This article came across my desk today (via a circuitous Facebook route).
It caught my attention because its the first one that I've seen that delves in to the thematic issue of warhammer 40,000 in a lot of detail …. although I'm sure that there must be some university theses on these issues by now (and if there's not, there should be! get researching!).
What I was not aware of was that the original design team had an excellent background in history and archeology. Hence the drawing of the themes of warhammer 40,000 takes root in many cultures from our own (Earth's) history. This is, of course, highly obvious when one looks at the general outline of a space marine and compares to (e.g.) Roman armies.
That said, the thing that struck me most about the article was the notion of the "weight of history". Everywhere in the game, there is history. History of many, many millennia. Having lived in both the UK and Australia, I can really appreciate this point. There are physical buildings standing in the UK that are millennia old (Durham cathedral to name but one, but head to London and other places to see even older items). Although lacking such architecture, Australia also has paintings on rocks done by aboriginal Australians that pre-date even these. This is what is meant by the weight of history: long occupation of multiple dynasties of humans all leaving their mark on the landscape and their own architecture. But in warhammer 40k, this results in plentiful gothic style cathedral designs in new things (titans, administration buildings, etc) as well as a seemingly endless array of skulls. Add on top of this the grand scale of these things, and the typical human being is made to feel very small and tiny in the grand scheme of things. Perfect!