When the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle was released in 1983 there was no Warhammer World. The only maps it had were of battlefields and their surrounds, with placeholder names like "Menglad" and "Ath Cliath" that were never used again. There was certainly no need for a timeline. Only in its supplements did locations that would become permanent parts of the setting like Lustria start being mentioned, and it wasn't until second edition that there was a full map of the Old World and a timeline to go with it. Later editions and spin-off games, novels, comics, audio dramas, and videogames would all add to the ongoing story, filling gaps and pushing the calendar forwards.
Like all the best stories, it has an ending. The End Times, an apocalyptic event that brought a finale to the setting, was controversial. But its presence gives every game that takes place before the world ends a sense of epic tragedy and, whisper it so the comment section can't hear, Age of Sigmar (opens in new tab) is actually a worthy follow-up. The Warhammer fiction has always been about doomed last stands, about warriors who face death but go down fighting. For the entire setting to build to a series of doomed last stands feels far more apt than a happy ending would, or for it to continue until it slid into irrelevance and was forgotten.
The Warhammer videogames have only ever had tangential relationships with the canon—the MMO Age of Reckoning was set in a completely divergent timeline—but many of them can be loosely dated. Mordheim took place in the year 2000 and Mark of Chaos in 2305, while the Empire campaign in Total War: Warhamer begins with the election of Karl Franz, placing it in 2502. The Vermintide games are set in the End Times, so somewhere between 2519 and 2528.
Dates are given according to the Imperial Calendar in which the year 0 is the founding of the Empire.
The Elder Age
Alien beings called the Old Ones discover the Warhammer World trapped in an ice age as it drifts further away from the sun with each orbit. They install gateways at each pole through which their constructor fleet can travel and spend the next 1,000 years remaking the planet to their liking with the aid of their servants, the slann and lizardmen.
The Old Ones create the elves, perhaps by modifying an existing species, and then transplant them to Ulthuan.
The next of the Old Ones' creations, the dwarfs, migrate northwards through the Old World. Humans follow.
Foreseeing the coming of Chaos, the Old Ones create two more species: ogres, to fight it, and halflings, who are resistant to its corruption.
The mechanisms that control the polar gates created by the Old Ones fail. A titanic chunk of warpstone is hurled through the northern rift, taking up orbit as the second moon, Morrslieb. The Old Ones vanish, and their creations are left to fight the army of daemons led by Be'lakor, First Prince of Chaos, that pour through the gates.
The high elves create their Great Vortex, secretly aided by the slann, to drain excess magic that leaks from the polar gates. Lacking the critical mass of magic to maintain their physicality, every daemon walking the world is simultaneously banished.
Seafaring elves make colonies in the Old World and befriend the dwarfs.
A meteor hits the ogre homeland, leaving a crater they dub The Great Maw and worship as a god.
A civil war breaks out in Ulthuan as the followers of the popular Cult of Pleasure are revealed to be in service of the Chaos God Slaanesh.
The elven rebels led by Prince Malekith try to destroy the Great Vortex but succeed only in sinking the northernmost lands of Ulthuan. Malekith and his followers flee to Naggaroth, where they become known as dark elves.
The first human civilization emerges in Nehekhara.
Dark elves destroy a dwarf caravan while disguised as high elves, planting a seed of mistrust between the two peoples.
A dwarf messenger sent to demand recompense from the high elves is returned empty-handed with his beard shaved. This begins the War of the Beard.
A priest named Nagash learns dark magic from dark elves shipwrecked on the coast of Nehekhara.
Nagash creates the immortality-giving Elixir of Life, cheating death and declaring himself the Great Necromancer. It is not a popular move with the rest of the priesthood.
Meteors rain down on the city of Kavzar, located on what would later be the border between the human nations Tilea and Estalia. Several months later it is overrun by mutant rats and earns the new name Skavenblight.
After almost 100 years of war, the Priest-Kings succeed in driving Nagash out of Nehekhara.
