Halo timeline: War of Beginnings and formation of the Covenant

In our last Halo timeline article, we looked at the downfall of the Forerunner empire, the firing of the Halo arrays, and the Forerunners' reseeding of the galaxy with life before departing the Milky Way.

Complete Halo timeline series

In this article, we explore the War of Beginnings, a bloody, brutal conflict that resulted in the foundation of Halo's most infamous faction: the Covenant.

Prelude: The galaxy discovers the remnants of the Forerunners

The Forerunner dreadnought that the San'Shyuum found is an incredibly powerful naval vessel.

The Forerunner dreadnought that the San'Shyuum found is an incredibly powerful naval vessel.

The Forerunners left behind many relics of their once great empire across the galaxy.

Thousands upon thousands of years after the firing of the Halo array, many of the rebuilding species in the galaxy discovered various pieces of Forerunner technology scattered between worlds. These artifacts were merely a memory of the power the Forerunners once wielded — but to the developing species of the galaxy, this level of technology was far above anything they themselves had.

Due to the rather large gap in technological advancement between these species and the Forerunners, some of them came to view the Forerunners as divine beings. Particularly, the San'Shyuum and the Sangheili held these beliefs, though with some large differences in practices.


The San'Shyuum is considered one of the most intelligent species in the Halo universe.

The San'Shyuum is a bipedal species with serpentine limbs and necks. They are not adept in combat, but what they lack in physical size and military skill, they make up for with brilliant minds. They discovered the Forerunner dreadnought on their homeworld of Janjur Qom and came to view its size and power as proof of the Forerunner divinity.

After a bloody civil war with a faction of San'Shyuum called the Stoics (they believed the artifacts of the Forerunners were not to be tampered with) the Reformists (those who felt the technology of the gods should be used) activated the dreadnought and left Janjur Qom in search of any Forerunner artifacts they could find.


The Sangheili were unparalleled when it came to military combat prowess.

The Sangheili are a saurian warrior race native to the planet of Sanghelios. Unlike the San'Shyuum, the Sangheili are exceptional warriors in combat. Naturally muscular and culturally centered around warfare, Sangheili are the perfect military species. In addition to their exceptional physicality, they are also skilled tactical minds.

Upon discovering Forerunner artifacts on their homeworld, the Sangheili adopted a philosophy of worship and restraint. Like the Stoics, the Sangheili felt that using and tampering with the holy Forerunner relics was heretical. Instead of adapting Forerunner technologies to their needs, the Sangheili chose to admire and take inspiration from them.

Conflict erupts: Sangheili and San'Shyuum begin fighting over ideologies

The Sangheili and San'Shyuum first encountered each other on the Sangheili colony world of Ulgethon.

The Sangheili and San'Shyuum first encountered each other on the Sangheili colony world of Ulgethon.

The Sangheili-San'Shyuum War racked both species with heavy casualties.

In 938 Before Current Era (BCE), the San'Shyuum landed on the Sangheili world of Ulgethon. Intending to enter peaceful talks with the Sangheili to obtain their Forerunner artifacts, they sent an ambassador to meet with them, explaining that they, too, thought of the Forerunners as gods. However, upon discovering that the San'Shyuum had tampered with and adapted Forerunner technology to its needs, they killed the ambassador in cold blood and denounced the San'Shyuum as heretics.

This led to the beginning of the Sangheili-San'Shyuum War. Initially, the Sangheili had a strong advantage; San'Shyuum armies deployed to take control of Forerunner artifacts were swiftly cut down by the superior Sangheili warriors. Attempts to engage the Sangheili on foot resulted in defeat after defeat. San'Shyuum commanders turned to a new strategy — dominating the skies with superior firepower.


Sentinels were one of several airborne Forerunner tools and weapons the San'Shyuum utilized against the Sangheili. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

With weaker air power and less technological advancement than the San'Shyuum, the Sangheili slowly began to lose more and more battles.

Putting less of a focus on ground engagements and more on air power, the San'Shyuum began to slowly turn the tide of the war in its favor. While the Sangheili did possess a naval fleet and several atmospheric military aircraft, their ships and fighters were heavily outmatched by the superior Forerunner technology of their enemy. This is where the Sangheili's refusal to use Forerunner technology began to cripple their war effort.

That isn't to say that the Sangheili was powerless, though. Using slip-space capabilities, Sangheili fleets were able to conduct numerous hit-and-run operations on the Forerunner dreadnought and the rest of the superior San'Shyuum naval force. These efforts had some positive results; while the dreadnought was mostly untouched, the other ships in the San'Shyuum's possession sustained notable damage.

Stalemate reached: Neither side wins in the final stages of war

This mural on Sanghelios depicts the Sangheili-San'Shyuum War.

This mural on Sanghelios depicts the Sangheili-San'Shyuum War.

The Sangheili were eventually forced to discard their beliefs and use Forerunner technologies for survival.

The Sangheili, while managing to engage the San'Shyuum with some success in naval engagements, were nonetheless outmatched. One by one, their worlds fell, and the Sangheili knew they had to find a way to fight back now or face extinction. Left with no other choice, they acted against their beliefs and began to integrate Forerunner technology into their ships, weapons and armor systems.

This greatly evened the playing field of the war. By the time the San'Shyuum reached Sanghelios, the Sangheili had a military force that was almost as advanced as their own. In addition to this, the Sangheili exploited their home-field advantage by fortifying Forerunner structures; due to the religious beliefs of the San'Shyuum, they could not fire on buildings Forerunner in nature. This meant that every Sangheili-controlled structure had to be assaulted on foot, where the Sangheili had the advantage. Out in the open, however, the San'Shyuum had the advantage when they could bomb the Sangheili foot soldiers without fear of damaging holy relics.

Peace is achieved: The Covenant is formed

Facing a stalemate, both sides reached a compromise: join forces and form the Covenant.

Because of the Sangheili's willingness to use Forerunner technology, both armies reached a stalemate. The San'Shyuum offered a solution: the Sangheili could join the San'Shyuum, and together they would worship the Forerunners and search for new relics. Under this coalition, the Sangheili would make up the coalition's military, while the San'Shyuum would act as the political and religious leaders. Both species were to be considered equal in rights and power to the other.

High Charity, the Covenant's holy city and headquarters, is powered by the Forerunner dreadnought.

High Charity, the Covenant's holy city and headquarters, is powered by the Forerunner dreadnought.

Faced with little choice, the Sangheili accepted these terms, and the Covenant was officially born. Both sides laid down their arms, and the Sangheili begrudgingly cast aside their disdain for using Forerunner technology. As a show of good faith, the San'Shyuum deactivated the Forerunner dreadnought and utilized it as a power source for a monumental space-station city known as High Charity. This would be the shared home for most of the Covenant leadership, both Sangheili and San'Shyuum, and a base of operations for studying new Forerunner relics, constructing ships, and more.

In addition to serving militarily, some Sangheili also acted as members of the High Council, a joint group of Sangheili and San'Shyuum politicians.

In addition to serving militarily, some Sangheili also acted as members of the High Council, a joint group of Sangheili and San'Shyuum politicians.

This Covenant was made official in writing via the Writ of Union, a founding charter document. The beginning of it is as follows:

So full of hate were our eyes, that none of us could see, our war would yield countless dead, but never victory. So let us cast arms aside, and like discard our wrath. Thou, in faith, will keep us safe, whilst we find the path.

This document cemented the new alliance. Wishing to put aside past bloodshed, the Sangheili-San'Shyuum War was dubbed the War of Beginnings, in order to celebrate the coming together of the two species and to help steer the focus towards the future of the Covenant.

Your thoughts

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Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.