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The symbol of the Inquisition

The Holy Orders of the Emperor's Inquisition, more commonly known as the Inquisition, are the powerful secret police of the Imperium responsible for guarding the souls of humanity. The purpose of the Inquisition is to identify and destroy the myriad of potential threats to the Imperium and humanity. Such is the Inquisition's power that it answers only to the Emperor.[27]

Founded in the aftermath of the Horus Heresy, the organisation's members are agents known as Inquisitors.[6]


The Sigil of Malcador.[21]

The actual founding of the Inquisition is shrouded in mystery and there are at least two different stories surrounding its formation.

The first is that in the twilight hours prior to His internment within the Golden Throne, while Terra lay besieged by the traitor forces of Warmaster Horus, the Emperor of Mankind commanded Malcador the Sigillite to seek out "men of character, skill, and determination" to be tested and trained so that an elite group of investigators might be tasked to discover the alien, mutant, and heretic. Immediately prior to his assault on Horus's battle barge, Malcador presented twelve individuals to the Emperor - eight Astartes and four humans - whom he had gathered in response to the Emperor's commands. The Astartes were described as having cast aside their allegiance to their Primarchs and Legions who had sided with Horus; Malcador went on to say that they were blessed with paranormal skills which were best suited for combating the horrors that had recently emerged from the warp.[17]

Although the identities of the twelve presented to the Emperor were never revealed, it is known that among those individuals recruited by Malcador were Captain Nathaniel Garro of the Death Guard, Captain Iacton Qruze of the Luna Wolves, Kyril Sindermann[28], and Sister of Silence Amendera Kendel[15].

The second story is that, immediately after the Emperor was interred in his Golden Throne, four trusted servants of the Emperor gathered in secret to discuss what was to happen next. Their opinions were divided; two believed the Emperor could be returned to life, the other two believed it folly to interfere with the events that had unfolded. The two resurrectionists, known as Promeus and Moriana, left Terra to begin their quest to bring the Emperor back to life. The two that remained acted quickly to establish themselves with the Senatorum Imperialis and created an organisation to combat the efforts of Promeus and Moriana, and it was from this seed that the Inquisition was formed.[18]

It is not known whether these two stories are simply a case of conflicting background, or whether both stories contain some element of truth. It is said that when the Senatorum Imperialis was convened on the first anniversary of the Emperor's Ascension, a grim-faced man joined the council and identified himself as a representative of the Holy Orders of the Emperor's Inquisition.[20] The fact that they called themselves "Orders" plural could be taken to suggest that the early Inquisition was an amalgamation of several organisations.

Inquisitorial Ordos

Ordos are a major operational subfaction within the Imperial Inquisition. As the Inquisition possesses neither a formalized hierarchy nor leadership, each Inquisition is free to pursue the mission of humanity's survival in the manner they see most appropriate. Like-minded individuals gather together to investigate areas of mutual interest and concern, as bounded by one of the many Inquisitorial Ordos. Each Ordo comes and goes with the times, for many Inquisitors move freely between them according to their own whims and judgement. Ordos can grow larger in crises and then exist only on paper until its field becomes relevant once more. Association with an Ordo is not a matter of absolute allegiance, nor does it preclude an Inquisitor's involvement in matters pertaining to another Ordo.[22]

Ordo Majoris

Currently within the modern Inquisition of M41 there are three Ordos Majoris (Xenos, Malleus, and Hereticus), and an unknown number of Ordos Minoris. These branches are ever-present for their mission is considered never-ending.[22] Each branch specialises in the combat and investigation of specific threats to the Imperial domain. While Inquisitors from any Ordo are trained to deal with all potential dangers, it is the role of the Ordos to produce agents who are particularly adept at understanding and destroying specific abominations. Membership in an Ordo is not mandatory, and there are those Inquisitors who prefer not to join one.[Needs Citation]

