Ah… the things that are possible in CK1 with a sufficiently godlike character. Although, admittedly, the diplomacy that isolated my targets had a lot to do with it as well. Rome is generally in a difficult situation, because its expansion in any direction threatens a lot of interests; it has too many neighbours who will look askance at a stronger Rome in their midst. For this reason, the reign of Thomas was the high-tide mark of my CK power.
When has the world seen his like?
As a child, Thomas saw the court of the Emperor Leo flee the very City of Men’s Desire; the great walls were no protection against treasonous weakness within. Not, perhaps, since the sack of the city of Rome by the Celts, long before the birth of Christ, had the fortunes of Rome sunk so deep. Foreign boots in Constantinople; infidel banners in the islands; the very title, Basileus Romaion, in barbarian hands; Croatian troops two hundred miles from Thessalonika where the court fled. Would any man have been surprised if, following such disasters, the Roman Empire had sunk into ignominy and decadence, and disintegrated at last to make room for new peoples? A picket don’t last forever, nor a state; and in the end, this, too, shall pass is the only enduring wisdom.
And yet within a single generation, within one man’s lifetime, how much is changed! Let those who think that single men cannot matter to the course of history take note. Croatia is humbled, reduced in size by a third; only through the intervention of Russian swords did it avoid the very fate it threatened Rome with, dissolution into several warring statelets and eventual absorption by united peoples. The Sublime Porte is again the site of the Roman court and government. The cataphracts have restored the terror of their arms throughout the Balkans; and where once only the infidel knew respect for the name of Komnenos, now mothers from Ragusa to the sources of the Rhine threaten their children with the wrath of Thomas, should they not be good.
Men have been given the name of Imperator for far lesser deeds; what can we say then of the Italian campaign, except to heap praise upon praise? When all’s said and done, the jibe of Ioannes the Megas Domestikos rings true: “They were only Croatians.” But then there is Italy; none can accuse the Normans of being an unmartial race, yet they fell before Thomas’s lightning campaign in a single year, and Rome itself opened the gates to a rightful Emperor for the first time in half a millennium. “Thomas ante portas!”, but the Knytling Pope had none of the unbending firmness that the Senate showed; nor did Catholic Europe rise to throw out the interloper. And then, piling achievement on achievement, the same army marched north, pacifying all of Italy south of the Alps, sweeping all resistance before them. Where was the vaunted Gothian army of yesteryear? What of the famous levy of well-mounted knights, of stout pikemen, of swarthy crossbows? None long resisted Thomas where he chose to lead an army; those that did, died. Only his magnanimity left the de Toulouses in possession of their land; for he had made his point in demanding the return of the title, Basileus Romaion, and imposed no tribute other than that paid to the foremost fighting man of a generation.
The crushing of the subsequent risings in southern Italy and Anatolia, which he did while skirmishing in the north with Croatia, are hardly worth mentioning in such a litany; now the Empire is solid, fully united under one man’s hand for the first time in generations. The great magnates are humbled, and dare not rise; the bureaucracy is loyal, and makes no obstructions; the church is ecstatic at seeing lands brought back from heresy, and the people – ah! The people, and the army, love nothing better than an Emperor who brings them victory and glory.
And yet withal, the man has not yet seen his fiftieth year. Caesar wept at his thrirtieth birthday, because he had not yet conquered the world like Alexander; yet in the few years that remained to him, he built a conqueror’s name whose reverberations have not yet died. What then of Thomas? What can he not accomplish, in whatever time remains to him?
And yet it was a wise man who said, “Praise no man as happy while he yet lives.” Only God knows what the morning will bring.