Sardaukar in Dune: A Fascinating and Ruthless Warrior People

The Sardaukar were a feared and legendary warrior culture in the Dune universe. At their height, they were renowned for their fanatic zeal, superior fighting abilities, and sheer ruthlessness. Life on their homeworld is so extreme, that the existential pressure forced the early colonists to adapt rapidly or die out.

And adapt they did.

Consequently, those colonists became hardened warriors and founded what became the ruling House of the Known Universe: House Corrino. For thousands of years, Emperors from House Corrino relied on the Sardaukar warriors to keep the other Houses in check.

In this article, we explore the history and origins of this fearsome military force and by the end, you will understand the following:

  • What are the Sardaukar in Dune?
  • Where did the Sardaukar come from?
  • What is the Sardaukar religion?
  • Sardaukar training, distinct appearance, and fighting style
  • How many is a legion of Sardaukar?
  • Are the Sardaukar Harkonnen?
  • Are the Sardaukar prisoners?
  • What language do Sardaukar speak in Dune?
  • Are Fremen better than the Sardaukar?
  • What happened to the Sardaukar?

I recommend playing this in the background as you read:

What are the Sardaukar in Dune?

The Sardaukar in Dune are the elite military force of the Padishah Emperor, ruler of the Known Universe. People throughout the Imperium knew the Sardaukar for their mystique, ruthless nature, and skill on the battlefield. The Sardaukar raised their children to have religious-like deference toward all members of House Corrino so they had unwavering loyalty to the Emperor.

Where did the Sardaukar come from?

The Sardaukar began as stranded colonists on the planet of Salusa Secundus. Life on Salusa Secundus is brutal for humanity. For one, the climate is extreme and can swing rapidly from drought to flooding rains. And the temperature can fluctuate between blistering heat and freezing cold.

Like other organisms under intense pressure by a hostile environment, the inhospitable nature of their surroundings forced the colonists to breed rapidly. Without enough offspring, Salusa Secundus would have wiped them out.

The rapid breeding over centuries led to the formation of a clan-based system of government and a fierce warrior religion. But it wasn’t until they formed an army did they call themselves Sardaukar. Eventually, one leader united the clans and decided it was time to take his place in the universe.

The leader founded the House Corrino in honor of winning the space battle of Corrin against Omnius. And House Corrino became the ruling House for 10,000 years. The members of House Corrino realized early on that the hostile environment of Salusa Secundus was no place for a royal court. So House Corrino relocated to the paradise planet Kaitain and made Salusa Secundus the Imperial Prison Planet.

Sardaukar in Dune: Sardaukar soldier getting blood painted on his face during the temple ceremony
(Image Credit: Warner Bros)

What is the Sardaukar religion?

The Sardaukar follow a religion of warrior-mysticism through which they see themselves as elite and superior beings chosen by God. They believe in strength, the honor of self-sacrifice, and the idea that the weak must die so the strong can thrive.

The Wandering Zensunni influenced the warrior religion as Salusa Secundus was one of the nine planets the Wandering Zensunni resided on during their great migration over thousands of years. The Wandering Zensunni found their permanent home on Arrakis and their descendants became the Fremen.

In the Dune universe, the Zensunni belief is a blend of two religions from “old earth”: Sunni Islam and Zen Buddhism. While it’s difficult to identify distinct traces of Sunni Islam, we see the influences of Zen Buddhism in the intense self-discipline exhibited by the Sardukar and Fremen warriors. However, any semblance of the pacifism taught in Zen Buddhism went out the window long ago.

In addition, the Dune Wiki states:

“The Tawrah Collegiate and the Torah and Talmudic Zabur were two religious institutions of Salusa Secundus so influences from Judaism and first or second Islam also seem possible.”

The Dune Encyclopedia mentions a sect called the “Sardaukar of Salvation” on Gamont, a world known for its “hedonistic culture and exotic sexual practices”. So maybe a group of Sardaukar went to the harem world of Gamont in order to bring salvation to the sex-crazed population.

Sounds legit.

Sardaukar in Dune (2021)—Concept art of Sardaukar soldier
(Image Credit: Keith Richardson)

Sardaukar Training

House Corrino misled the other Houses to believe the Emperor’s elite forces consisted of young, highly-trained levies. In reality, the Emperor sent some levies and many prisoners from across the Imperium to the Imperial Prison Planet, Salusa Secundus. There, they would become Sardaukar or die in the process.

Life on Salusa Secundus is so inhospitable that 6 out of every 13 children born on Salusa Secundus die before the age of 11. Those children who are strong enough to survive are forged into ruthless soldiers with unwavering loyalty to House Corrino. House Corrino nurtured their loyalty by reinforcing the belief in their superiority and granting them a quality of life enjoyed by members of the great Houses.

