Warhammer 40k Wiki
Warhammer 40k Wiki

The icon of the Imperial Fleet

The merchant fleets of the Imperium of Man are the commercial component of what is collectively known as the Imperial Fleet, which comprises all known Human voidcraft in the galaxy loyal to the Imperium and also includes the Imperial civil fleets and the Navis Imperialis' segmentum and sector battlefleets. The commercial spacecraft of the Imperium which comprise the merchant fleets, most of which are commanded by the Chartist Captains who possess a Merchant Charter, make up approximately 90% of all the voidcraft with interstellar capabilities in Human-controlled space.

Each of the merchant fleets, much like the Imperial Navy's battlefleets, are based in one of the five Segmentae Majoris that comprise the primary administrative units of the Imperium. Each segmentum's merchant fleet commanders and their administrative staffs are based at the respective Segmentum Fortresses. For example, the Segmentum Solar merchant fleet is based on Mars, whilst the administrative apparatus of the merchant fleet of the northern zone -- the Segmentum Obscurus -- is based on Cypra Mundi.

While these fleet bases are massive orbiting void stations that usually maintain gigantic complexes of orbiting docks, shipyards and starship repair facilities, their primary function is to maintain bureaucratic control over both the military and civilian starships operating within their segmentum of control. In reality, of course, only a vanishing fraction of the voidships assigned to a given segmentum's merchant fleet ever actually travels to its Segmentum Fortress.

The overall headquarters of the merchant fleets and the Speaker for the Chartist Captains who represents their interests on the Senatorum Imperialis was located at the Nexus Axiomatic fortress on Terra. Within the Nexus Axiomatic could be found the nigh-mythical Magisters Calculo Horarium, genetically and cybernetically-modified Human members of the merchant fleets. Many of them were so badly deformed, mutated or genetically-altered that they subsisted only with the aid of life-support vats. It was their duty to carry out the monumental calculations required to coordinate shipping traffic across the Imperium.


A Vagabond-class Merchant Trader, a common Imperial trading voidship used by the merchant fleets, in orbit of an Imperial world.

To lawfully carry out trade, a merchant's vessel must obtain an Imperial Merchant Charter from the Adeptus Administratum that allows it to join a segmentum's merchant fleet. Not all charters offer their captains the same terms, as some offer more powers and more trade concessions to particularly favoured captains, but all are feudal contracts that require a merchant captain to swear an oath to obey the Imperial Fleet authorities of the Segmentum he or she is operating within on behalf of the Emperor of Mankind.

A merchant captain cannot register their vessel with the Imperium or receive the legal right to operate as granted by a Merchant Charter until they have sworn this oath before the fleet authorities of their segmentum and a record of it has been placed in the records of the Segmentum Fortress of their chosen region of the galaxy and in the Segmentum Solar's Segmentum Fortress in orbit of Mars, the central repository for the Administratum's fleet records.

The most powerful captains of the merchant fleets, known as Chartist Captains since they hold an Imperial Merchant Charter, have gained enough political power at certain times in Imperial history to take a seat in the Senatorum Imperialis of the High Lords of Terra. When this happens, this particular mercantile High Lord is known as the Speaker for the Chartist Captains.

It should be noted that Chartist Captains are not the same as Rogue Traders, who are actually far more politically powerful individuals who have also been granted or inherited a Warrant of Trade that allows them free rein to explore or exploit areas on the very fringe of Imperial-controlled space. Rogue Traders are considered lords of the Imperium and possess a political rank, if not financial wealth, far in excess of the average Chartist Captain of a merchant voidship.


The merchant fleet is one of the oldest organisations in the Human-settled galaxy, predating the birth of the Imperium, with roots stretching back into the Age of Technology when Merchant Charters were first issued as part of Humanity's original expansion into and settlement of the galaxy.

Unlike most Imperial organisations, which existed almost solely to police and maintain the Emperor's control over Humanity's domain, the merchant fleets dealt only in trade and commerce and as a result its captains became immensely wealthy. In the Era Indomitus, the combined merchant fleets of the five Segmentae Majoris comprise almost 90% of all the Warp-capable voidcraft in the Imperium.

Notable Merchant Fleet Starships

Transports are easily the most common starships found in the Imperium. Tasked with the often thankless job of hauling goods and people from one end of the galaxy to the other, transports are large, slow, and designed to carry as much cargo as possible within their hulls. Nevertheless, these vessels are almost single-handedly responsible for maintaining the integrity of Humanity's interstellar domain. Hive Worlds, for example, would not long survive without regular shipments of food and water from Agri-worlds and Ocean Worlds, and for many far-flung colonies, the regular passage of a Chartist Captain or tramp freighter is their only communication with the larger Imperium.

Transports sacrifice speed, manoeuvrability, and armour in exchange for cargo space, and while they often have some weapons, they are no match for a true combatant. Thus, transports are often prime targets for pirates. A Rogue Trader with a transport will have to rely on their wits to get them out of sticky situations, rather than their guns. However, if they choose to focus on mercantile pursuits to make their fortune, they will find no better vessels to aid them.

Some of the most notable transport ships used in the Imperium are included below:

See Also


  • Rogue Trader: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 190, 194, 315
  • Rogue Trader: Battlefleet Koronus (RPG), pp. 29-30
  • Vaults of Terra: The Hollow Mountain (Novel) by Chris Wraight, Chs. 4, 6, 9-10
  • White Dwarf 139, "Interstellar Travel"
  • White Dwarf 140, "Interstellar Travel"