The Dwarfs finally push most of the high elves from the Old World. Those that remain retreat to forests like Loren, becoming the wood elves.
Neferata of Lahmia attempts to recreate Nagash's Elixir of Life but instead is cursed and becomes the first vampire. Her and her companions, who share the Elixir, each found a separate vampiric bloodline.
Nagash performs the Ritual of Waking, having his revenge on Nehekhara by transforming it into the Land of the Dead. Fearing his growing power, the skaven have him assassinated. He lives on through the Crown of Sorcery, an artifact that changes hands many times in the centuries to come.
Lord Quex of the slann decides to rearrange the continents, resulting in massive earthquakes in the Worlds Edge Mountains and Skavenblight. The dwarfs call this the Time of Woes.
Neferata takes the dwarfhold of Silver Pinnacle for her own.
Nagash is resurrected and attempts to bend the Tomb Kings of the Land of the Dead to his will, but they prove too resistant.
A twin-tailed comet heralds the birth of Sigmar in what will later become the Empire.
The young Sigmar rescues a band of dwarf traders from orcs, then learns that among the freed prisoners is King Kurgan Ironbeard. The dwarf king gifts Sigmar the magic hammer Ghal Maraz, cementing an alliance between the two peoples.
Sigmar becomes chief of his tribe, and begins uniting the neighbouring tribes to form a nation. The Bretonni, over the Grey Mountains to the west, refuse his call.
Dwarfs and humans fight side by side against greenskins at the Battle of Black Fire Pass, winning a decisive victory.
The Age of Man
Sigmar is crowned Emperor of the united tribes, just in time to lead them against an Incursion of Chaos.
Sigmar defeats Constant Drachenfels, the Great Enchanter, a being who claims to be immortal.
Sigmar defeats Nagash, the Great Necromancer, a being who claims to be immortal.
Sigmar vanishes and is believed to have ascended to godhood.
Johann Helstrum becomes the first high priest of Sigmar, who is declared patron god of the Empire.
The Norse begin raiding Marienburg.
A treaty between Marienburg and Norsca is signed at the Athling of Traktatsey.
Undead pirate Luther Harkon reanimates the many shipwrecked dead who wash up on Lustria's shores, creating the Vampire Coast.
A Norse raider named Losteriksson becomes the first living human to land in Lustria, and founds the settlement of Skeggi.
In what will become Bretonnia, Gilles le Breton and his companions are blessed by a mysterious goddess calling herself the Lady of the Lake. These, the first Grail Knights, begin scouring the land of their enemies.
Gilles le Breton is hit by an orc bolt, and asks to be placed on a barge that appears at a nearby lake. The boat takes him into the mists, and he disappears.
Louis the Rash drinks from the Grail and is declared King of Bretonnia. He goes on to draw up the Decrees of Chivalry. The Lady of the Lake becomes the nation's patron god.
For their services to Imperial cuisine, halflings are given autonomy within the Empire, an electoral vote, and their own sub-province, the Moot, by decree of Emperor Ludwig the Fat.
The Black Plague strikes the Empire. Over the next four years it strikes down most of the nation's population, including Emperor Boris Goldgather the Incompetent. The skaven, who were responsible for its spread, attack. They are only held back when the necromancer Frederick Vanhal raises an army of plague dead.
Count Mandred leads a crusade that drives the skaven out of the Empire. He is elected Emperor and dubbed Mandred Skavenslayer.
Mandred is assassinated, and the Empire fragments.
Valkia the Bloody leads an army of Chaos that takes the northernmost dwarfholds.
A crusade is declared against Araby in retaliation for their invasion of the Estalian Kingdoms. Knights from all over the Old World respond.
The beastlord Gorthor the Cruel leads the largest army of beastmen ever to attack the Empire. The Knights of the Blazing Sun, recently returned from a crusade, join the fight against them.
With the throne empty since Mandred's death, multiple contestants vie for it. This period of conflict is called the Age of Three Emperors.
