The Tau are a young race of technologically-oriented beings from the Eastern Fringe and the dominant species of the Tau Empire. T'au, the Tau home planet, was discovered in 789.M35 by the Adeptus Mechanicus Explorator Fleet ship Land's Vision. Adeptus Mechanicus records indicate that at that time, the Tau species had mastered the use of simple tools and weapons, as well as fire. Before the planet could be cleansed and colonized by the Imperium, however, a violent Warp-storm erupted around the planet. This continued for 6,000 years, making the Tau's homeworld utterly inaccessible.
It was not until the Damocles Crusade that the Imperium again contacted the Tau. The Imperium found the primitive Tau had advanced considerably. In six thousand years, the Tau had advanced from spears and fire to colonizing planets and Pulse Rifles.
Early Tau History
The Tau are a plains-dwelling race. In their prehistory, they lived in tribes on the desert plains, hunting and gathering their food. As their race aged, they expanded to all environments. The Tau of the plains became strong and skilful hunters, larger and stronger than most other Tau. The Tau of the mountains developed the ability to soar high above the baking deserts on thermals. The Tau of the river valleys developed agriculture and metallurgy, forming the first true settlements. The development of settlements led to the need of trade, and wandering Tau began to negotiate and mediate between the disparate tribes.
Eventually, avarice got the better of the Tau. Growing pains, caused by their unusually rapid technological development led to the invention of sophisticated weaponry. The Tau of the river valleys developed stone fortresses and crude blackpowder weapons to ward off the aggressive Tau of the plains. These fledgling skirmishes led to the darkest period in Tau history, the Mont'au.
The numerous wars that broke out lasted for years. Each year, thousands died as squalid conditions and lack of access to fresh food and water created a plague that killed more Tau than were dying in the wars. The Tau were on the verge of wiping themselves out. Out of the destruction and darkness of the Mont'au came a guiding light: the Ethereals.
Tau legends tell of the first appearance of Ethereals at Fio'taun. The fortress city of Fio'taun was under assault by the warriors from the plains. Though negotiation had been attempted, the fierce plain warriors would settle for nothing less than the annihilation of Fio'taun. For five long years, the inhabitants held off the savage assaults with their thick walls and plentiful cannons. However, disease and starvation began to take their toll. As the tide of the siege turned, two mysterious Tau appeared. One made his way into the camp of the plains Tau, exuding a quiet authority that no Tau was able to resist. Soon, the leader of the plains warriors was persuaded to parley with the Tau of Fio'taun. Similarly, the other mysterious Tau made his way deep into the fortress. Within a few short hours, the gates stood wide open, and the Tau stood ready to talk.
The Ethereals spoke of the importance of peace and understanding between all Tau. They described a Greater Good that each Tau must strive towards. The besiegers and the besieged quickly agreed with the Ethereals and a truce was reached. Across the land, Ethereals emerged, each with the same quiet authority and message of harmony and cooperation. With the Tau united, a great civilization began.
Current Tau History
The introduction of the Ethereals to Tau society led to the creation of a rigid Caste System, with each caste taking on the name of an element that is close to them. Thus, the warriors of the Tau Empire became known as the Fire (Shas) Caste, due to their fiery temper. The artisans and scientists became known as the Earth (Fio) Caste, being the most pragmatic of the Tau. The diplomats and administrators became known as the Water (Por) Caste, as water flows through all life, uniting it. Lastly, the Tau messengers and spies became known as the Air (Kor) Caste, traversing the land on top of gusts of wind. With the invention of aircraft, and later spacecraft, the Air Caste would become the pilots of the Tau Navy.
The Tau are currently in the process of securing their Third-Phase colonies, while fending off remnants of Hive Fleet Kraken and the occasional Ork raids. They have a rather uneasy relationship with the Imperium, which is far more concerned with more important conflicts, like the Armageddon Wars and the 13th Black Crusade.
Tau Empire Expansion in the Galaxy
Tau Society and Physiology
Tau society and physiology revolve around the Sept they are part of. Each caste could almost be considered a subspecies of their own, such are the variations between the caste members.
