Since most important races in 40k were either created by another older race or have started their existence outside the universe (Tyranids), I was wondering if it was ever mentioned how the T'au came into existence.

I know that they were discovered by the empire in an early stone-age stage and they quickly developed into an important race, mostly due to the ethereals spreading the word of the greater good, but there is nothing about the reason behind their existence and I doubt that they just came into the picture by coincidence.

Is there a point in the official lore that points out who created them or lead them to what they are now, including the ethereals?

  • 4
    Note - the Tyranids came from outside the galaxy, not outside the universe. Oct 21, 2022 at 18:33

2 Answers 2


According to Wikipedia, the T'au were created by Gav Thorpe:

Gavin Thorpe began developing what eventually became the Tau in the early 1990s. Initially, he conceived them as the counterpart to the Lizardmen faction from Warhammer Fantasy, in the same way the Eldar are the counterpart of the High Elves, and he called them "the Shishell". Like the Lizardmen, the Shishell had a caste-based society. The Shishell had five castes: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. The race was ruled by a caste of psykers. In 1999, Thorpe revisited his Shishell concept when Games Workshop asked him to develop a new army. The caste system became part of the new Tau race. The Spirit caste was renamed "Ethereal", and the Ethereals became non-psychic so as to differentiate them from the Eldar Seer councils.

From the Wikipedia article on the T'au Empire

Checking Gav Thorpe's website, I found an article about the Origins of the Tau

As I’ve mentioned in some interviews, the genesis of the T’au philosophy and society pre-dates my employment at Games Workshop (and their official inception) by about a decade. Inspired by the Eldar article in White Dwarf 127 as an impressionable teen I embarked upon a personal project to emulate that wonderfulness, complete with Jes Goodwin-alike concept sketches, background and army list.

The species I invented were called the Shishell (or more specifically the Shissellian League) and were Lizardmen In Space, like Eldar were Elves In Space. The visuals were nothing like the T’au ended up, but a fundamental part of the background I created was the idea that their society was based around five castes – Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and a fifth called Spirit. The Shishell had psykers ruling over them, whereas the T’au most definitely do not.


And with them were the Tao (later Tau, now T’au) based on the underlying concept of the five elements I had originally come up with for the Shishell. I had kept my hand-typed reams of background and pencil sketches and persuaded the rest of the team that it was worth a punt, marrying some of the background to the idea of a more modern army, mecha-themed force (as opposed to the far more organic anime influence in the Eldar designs).

There are rumours that the T'au were created or supported by the Eldar, kind of what the Old Ones did with the Eldar. This due to their very low warp signature (in order to avoid Chaos to corrupt them) or, as FuzzyBoots mentioned, the Ethereals suddenly appearing and guiding them. This has however never been confirmed or denied by GW or an affiliated person.


The short answer is that the lore is that they were not uplifted or created by another race. They were simply an alien race that survived the Empire's attempt to wipe them out and who prospered due to a combination of embracing technology to a degree that most other races consider blasphemous and their ability to convince other races to join them in the Greater Good. This is aided by the mysterious universal control of the Ethereals which allows the race to be all the more focused.

The slightly longer answer is that according to one of the Codexes, there are reports of mysterious "slender figures" and "strange lights" seen prior to the arrival of the Ethereal that might be an earlier alien intervention. Also, according to the Xenology book, the Eldar aided the insectoid Q'orl against Chaos marauders and abducted one of their queens in return for their aid. Shortly thereafter, the Ethereal, with a rather similar forehead gem and control powers, appeared to unite the warring T'au clans, which suggests that the Eldar definitely might have been behind the T'au success, at least initially.

  • Where are these reports? White Dwarf? Codex references?
    – Jontia
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:17
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    @Jontia: Every reference I've found just refers to "the Codex", so I can't swear to what edition, but it sounds like it was official.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 21, 2022 at 14:29
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    In the new Leagues of Votann (Squats) law the Squats gave them some of their technology too. Oct 21, 2022 at 18:32
  • 1
    *lore, not law. Embarrassed to spot my typo too late to edit... Oct 21, 2022 at 20:27
  • 2
    Ah! I was curious on that, but I'm largely unfamiliar with Warhammer lore/law except what I look up. :-P
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 21, 2022 at 20:30

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