The Sardaukar training gives them formidable swordsmanship and espionage abilities, and their religious zeal inspires them to fight to the death to achieve victory.

The weak must die so the strong can thrive.

Sardaukar Dune GIF of Sardaukar approaching the camera in their recognizable fighting stance
(Image Credit: Warner Bros)

The Sardaukar’s Distinct Appearance and Fighting Style

The soldiers wear grey and black uniforms with gold accents. The uniform consists of a beret, a tunic, epaulets, breeches, and boots.

The beret and epaulets display the ranking of each soldier. An epaulet is a shoulder mark displaying one of three colors. Standard soldiers wear black, the Emperor’s guards wear gold, and ordinary guards wear red.

The tunic is a black single-breasted stand-up collar with five fabric buttons. The color was different between commissioned and non-commissioned officers, with commissioned officers donning a gold tunic.

The 2021 film depicts them in their combat suits with helmets to protect themselves from the elements and likely to preserve their water on Arrakis.

The Sardaukar possess a distinct combat style making them easily recognized. They group into trios and adopt a triangular fighting stance with their backs against one another. They are said to match the martial abilities of a 10th-level Ginaz warrior, which would be a match for ten Landsraad conscripts.

Melee Armament:

  • Flip-dart—Small barb-like needle half a centimeter long that delivers potent drugs or poisons upon penetration of the skin. Concealed in finger rings, fighting girdles, wrist braces, and weapon sheaths.
  • Kindjal—Slightly curved double-edged long knife or short sword, 20 cm long. Great Houses and the Sardaukar use kindjal.
  • Sardaukar sword—The military’s primary weapon. The sword is 40-50 centimeters long with slightly curved edges. The inward-face of the blade might feature rugged-edged patterns.
  • Shigawire garrote—Metallic extrusion of a ground vine grown on Salusa Secundus.
  • Slip-tip—Thin, short blade for off-hand use in shield fighting. Often tipped with poison.

Ranged Armament:

  • Hunter-seeker—Tiny floating tadpole-like machine remotely controlled by the operator who must remain close by. Used primarily for assassinations.
  • Lasgun—Continuous-wave laser projector weapon, typically in the form of a rifle or pistol.
  • Maula pistol—Hand-held, spring-loaded weapon used to fire poison darts accurately up to 40 meters.
  • Needle gun—Small projectile weapon resembling a wristwatch carrying a single envenomed dart.
  • Stunner—Slow-pellet projectile weapon favored for the fact that it could be used safely against shields.
  • Sardaukar throwing knife
(Image Credit: Warner Bros)

How many is a legion of Sardaukar?

A legion of Sardaukar is 30,000 men—ten brigades of 3,000 men each. And only the Sardaukar legions can call themselves Imperial Legions.

Are Sardaukar Harkonnen?

No, the Sardaukar are the elite military force of the Padishah Emperor, so they belong to the noble House Corrino.

The Emperor sent one legion to aid Vladimir Harkonnen in the attack on Arrakis. In the original Dune novel, they disguised themselves as Harkonnen soldiers to hide the Emperor’s involvement. Denis Villeneuve took a different route in the 2021 film because the Sardaukar were certainly wearing Sardaukar armor when they were reaping souls across Arrakeen and fighting Duncan Idaho.

The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam specified to the Baron in the 2021 film that the Emperor’s involvement must never be known. To which the Baron responded,

“There’s no satellites over Arrakis—the Atreides will die in the dark.”

So that implies there is little concern of anyone finding out the Sardaukar were involved because everyone (who matters) on Arakkis will be murdered.

Are the Sardaukar evil?

The Sardaukar are a religious people who excel in battle, have a suicidal disregard for their safety, and possess fanatical loyalty to the emperor. They did what the Emperor commanded them to do, making the Sardaukar a tool of intimidation and force. And as a tool, they were brutally effective.

Are the Sardaukar prisoners?

The Sardaukar are not prisoners. The Emperor and members of the Landsraad sent prisoners from across the Imperium to Salusa Secundus because it is the Imperial Prison Planet. However, once on Salusa Secundus, prisoners were given a path to freedom if they were to join the military and submit to the training. Many didn’t survive, but those that did went on to become the elite military force of the Emperor, and were well compensated for it.

Are Fremen better than Sardaukar?