The Tau are the most open and tolerant of the races in the galaxy, which means that they prefer not to destroy all other races on sight and are nowhere near as xenophobic as the Imperium. They are appreciative of the ways of the humans, Eldar, and other sentient races, but hold their own values as superior above all others.
Their tolerance also extends to themselves, as the Tau recognize even lowly Fio'la workers as being as important to the operation and well-being of the Empire as Shas'vre Battlesuit leaders or even the highest Aun'o.
Tau names are generally seen in the Imperium as long, complicated, and unwieldy, but they can be broken down into the following:
- Caste and rank within that caste.
- Sept of birth.
- Personal name (which is often determined/extended by their notable actions or achievements)
Castes and Rank
The Caste System organizes all Tau into five different castes and each one of them has a defined social role, be it military, trade, diplomacy, or leadership. The members of a caste are further classified by a specific rank.
Tau come from many planetary systems, or Septs, and these shape and define their methods of work. Some of these are:
Tau personal names, unlike those of humans, usually mean things in their language, depending on the deeds in their lives.
Thus, the Tau named "Shas'O Vior'la Shovah Kais Mont'yr" (a.k.a. Commander Farsight) would be broken down as follows:
- Shas - The individual is a member of the Fire Caste...
- O - ...who is a high-ranking Commander and hero...
- Vior'la - ...who comes from the Sept of Vior'la...
...and has a personal name translated as being far-sighted (Shovah), skilled (Kais), and having seen many battles (Mont'yr, meaning "blooded").
Every Tau is humanoid in shape, with two arms, two cloven feet, and a single head. Their grey-blue skin is leathery and tough and exudes no moisture, owing to the generally dry conditions of their homeworld. Their faces are flat, wide around the eyes, and their olfactory organs are located inside their mouths. Their eyes can see into the infrared and ultraviolet. Tau eyesight is good, but they focus on distant objects slower than humans. The Tau are not very good in close combat, as they find the whole concept uncivilized.
It has also been suggested by several Imperial observers that Tau blood is bluish-purple, explaining that the blood contains trace amounts of cobalt, rather than iron as common in humans (although this would actually result in an amber-yellow colour when oxygenated).
Tau and the Warp
The Tau have no psykers whatsoever among their ranks, for their souls are so feeble they barely register in the Warp at all. They are largely oblivious to the malevolent forces of Chaos, who in turn take no interest in the crumbs that are Tau souls. No Tau has ever been corrupted by Chaos.
Because they have no Navigators, Tau ships cannot travel through the heart of the Warp like Imperium ships do. Instead, they make shallow "dives" into the Warp, a much slower form of travel. Because they have no astropaths, the Tau are reliant on messenger ships to communicate across the stars. These handicaps greatly slow the expansion of the Tau Empire.
Tau Warfare, Warriors, and Weapons
Tau warfare is carried out almost exclusively by the Fire Caste, with support from the Air Caste in the form of transportation and air support. The Tau draw their tactics from their age-old methods of hunting. Each force is usually drawn from the same Sept, and is called a Hunter Cadre.
The Tau prefer to carefully plan their assaults and tend to fight only after carefully coordinating all available troops. They also prefer to fight offensively, concerned more with the destruction of the enemy than the taking and holding of ground. The Tau believe that territory is much easier to hold when all enemies are dead. Instead of trying to defend a base or city, the Tau would rather dismantle all the important technology, evacuate, and come back to defeat the occupying force at a later time when their army is sufficient for the task.
The two primary Tau tactics are the Mont'ka (Killing Blow) and Kauyon (Patient Hunter). The Mont'ka is a carefully planned attack designed to wipe out critical enemy defenses or units in single, well-placed strikes. Once the strongest points of enemy resistance are crushed, the remainder of the force can generally be finished off more easily. The Kauyon is essentially an ambush, where the enemy is drawn by use of a "lure" into a carefully prepared killing zones.
The Tau space fleet is known as the Kor'vattra and is made up of a variety of heavily armed vessels and fast moving scouts as well as fighters and bombers.
