TRIUMPH (Gr. thriambeuō, to lead in triumph). In the OT the eight Hebrew words for triumph are all used with reference to God—in praise and prayer and also in discussion concerning him. Paul uses the word twice in his letters (2Cor.2.14; Col.2.15). In Roman times a triumph was a magnificent procession in honor of a victorious general, the highest military honor he could obtain. He entered the city in a chariot, preceded by the senate and magistrates, musicians, the spoils of his victory, and the captives in chains. Sacrifices were made to Jupiter, and incense was burned by the priests. It was undoubtedly such a triumphal procession that Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ” (2Cor.2.14).

TRIUMPH. The procession of a victorious Rom. general to the Capitoline Hill to offer sacrifice to Jupiter.

The honor of a triumph could be granted only by the Rom. senate, and in accordance with strict rules, among which was one that the victory had to be against foreigners, not in a civil war. Under the Republic proconsuls and propraetors celebrated triumphs; during the empire the honor became the prerogative of the emperor.

The procession was elaborate: the magistrates led off, followed by the senate, trumpeters, spoils captured from the enemy, the white oxen for sacrifice, the principal captives in chains, the lictors, the victorious general himself in a four horse chariot, and finally his army. The general wore the dress of a king, including scepter and crown. When he reached the Capitol, he placed a laurel wreath on the lap of the god. Many triumphs lasted more than one day. The triumphator was privileged to appear in special dress at public gatherings, and his name was inscribed on the list of persons so honored.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The word is used by Paul to express an idea very familiar to antiquity, and to the churches at Corinth and Colosse: "But thanks be unto God, who always leadeth us in triumph in Christ" (2Co 2:14); "Having despoiled the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col 2:15).

A triumph in Rome was a magnificent procession in honor of a victorious general, and the highest military distinction which he could obtain. It was granted by the senate only to one who had held the office of dictator, consul, or praetor, and after a decisive victory in the complete subjugation of a province. In a Roman triumph the victorious general entered the city in a chariot drawn by four horses. He was crowned with laurel, having a scepter in one hand and a branch of laurel in the other. He was preceded by the senate and magistrates, musicians, the spoils of his victory, and the captives in fetters; and followed by his army on foot, in marching order. The procession thus advanced along the Via Sacra to the Capitol, where a bull was sacrificed to Jupiter, and the laurel wreath deposited in the lap of the god. During the triumphal entry the priests burned incense, and hence, the reference of the apostle: "For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life" (2Co 2:15,16). The incense that was to the victor the "savor" of his triumph would be to the wretched captives the "savor," or intimation, of a rapidly approaching death in the Roman arena or in the damp vaults of the Tullianum. Thus the "incense," or influence, of the apostolic gospel would be to the believer the assurance of redemption through Christ, and to the unbeliever the assurance of spiritual death.

After the suicide of Antony in Alexandria (30 BC) Augustus Caesar succeeded in getting Cleopatra into his power. She had hoped to subdue him by her charms, but without avail. Aware that she was doomed, she revolted against the thought of being led in triumph to Rome, and, as tradition states, took her own life by allowing an asp to bite her, saying, "I will not be led in triumph"; see Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, V, ii:

"He’ll lead me, then, in triumph? ....

Thou, an Egyptian puppet, shalt be shown

In Rome as well as I: mechanic slaves,

With greasy aprons, rules, and hammers shall

Uplift us to the view. ....