The Night of the Restless Dead. Nagash is resurrected, and for a single night the dead walk across the Old World.
The vampire Vlad von Carstein marries Countess Isabella von Drak of the Imperial county of Sylvania, which he eventually turns into a haven for the undead.
Magritta of Marienburg is elected Emperor but the head of the cult of Sigmar refuses to crown her.
The Imperial city of Mordheim is hit by a comet, and its ruins draw treasure hunters from afar.
Vlad von Carstein marches out from Sylvania at the head of an undead army, devastating Ostermark and beginning the Vampire Wars.
Vlad is killed at the siege of Altdorf and Isabella commits suicide rather than carry on without him.
Mannfred von Carstein cements his position as the most powerful of Vlad's heirs, resuming his reign of Sylvania and allying with vampires beyond its borders.
The fractured Empire unites briefly and, with the help of their dwarf allies, defeats Mannfred at the Battle of Hel Fenn.
Duke Maldred of Mousillon claims to have married the Lady of the Lake and possess the Grail. Only when a mysterious Green Knight emerges from the forest, backed by the real Lady, is his Grail revealed to be false. Maldred is stripped of his dukedom.
Asavar Kul leads an Incursion of Chaos through Kislev, taking Praag. Magnus the Pious convinces Imperials they must stand together against this threat, and the Great War Against Chaos begins.
Victorious over Chaos, Magnus the Pious is so popular he becomes the first officially elected Emperor since 1979. He works with high elf loremaster Teclis to create the Colleges of Magic, each of which is dedicated to one of the eight winds of magic.
A slann ritual intended to push Morrslieb out of orbit goes wrong, shaking loose meteors of warpstone that rain down across the world.
A former templar of Sigmar turned champion of Chaos, Archaon emerges from the Altar of Ultimate Darkness blessed by the Mark of Chaos, having taken the first step on a quest to become the herald of the apocalypse.
The Imperial province of Westerland and its capital Marienburg secede from the Empire, buying their independence from Emperor Dieter IV. The scandal leads to him being deposed.
Heinrich von Kemmler, a necromancer dubbed the Lichemaster, resurrects a dead champion of Chaos named Krell and together they lead an army into Bretonnia. They are finally stopped at the abbey of la Maisontaal.
Karl Franz becomes Emperor and among his first acts is leading an army to Nordland to see off a Norse invasion.
Orc warlord Azhag the Slaughterer finds the Crown of Sorcery. It begins whispering to him, inspiring him to gather a greenskin horde and march on the Empire.
Azhag is defeated at the Battle of Osterwald, and the Crown of Sorcery is placed in the Imperial Vaults for safekeeping.
The End Times
The daemon prince Be'lakor crowns Chaos champion Archaon Everchosen the Lord of the End Times. He begins amassing an army larger than any the Old World has yet seen.
High elf princess Aliathra is kidnapped by Mannfred von Carstein, the first of many of the Old World's undead menaces to return to life.
During the Imperial Conclave of State a message from Mannfred von Carstein arrives, declaring that Sylvania has formally separated itself from the Empire. The Crown of Sorcery is discovered missing from the Imperial Vaults.
Kislev falls to Archaon's horde. The Empire marches north to defend its border. With the army tied up there it falls to Volkmar the Grim, high priest of Sigmar, to lead a crusade into Sylvania. Outnumbered, they fail and Volkmar is captured.
The Supreme Patriarch of the Colleges of Magic, Balthasar Gelt, creates a magical wall around Sylvania to keep the undead in. He begins working on a similar wall in Kislev to hold back the armies of Chaos, dubbed the Auric Bastion.
Skaven assassinate multiple Tilean leaders simultaneously in the Night of One Thousand Terrors, and on the following night they invade. Tilea falls, and Estalia follows.
In Sylvania Volkmar the Grim, Aliathra, and several other important religous leaders kidnapped by Mannfred von Carstein and his allies are sacrificed in a ritual that returns Nagash to life.