The Tau are very much a ranged-combat oriented army. A common tactic is to engage the enemy at the maximum range of their weapons, which typically have a longer range and greater firepower than the equivalent weapons of other armies. Tau players usually try to take out the strongest weapons of the enemy as well as keeping enemy troops from reaching the Tau lines, as most Tau units are weak in close combat. A more prevalent tactic amongst Tau veterans is the "Mecha-Tau" approach, which utilizes the inherent mobility and speed of Tau vehicles and battlesuits to confuse and overwhelm the enemy by engaging them at all levels of the battlefield.
The Tau army is highly specialized, with each element normally having a specific task in support of the rest of the force. Fire Warrior teams make up the line troops while forward scouts known as Pathfinders scout enemy positions and provide fire support with Rail Rifles and markerlight target designators. The Tau also deploy Broadside Battlesuits and Crisis Battlesuits in supporting roles, providing specialized weapons to deal with any hot spots on the battlefield or providing heavy anti-tank fire. Stealthsuit teams operate independently of the main force, unleashing devastating fire from hidden positions.
The Tau also make extensive use of small, A.I.-controlled drones, typically equipped with guns or forcefields. Drones can be used to protect teams of Fire Warriors and battlesuits or support tanks, and can even be grouped into independent squadrons.
The basic weapons of the Fire Caste propel particles that break down into plasma pulses as they are fired. This is commonly used in the long-range pulse rifle and more portable Pulse Carbine, the latter of which sports an underslung grenade launcher. A rapid-fire variation of the pulse carbine, known as the burst cannon, is also used on vehicles and battlesuits.
The Tau are known to use ion cannons and railguns in their ships as well as their vehicles with various guided and unguided missiles. They also arm their battlesuits with a variety of weapons, ranging from burst cannons and Missile Pods, to Fusion Blasters, Plasma Rifles, and flamers.
- Aun'Va - High Ethereal and Master of the Undying Spirit
- Aun'shi - Hero of Fio'vash
- Shas'O T'au Shaserra (aka Commander Shadowsun) - Supreme Commander of the Tau Empire's military forces. Student of Commander Puretide.
- Shas'O Vior'la Shovah Kais Mont'yr (aka Commander Farsight) - Leader of the breakaway Farsight Enclaves and a student of Commander Puretide
- Shas'O Kais - Leader of the Tau forces on Kronus in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade
- Kor'o Y'eldi - Air Caste High Admiral
- Shas'O R'myr (aka Commander Longknife) - Supreme Commander of the Tau coalition on Taros
- Shas'O T'au Dynerah Aloh'Kais (aka Commander Dawnlight) - Student of Commander Puretide
- Shas'O R'alai - Commander from the sept world of Kel'shan. Pilots a XV-9 Hazard Battle suit
- Shas'O Sa'cea Lasa Aun'Kor Mont'yr (aka Commander Coldfire) - Hero of the Tyrannic War
- Shas'La Kais - Main character of the game Fire Warrior
- Shas'La T'au Sha'ng (aka Longstrike) - Famed Tank Ace
- Shas'El Lusha - Tau Commander in the game Fire Warrior
- El'Myamoto (aka Darkstrider) - Famed Tau Pathfinder
The Tau ally and hire various alien species, and employ them in their military as Auxiliaries.
In the dystopic Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Tau are the "least evil" race. They are more merciful, liberal, and progressive than the other races. They do not wish to exterminate other species, but integrate them into their empire. They have a thriving scientific tradition. Most importantly, they are not subject to the corrupting influence of Chaos, arguably the root cause of the tragic history of the humans and the Eldar. They were originally intended to be the "good guys" of the setting. However, fans felt the Tau were too likeable for the grim setting, so later editions introduced some darker aspects, such as the mind-control powers of the Ethereals and their habit of exterminating conquered populations that stubbornly refuse to integrate into the Greater Good.
- 1 Forge World (Accessed 03/02/2011)
- 2: Deathwatch: The Achilus Assault, pg. 118
- 3: Deathwatch: Rising Tempest, pg. 6
- 4: Codex: Tau Empire (6th Edition) pg.106
- 5: For the Emperor (Novel) by Sandy Mitchell, Ch. 5