  • The Ordo Malleus (The Threat Beyond) - Destroys daemonic threats and investigates the nature of the Daemon. The Ordo is said came into being immediately after the Horus Heresy, and therefore has been a part of the Inquisition from the beginning.[2] However it did not formally exist until 1,500 after the Heresy in the aftermath of the War of the Beast.[28a]
  • The Ordo Xenos (The Threat Without) - Investigates and eliminates alien influence and plots against the Imperium. Along with the Ordo Malleus, it was created in the aftermath of the War of the Beast.[28a]
  • The Ordo Hereticus (The Threat Within) - Investigates and roots out heresy, mutation, and rogue psykers from humanity, and polices the Ecclesiarchy. The Ordo Hereticus was founded following the events of the Age of Apostasy.[3]

Ordo Minoris

In addition to the three major Ordos, there are a large but unknown number of Ordos Minoris.[22a]

Inquisitorial Conclaves, Cabals, and Cells

As well as the Ordos, there are many types of Inquisitorial groupings that an Inquisitor may belong to, however as with the Ordos, membership in these is not mandatory.[Needs Citation]

  • Conclaves - Inquisitorial Conclaves can take two forms. The first is a gathering called by an Inquisitor (if called by an Inquisitor Lord it is termed a "High Conclave") to discuss a particular subject.[18] There are also more permanent regional Conclaves; these are federations of Inquisitors who watch over a particular area of Imperial space. [7a] The larger of these regional Conclaves may have resources such as ships, armies, fortresses, and libraries for the use of their members. Not all sectors of Imperial space are covered by a Conclave, and some areas are devoid of a permanent Inquisitorial presence. The head of each regional Conclave is normally an Inquisitor Lord, and is nominally appointed by the High Lords of Terra. There are also Conclaves operating at the Segmentum level,[8] again headed by an Inquisitor Lord.
  • Cabals - A Cabal is a rare body instituted by a Conclave and dedicated to investigating a particular matter. Generally they gather Inquisitors from varied backgrounds and philosophies to form a specialist task-force. Often, Cabals are despised by many who see them as secret societies within a Conclave.[7a]
  • Cells - Similar to a Cabal, a Cell is an ad-hoc group of Inquisitors who share a common goal. Often they are factional in nature, or are formed to confront a particular problem. The principle difference between Cabals and Cells is that the latter are entirely informal and are transitive in nature.[18] Often one or more of the Inquisitors in the Cell will work overtly through investigation while the rest proceed through infiltration[6].

Role of the Inquisition

As a completely autonomous Imperial organisation beyond the power of the Adeptus Terra, the Inquisition is immensely powerful. As the Inquisition's duties involve the scrutiny and policing of the other organisations of the Imperium, the Inquisition itself is answerable to no higher power except the Emperor. No one, except the Emperor himself, is beyond the scrutiny of the Inquisition. This power is officially known as the Inquisitorial Remit or Inquisitorial Mandate.[Needs Citation]

With the exception of the Ministorum (which, in any case is still under outside Imperial restrictions), the Inquisition is the only organisation of Imperial government that is completely autonomous. Unlike other Imperial organisations, it is not a branch of the massive Adeptus Terra, but a self-contained organisation answerable only to itself. The Inquisition itself uses compounds scattered throughout the Imperium known as Inquisitorial Fortresses as its bases of operation.[12]

The role of the ordinary Inquisitor is to investigate and deal with all potential threats to mankind and the Imperium. In the eyes of the Inquisition, there are multitudes of such potential threats. The main threat is posed not by invading aliens, but from within, by corruption and disloyalty within the Imperial organisations, as well as by psykers. The other threat posed from within is that of mutation, the constant corruption of the human gene-pool. There are no bounds to the Inquisition's area of responsibility: alien plots, mutation, political corruption, and incompetence all come under their jurisdiction[1].

