarcerated, Khiron reflected on recent events and quickly realised that he had in fact not killed the daemon, since he had used a Bolter instead of cleansing flame, and that the daemon must have moved on to possess another host body. Unfortunately, his brothers would not listen to his claims. When Damocles Squad returned to Karybdis, Sergeant Priad requested Khiron as a replacement Apothecary for his squad's own deceased Apothecary, Memnes, and was subsequently denied. Priad then went to visit Khiron in the Tholos to investigate the stories of his madness. Khiron warned Priad of the daemon, and informed him that he had asked for the ritual of Oethanar in two sunsets. Later, Priad sensed the peculiar, signature smell of the foul daemon in Captain Skander of Phocis Squad during a combat drill and attacked him. Sergeant Priad eventually killed both the possessed captain and the daemon with a Flamer. Priad then embarked with Damocles Squad to the Primarch's Causeway on Ithaka to rescue Khiron from the Oethanar. They barely managed to reach Khiron before the Wyrms could devour him. Having been vindicated for his actions, Khiron was later reinstated as Damocles Squad's Apothecary.
- Sergeant Raphon - Brother-Sergeant, commander of Damocles Squad until the Undertaking on Rosetta. He then ceded his squad command to Sergeant Priad after taking mortal wounds from Dark Tusks Renegade Astartes.
- Sergeant Priad - Brother-Sergeant, commander of Damocles Squad. He defeated the daemon who infiltrated the Chapter House via brother Krates and later Captain Skander. He went to Apothecary Khiron's cell after being denied his addition to his squad. He believed the Apothecary and after defeating the daemon, Khiron joined Damocles Squad.
- Kater Holofurnace - Battle-Brother, attached to the Tanith First and Only, along with two other Astartes from the White Scars and Silver Guard, during the raid on Salvation's Reach.
- Krates - Battle-Brother of Thebes Squad who became possessed by a vile daemon. He was killed by Apothecary Khiron, who recocnised the signature smell of the daemon, but only with a Bolter, allowing the daemon to possess Captain Skander.
- Phybos - Phybos was the Duty-Archon within the punishment stockade beneath the Iron Snakes Chapter House known as the Tholos. He was a grizzled Veteran Astartes who had lost both legs and an arm on the world of Kinzia Five decades earlier. He was carried by an augmetic carriage.
- Xander - Battle-Brother, chosen as Sergeant Priad's second-in-command of Damocles Squad.
- Venerable Dreadnought Autolochus - Venerable Chapter Dreadnought.
The Iron Snakes' Power Armour is painted gunmetal grey with a golden Aquila. Their shoulder plates are trimmed in red as a standard colour scheme but otherwise are painted in the hues of the Chapter's varying squad colours.
The blue squad specialty symbol -- Tactical, Assault, Devastator or Veteran -- is indicated on the right shoulder guard, with a white Roman numeral, indicating squad number, stenciled in white in the centre of it. Company designation is displayed as a blue Roman numeral on the white left knee-plate. If a Veteran, this knee plate would instead be red with a white skull.
The Iron Snakes' Chapter badge is a coiled blue snake on a white background.
The culture, martial organisation and traditions of the Iron Snakes Chapter are based upon the culture of the ancient Greeks, more specifically upon the Greek Age of Heroes as recounted in Homer's great epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, composed around 800 B.C. In real history, this legendary period coincides with the Greek Bronze Age and the Mycenaean Era of ca. 1900 - ca. 1100 B.C.
- Codex: Space Marines (8th Edition) (Revised Edition), pg. 28
- Codex: Space Marines (7th Edition) (Digital Edition), pg. 112
- Codex: Space Marines (6th Edition), pp. 19, 31
- Dark Imperium (Novel) by Guy Haley, Ch. 3
- Inferno! 29, "Crimson Storm" by Dan Abnett
- Insignium Astartes, pg. 54
- Tactica Imperialis: A History of the Later Imperial Crusades by Dan Abnett, pp. 5, 12-24
- The Art of Clint Langley by Clint Langley, pg. 11
- The Sabbat Worlds Crusade (Background Book) by Dan Abnett
- Warhammer Monthly (Comic), "Ophidium"
- Warhammer Monthly (Comic), "Regicide"
- Brothers of the Snake (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- Salvation's Reach (Novel) by Dan Abnett
- The Third Wise Man (Short Story) by Nik Vincent
- The Last Son of Dorn (Novel) by David Guymer, Ch.5