Skaven War

A Skaven horde advances after burning down an Imperial city

The Great Skaven Wars were the first major Skaven invasion of the Empire of Man. Fought from 1111 to 1124 IC, it was a devastating conflict that saw nearly three in every four Imperial citizens die, primarily to a nefarious Skaven disease known as the Black Plague.[1a][1b]


With the ending of the First Skaven Civil War and the entry of Clan Pestilens on the Council of Thirteen, at last would the children of the Horned Rat make their move on the most powerful kingdom of Mankind, the Empire of the Old World. Over several centuries, the Under-Empire recovered, and once more, the armies of Skavendom grew large. With Clan Pestilens' mighty plagues, and the deadly assassins of Clan Eshin at their disposal, the Council felt it was time to finally enact an invasion of the surface.[1a]

In the winter of the year 1111 a new strain of disease developed by Clan Pestilens was delivered by Clan Eshin adepts into the wells and sewers of many cities of the Empire. The scourge spread like wildfire. the first signs of infection were ominous blotches on the skin, followed by swelling of joints and agonising fever. Victims could last from minutes to a few weeks before the disturbing final stages, when the afflicted writhed in convulsions for torturous hours. The lucky died quickly, and in death the corpse turned a dark ashen grey.[1a]

The plague began simultaneously in the cities of Nuln, Altdorf and Talabheim. The trade routes, the roads and rivers, helped the illness spread swiftly. Towns shut their gates against the many refugees. Middenheim closed its viaducts and avoided the Plague, but others did not. Entire villages were lost at once and soon the dead outnumbered the living. Bands of Flagellants wandered the land proclaiming Sigmar's wrath.[1a]

In the spring, the Black Plague's grip abated somewhat and the Council of Thirteen unleashed the Warlord clans. The tottering remnants of the Empire could not stand before the chittering hordes. The depopulated regions of the Empire were overrun. Defenders were slain and eaten, while crops and livestock were looted. Against the tolling bells of the infernal Skaven war machines, even walled towns were breached with ease. The Imperial Army was helpless against the onslaught. Only the largest cities in the south - Altdorf, Nuln and Averheim - were still standing, while the plague still ran rampant in the north.[1a]

In 1115, the incompetent Emperor Boris Goldgather fell to the plague. Ironically, the little-loved leader was one of the last human victims, the disease having run its course. Yet over three-quarters of the population was destroyed. Skaven armies marched openly across Reikland, Averland, Wissenland and Talabecland. The few surviving cities were now faced with starvation.[1a]

Over the next seven years the Skaven began systematically enslaving the human settlements. Swarms of Clanrats would surround a farm or village, set fire to it, and capture any who fled. Long, shuffling columns were led to slave-pits constructed amidst the ruins of Ubersreik and Pfeildorf in Wissenland. The fortunate worked above ground growing food for the ratmen, but most were sent below to the mines of the Under-Empire, doomed never to see the sun again.[1a]

As slaves and booty were stripped from the Empire, the status of Clan Pestilens rose. Even the other Lords of Decay, try as they might, could not deny the potency of the Black Plague. The Plague Lords pressed their advantage and supplanted two of the Lords of Decay. Thus Clan Pestilens secured an unprecedented (and worrisome) three positions on the Council of Thirteen.[1a]

Skaven armies marched into the untouched province of Sylvania, searching for the meteors that were seen to land in that benighted land. To their dismay, the ratmen encountered plague-slain Zombies and packs of Ghouls. After several major battles for little gain, the Skaven withdrew from Sylvania to find easier prey.[1a]

In 1118, Middenheim came under siege. The fortress-city atop the rock of Ulricsberg proved difficult to crack. Although Jezzail teams relentlessly picked off defenders from the walls and raiding parties infiltrated the sewers and broke into the city several times, all the Skaven advances were destroyed before they could be exploited. It was Elector Count Mandred who championed the defence, leading from atop the battlements or down in the labyrinth sewers, wherever the fighting was fiercest. Before the defenders could be worn down, disaster struck. The Skaven were struck with their own pestilence, their numbers rapidly dwindling. The ratmen established a hidden stronghold deep under Middenheim before withdrawing.[1a][1b]

This was the turning point, for across the Empire the unbeatable verminous multitudes transformed into a bedraggled mass. Mandred rallied the surviving Elector Counts and led the anti-Skaven crusade. As their own plague raged through their ranks, the ratmen were defeated in battle after battle. A Skaven counter-attack, known as the Battle of the Howling Hills, was their last-ditch effort. The ploy almost worked until Mandred beheaded the Great Warlord Vrrmik of Clan Mors (a member of the Council of Thirteen). All Skaven hope of victory was lost. By 1124 the ratmen were driven below ground and Count Mandred Skavenslayer, who wore Vrrmik's skull on his helm, was proclaimed Emperor.[1b]

The Skaven were too depleted by disease and war to continue fighting. They had captured so many slaves during the campaign that the Lords of Decay feared a revolt. So the Council decided to build up their strength before another assault, but it was not to be.[1b]

Over the next 25 years the humans recovered more rapidly than the Lords of Decay thought possible. Under Emperor Mandred's dynamic rule, towns were rebuilt, land was resettled, and refugees returned. Even worse, Mandred ordered a constant guard against ratmen, creating organisations such as the Sewer Watch to halt further incursions. In the Under-Empire, the predicted slave revolt did occur, along with further outbreaks of the Black Plague that destroyed entire clans (suspiciously, many thought).[1b]

The Council of Thirteen convened at Skavenblight and recriminations flew between the Plaguelords and the rest of the Council. There were many compensation demands from disease-ridden clans and many accusations of assassination attempts were levelled. Eventually, a decision was made to delay all further Empire operations, save for a single act of vengeance.[1b]

A Clan Eshin Assassin broke into the palace and slew Emperor Mandred. False evidence of a mutant atrocity was left before the agent escaped into the sewers. To this day scholars fail to connect the Black Plague, the Skaven incursion, and the murder of the Emperor. Over time Skaven were dismissed as a threat to the Empire and within centuries what was known about the ratmen became so enshrouded in myth that many men now refuse to believe in their existence at all.[1b]


  • 1 Warhammer Armies: Skaven (7th Edition)
    • 1a pg. 23
    • 1b pg. 24

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