If required, Inquisitors may call on the service and/or resources of any Imperial servant or organisation. Not even a High Lord of Terra may refuse the order of an Inquisitor without good reason. This power extends across the Adeptus Astartes and the Adeptus Mechanicus (however, learned Inquisitors show discretion and request the assistance of the Space Marines and attempt not to anger the Adepts of Mars).[Needs Citation]

The role of the Inquisition requires proactivity and efficiency unbound by the dogmatic bureaucracy common to most other Imperial departments. Accordingly, there is little in the way of hierarchy or departmentalisation within the Inquisition. Authority within the Inquisition is governed by two factors - reputation and influence. Seniority is in itself no indicator of authority, however most Inquisitors will take heed of the wisdom of an older and more experienced peer.[18] [7a]

Because the Inquisition are the watchdogs of the Imperium, answerable only to themselves, given almost absolute power, along with such broad jurisdiction, corruption is an ever present danger. Its integrity is therefore upheld by constant self-policing and scrutiny. In the earliest editions of the background, this was the stated role of the Ordo Malleus, which were the Inquisition's secretive Inner Order.[Needs Citation]

As per the Inquisitorial Remit, Inquisitors hold the absolute power to judge all who fall beneath their gaze. The Inquisition holds countless paths to death that usually correspond to the level of guilt of the condemned. The horrors of arco-flagellation, Penal Legion conscription, or binding to a Penitent Engine are a small sample of unique forms of penitence and absolution that Inquisitors use on a regular basis.[Needs Citation]

Inquisitors have the authority to condemn an entire world to Exterminatus if it is deemed to be irredeemably corrupt. Exterminatus, the obliteration of a world, is only resorted to when the level of corruption a world bears is so monumental that it cannot be wiped out by any other means.[Needs Citation]

Inquisitorial Ranks

Although there is no formal structure of rank or command in the Inquisition, save for the recognition that the Emperor is the highest ranked figure and supreme commander,[7b] there are a number of positions that may be held by an Inquisitor. These positions do not bring any more authority (an Inquisitor's authority is already absolute), however the incumbent Inquisitor will have increased influence over his peers by virtue of his office. The powerful Inquisitorial Representative represents the organization on the High Lords of Terra.[18]

Recruitment and Promotion

Recruitment within the Inquisition is not centralized, and an Inquisitor is free to recruit whoever he so chooses as an acolyte. There are many different names given to acolytes – Interrogator, Explicator, Neophyte, Novitiates, Approbators, etc. - but in themselves they carry no authority (only that which they are granted by their Inquisitor) . Although some Inquisitors may have their acolytes pass through various "ranks" on their progression to Inquisitor, those ranks are not standardized across the Inquisition.[8] However, within individual conclaves there may be established conventions for temporarily granting the Inquisitional remit to an acolyte within the scope of a particular assignment. Within the Calixis and surrounding sectors such an individual is known as a Legate Investigator. Legates are identified by an icon known as a Sigil of Question which contains features similar to a rosette, and a Carta of Inquiry which describes the scope of their investigation.[9]

For an acolyte to be raised to the rank of Inquisitor, the consent of three Inquisitors or an Inquisitor Lord is required. There have been cases where the situation has called for an acolyte to take on full Inquisitorial responsibilities immediately without the blessing of three Inquisitors or a Lord. For example, if an acolyte's Inquisitor is killed in action, he or she may inherit their Inquisitorial Seal and fulfil the role of an Inquisitor subject to repeal by another Inquisitor.[18]


Main article: Action

An Action is how the Inquisition interrogates its prisoners.[16]

Chamber Militant

An Inquisitor leads an Ordo Hereticus force

Although an Inquisitor can employ the services of any branch of the Imperial service, including the military, each major Ordo also maintains a dedicated Chamber Militant representing the most dedicated, experienced, and effective forces that Ordo can call on.

Inquisitors also use specially-trained Stormtroopers of the Imperial Guard, known as Inquisitorial Stormtroopers.


The Inquisition can be broadly divided into two differing schools of thought: Puritanism and Radicalism.

