Although Cesare Borgia's conquest of Imola and Forli cannot seriously be accounted extraordinary military achievements save by consideration of the act that this was the first campaign he had conducted yet in Rome the excitement caused by his victory was enormous. Possibly this is to be assigned to the compelling quality of the man's personality, which was beginning to manifest and assert itself and to issue from the shadow into which it had been cast hitherto by that of his stupendous father.
The enthusiasm mounted higher and higher whilst preparations were being made for his reception, and reached its climax on February 26, when, with overpowering pomp, he made an entrance into Rome that was a veritable triumph.
Sanuto tells us that, as news came of his approach, the Pope, in his joyous impatience and excitement, became unable to discharge the business of his office, and no longer would give audience to any one. Alexander had ever shown himself the fondest of fathers to his children, and now he overflowed with pride in this son who already gave such excellent signs of his capacity as a condottiero, and justified his having put off the cassock to strap a soldier's harness to his lithe and comely body.
Cardinals Farnese and Borgia, with an imposing suite, rode out some way beyond the gates of Santa Maria del Popolo to meet the duke. At the gate itself a magnificent reception had been prepared him, and the entire Pontifical Court, prelates, priests, ambassadors of the Powers, and officials of the city and curia down to the apostolic abbreviators and secretaries, waited to receive him.
It was towards evening between the twenty second and the twenty third hours when he made his entrance. In the van went the baggage carts, and behind these marched a thousand foot in full campaign apparel, headed by two heralds in the duke's livery and one in the livery of the King of France. Next came Vitellozzo's horse followed by fifty mounted gentlemen at arms the duke's Caesarean guard immediately preceding Cesare himself.
The handsome young duke " bello e biondo " was splendidly mounted, but very plainly dressed in black velvet with a simple gold chain for only ornament, and he had about him a hundred guards on foot, also in black velvet, halbert on shoulder, and a posse of trumpeters in a livery that displayed his arms. In immediate attendance upon him came several cardinals on their mules, and behind these followed the ambassadors of the Powers, Cesare's brother Giuffredo Borgia, and Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Biselli and Prince of Salerno Lucrezia's husband and the father of her boy Roderigo, born some three months earlier. Conspicuous, too, in Cesare's train would be the imposing figure of the formidable Countess Sforza-Riario, in black upon her white horse, riding in her golden shackles between her two attendant women.
As the procession reached the Bridge of Sant'Angelo a salute was thundered forth by the guns from the castle, where floated the banners of Cesare and of the Church. The press of people from the Porta del Popolo all the way to the Vatican was enormous. It was the year of the Papal Jubilee, and the city was thronged with pilgrims from all quarters of Europe who had flocked to Rome to obtain the plenary indulgence offered by the Pope. So great was the concourse on this occasion that the procession had the greatest difficulty in moving forward, and the progress through the streets, packed with shouting multitudes, was of necessity slow. At last, however, the Bridge of Sant' Angelo being crossed, the procession pushed on to the Vatican along the new road inaugurated for the Jubilee by Alexander in the previous December.
From the loggia above the portals of the Vatican the Pope watched his son's imposing approach, and when the latter dismounted at the steps his Holiness, with his five attendant cardinals, descended to the Chamber of the Papagallo the papal audience chamber, contiguous to the Borgia apartments to receive the duke. Thither sped Cesare with his multitude of attendants, and at sight of him now the Pope's eyes were filled with tears of joy. The duke advanced gravely to the foot of the throne, where he fell upon his knees, and was overheard by Burchard to express to his father, in their native Spanish, all that he owed to the Pope's Holiness, to which Alexander replied in the same tongue. Then Cesare stooped and kissed the Pope's feet and then his hand, whereupon Alexander, conquered no doubt by the paternal instincts of affection that were so strong in him, raised his son and took him fondly in his arms.
The festivities in honour of Cesare's return were renewed in Rome upon the morrow, and to this the circumstance that the season was that of carnival undoubtedly contributed and lent the displays a threatrical character which might otherwise have been absent. In these the duke's victories were made the subject of illustration. There was a procession of great chariots in Piazza Navona, with groups symbolizing the triumphs of the ancient Caesar, in the arrangement of which, no doubt, the assistance had been enlisted of that posse of valiant artists who were then flocking to Rome and the pontifical Court.
Yriarte, mixing his facts throughout with a liberal leaven of fiction, tells us that " this is the precise moment in which Cesare Borgia, fixing his eyes upon the Roman Caesar, takes him definitely for his model and adopts the device ' Aut Caesar, aut nihil.'" Cesare Borgia never adopted that device, and never displayed it. In connection with him it is only to be found upon the sword of honour made for him when, while still a cardinal, he went to crown the King of Naples. It is not at all unlikely that the inscription of the device upon that sword which throughout is engraved with illustrations of the career of Julius Caesar may have been the conceit of the sword maker as a rather obvious play upon Cesare's name.1 Undoubtedly, were the device of Cesare's own adoption we should .find it elsewhere, and nowhere else is it to be found.