Of all the rituals of ancient Rome none was more spectacular than the triumph. Scholarly attention has long been devoted to the origins and circumstances of this ritual, but lately the role of the triumph in moral discourse has also come into focus. Emperors could gain great military prestige from celebrating a triumphus, yet this prestige could (posthumously) be undermined by hostile historians and biographers who used descriptions of triumphal processions to cast unpopular emperors in a negative light. Discussing in particular the ‘bad triumphs’ of Nero, Elagabalus, and Gallienus, but also considering many other cases, this article explores how triumphal descriptions could be employed as literary weapons. Ancient authors did not hesitate to emphasize, distort, or invent certain aspects of the ritual to suit their purposes. In fact, the triumphal idiom proved such a powerful tool for the delegitimation of emperors that it was even employed to situations which did not constitute triumphal celebrations at all. Hence the cultural elite sought to control the meaning of the ritual and to establish whether emperors counted as benign rulers or tyrants.