To the conservative Puritans, it is of the utmost importance that Inquisition doctrine be upheld, and they are often found persecuting those Inquisitors who are deemed heretical. The more pragmatic Radical Inquisitors follow the Imperial doctrines in spirit, believing that the ends justify the means, and find little value in adhering to convention too closely. They often try to fight fire with fire, using Chaos or Xenos weaponry, employing Daemonhosts, or committing other acts that would be deemed heretical by their more conservative brethren.[Needs Citation]

Inquisitors of both sides are found in great number, and while often at odds with each other, are equally interested in the survival of mankind and the defeat of its enemies. Puritans and Radicals are further divided into individual philosophies, leading to further friction.[Needs Citation]

Famous Inquisitors

Background Information

The Inquisition appeared in the first ever Warhammer 40,000 rulebook, Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader published in 1987. Inquisitors were described as wide-ranging special agents, often coming from the Adeptus Terra. They were tasked with combating various threats to the Imperium, but their main focus was frequently combating rogue psykers.[1a]

The background of the Inquisition was expanded on in the Realm of Chaos books published in 1988 and 1990, alongside the Inquisition War Trilogy of novels which were published between 1990 and 1994, and added a secretive inner order of the Inquisition known as the Ordo Malleus, dedicated to combating Chaos and the daemonic and with their own Space Marine chapter, the Grey Knights.[23] They also introduced the Inquisition's interest in the role and future of the Emperor, such as their hunt for the Sensei[23], and showed conflicts between Inquisitors of differing philosophies. It made a transfer to Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition in 1993 in a much similar format, having some background pages in Codex Imperialis[24] and two units as part of the Imperial Allies list in Codex Army Lists.[19]

Inquisitional background remained similar to the 1988 expansion until the introduction of two new Ordos, the Hereticus and Xenos, the former being mentioned in the 3rd edition rulebook of 1998.[25] The release of the 54mm narrative miniatures game Inquisitor in 2001, and the accompanying Eisenhorn novel trilogy published in 2001-2002 represented a significant expansion of background. These built upon the themes from the Inquisition War Trilogy of conflicting philosophies within the Inquisition, and the Inquisitor and his henchmen as a central group. It added new archetypes for these henchmen such as the acolyte, Death Cult Assassin and Arco-flagellant, and introduced codified philosophies. 2001 also developed the Space Marine factions of the Inquisition, with an Index Astartes article expanding the background of the Grey Knights and Deathwatch chapters.[26]

The new information and greater scope of units attracted the interest of fans. 2003 saw the introduction of Deathwatch marines in Chapter Approved and full Codices were brought out for the Ordo Malleus and Ordo Hereticus. The link between the Inquisition and the Ecclesiarchy was also formalized with the Orders Militant of the the Sisters of Battle becoming the Ordo Hereticus' Chamber Militant.

Further background expansion away from the 28mm tabletop continued to focus on what in the Realm of Chaos was known as the Chambers Practical, questing bands of Inquisitors defending the Imperium from threats.[23] Fanatic and later Specialist Games continued to support the Inquisitor line until 2008, releasing a faction source book on the Thorians. The Dark Heresy RPG continued this with a first edition in 2008 set in the Calixis Sector, and a second edition in 2014 set in the Askellon Sector, both neighbouring the Eisenhorn Trilogy's Scarus Sector. The workings of the Deathwatch were also significantly expanded in 2010 with an eponymous RPG, introducing the Deathwatch Black Shield as well as a command structure in the form of Watch Fortresses and Watch Stations throughout the Imperium. The RPG lines came to an end with the loss of the Games Workshop licence from Fantasy Flight Games in late 2016.

On the 28mm tabletop, the Chambers Militant became the dominant focus, with the Grey Knights taking the Codex name in 2011's Codex: Grey Knights, which significantly increased the army's popularity on the tabletop. The Codex expanded the Inquisition's arsenal to include unique large scale weapons of war such as the Nemesis Dreadknight and introduced the Supreme Grand Master Kaldor Draigo. At time of writing, the 'questing Inquisitor' is represented with its own codex, as are the Grey Knights and the Deathwatch. The Adepta Sororitas also have their own codex, but are no longer mentioned as a Chamber Militant of the Ordo Hereticus.

See also