The Auric Bastion begins to fall, but the defenders are aided by an army of the dead led by Vlad von Carstein (also magically resurrected to serve Nagash), who has secretly been working with Balthasar Gelt to hold back Chaos. When Gelt's use of necromancy is discovered he flees.
At the Battle of Blighted Isle high elf prince Tyrion draws the cursed sword Widowmaker to defeat a host of dark elves, and in so doing becomes the avatar of Khaine, god of murder. As he becomes more twisted dark elves join his court, while many high elves flee it and forge an unlikely alliance with those dark elves who do not join Tyrion.
While Archaon gathers strength in the north, three armies lead by champions of the plague god Nurgle march south to weaken the Empire in preparation for his assault. They devastate Talabheim and Marienburg, then lay siege to Altdorf.
Alarielle the Everqueen of the high elves forms an alliance with Malekith, legitimizing his claim to be Phoenix King. The elven civil war comes to a head with a battle at the foot of the Great Vortex. At its climax the Vortex is destroyed, as was Teclis the loremaster's plan all along. His attempt to bind the winds of magic to mortal champions is only partially successful, as Nagash has already stolen the wind of death and become even more powerful. Several winds escape, seeking mortals to bond with.
The wind of heavens arrives in Altdorf as Emperor Karl Franz falls. It incarnates within him, restoring him to life. Unbeknownst to anyone Sigmar has been trapped within the wind of heavens for the last 2,000 years due to a plot by the Chaos god Tzeentch and only now is free to resume his battle against Chaos as the Emperor once again.
Without the magics that held it together, Ulthuan sinks beneath the Great Western Ocean. The survivors flee to Loren Forest, home of the wood elves, reuniting the three elven peoples.
The skaven's Morskittar Engine, a moon-rocket, breaks Morrslieb. The slann dedicate all their magical power to preventing the larger warpstones from impacting with the Old World, but Lustria and the Southlands are lost to meteors.
Altdorf falls, although Nurgle's champions are defeated with the aid of Bretonnian knights and Vlad von Carstein.
Fleeing the broken Altdorf, the Emperor travels south while Middenheim is besieged by Archaon. The skaven throw their lot in with Chaos and together they take the last Imperial city, and sweep over the Old World.
Most of the Incarnates, as those bonded with the winds of magic are called, are driven to Loren Forest—a rare holdout against Chaos. The goddess Lileath reveals to Teclis that there have been other worlds devoured by Chaos in the distant past, and each time some fragments of the previous world persist and a new world is born only for the cycle to repeat.
At Loren Forest the Incarnates gather. Teclis resurrects his brother Tyrion, now free from his curse, and unites him with the wind of light. Balthasar Gelt redeems himself by saving the Emperor's life and bonds with the wind of metal. Nagash is distrusted by the others until he hands over Mannfred von Carstein—who abducted the elf princess Aliathra—as a prisoner. Mannfred escapes with the help of the daemon prince Be'lakor and swears revenge, but the gambit works and Nagash is welcomed to the Council of Incarnates.
The Council captures Be'lakor and learn that Archaon plans to excavate an artifact of the Old Ones buried beneath Middenheim to open a new gateway to the Realm of Chaos. Teclis casts a spell to bring the Incarnates to Middenheim, accidentally summoning orc warlord Grimgor Ironhide, who has bonded with the wind of beasts. Malekith appeals to the orc's pride by telling him the only being stronger than him in the city is Archaon, and he joins them.
Beneath the city the Incarnates battle Archaon and the daemons that emerge from the gateway as it opens, defeating them at great cost. As the Incarnates pool their powers to seal the portal Mannfred von Carstein has his revenge by disrupting their ritual, allowing the portal to continue growing. It quickly becomes unstoppable, and eventually the Realm of Chaos swallows the Old World.
However, Sigmar and several of those present at the gateway's opening survive, to begin the cycle again in a new world.
If you've enjoyed this, why not read our timeline for the worlds of the Elder Scrolls (opens in new tab) or Fallout (opens in new tab)?