The Fremen surpassed the might of the Sardaukar based on the events leading up to and surrounding the Arrakis Revolt. After almost getting killed by a Fremen, Duncan Idaho said there’s no better fighter in the Imperium. And Duncan Idaho is a Ginaz Swordmaster who managed to kill 19 Sardaukar before going down himself.

Then the Fremen, led by Paul Atreides on the desert planet Dune, defeated 5 legions of Sardaukar (150,000 men) during the Arrakis Revolt. That was the turning point in the spice wars of the Dune universe because Paul Atreides showed the Landsraad that House Corrino was no longer the dominant force in the Imperium.

(Image Credit: Warner Bros)

What language is the Sardaukar speaking in Dune?

The Sardaukar speak English in the 2021 Dune film but they strip it down to the most basic syllables and sounds to make it as brutally efficient as they are.

The only word they do not shorten is Sardaukar.

To give you some examples, we start with the phrase uttered by the commander when Piter de Vries goes to Salusa Secundus.

“Those who stand against us fall!”

Strip the fat to get “se who st- gai-st u- fall!“

Then smash it together and say it fast!

“suh-oost-ageesta-fallah!”

Want another one?

“It is done” becomes “It s-d-” and then “Et’sa-duh.”

“No! We are the Sardaukar!” becomes “N- th- Sardaukar!” and then “Nah! Th/Sadaukar!

In the original Dune universe, Tamashek is an ancient language on Salusa Secundus. In fact, researchers believe the Fremen term sietch is derived from Tamashek. That would make sense because Salusa Secundus was one of the planets the Fremen ancestors resided on during the Zensunni Wandering lasting thousands of years.

The Dune Wiki states:

“Tamashek” or “Tamasheq” is an actual real language, it refers to a Malian variety of Tuareg, a Berber macro-language. The few known words from the Sardaukar language however seem to hint towards Persian, Urdu and Ukrainian, so the language of Salusa Secundus and historical Tamasheq are most likely not identical, though the name is derived of it.”

The God Emperor Leto II

What happened to the Sardaukar?

Overconfidence and cynicism about their warrior religion sapped the power of the Sardaukar in the time leading up to the events of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Firstly, Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV inflated the ranks of the Imperial commanders. And for a people who rely on structure and hierarchy to maintain order, this led to conflict and power struggles among the Sardaukar.

It didn’t help that the Emperor himself was insecure, making it difficult for the Sardaukar to respect him, thereby weakening their devotion to the Golden Lion Throne.

In addition, the Imperial House decreased funding for Sardaukar training in the decades leading up to the events of Dune. Unsurprisingly, this had a negative effect on the discipline and strength of their forces.

Paul Atreides and Leto II Seal the Deal

By the time Paul Atreides arrived on the scene, people still regarded the Sardaukar as the most fearsome military force in the Known Universe. But this reputation only contributed to their arrogance in light of how soft they had become.

So when Paul Atreides led the Fremen against 150,000 Sardaukar in the Arrakis Revolt and won, he ended House Corrino’s 10,000-year-long Imperial dynasty and shattered the mystique surrounding the Sardaukar.

As Garth Patterson puts it:

“The former Imperial House became imbittered over the failure of their legions and vowed revenge on the Atreides who toppled them. The Sardaukar forces of Wensicia, daughter of Shaddam IV, and Prince Farad’n Corrino, grandson of Shaddam IV, were retrained to within a hair as good as their former glory in the days of the Old Empire, a near equal to the forces of the Fremen on Arrakis. After the failure of a desperate gambit to seize the throne from the Atreides the Sardaukar legions were disbanded and merged with the Fremen forces of the God Emperor Leto II.”

House Corrino and the Sardaukar continued into Leto II’s reign. But the once-great House never regained its former glory under the God Emperor Leto II.

Imagine having the 10,000-year dynasty chip on your shoulder. Ouch.

Frank Herbert Created an Awe-Inspiring Foe

Everything about the Sardaukar culture makes for an impressive foe on the battlefield. An upbringing in a hostile environment. A religious zeal for warfare. An utter disregard for self-preservation. A ruthless approach to completing their objectives. A fanatic loyalty to their leader.

Unfortunately for House Corrino and their elite military, nothing lasts. The might of the Sardaukar softened over time and was eventually outclassed by the descendants of their ancestors, the Fremen. While the Sardaukar grew soft as a consequence of their relaxed training and luxurious standard of living, the Fremen only grew stronger living in the harsh deserts of Arrakis.

When it finally came time for the old power of House Corrino to reassert itself, it was too late for the once-mighty Sardaukar to regain their former strength.

What do you find interesting about the Sardaukar? What did you think of them in the 2021 film? How many mistakes did I make in putting this lore together? Let me know in the comments!

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