In the spring of 1985, just a few weeks after Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to power in the former Soviet Union, a curious episode occurred. The students of the Moscow Archive Institute staged a mock trial of the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. That none of the participants in this affair was punished struck me at the time as highly irregular. And in retrospect I recognize in that event one of the earliest signals of the arrival of perestroika. It is part of the emperor’s official autobiography that he restored supreme power back to the senate and people of Rome and ruled by virtue of his mere auctoritas, personal prestige. But despite this disclaimer, the students found Augustus guilty on several counts: usurpation of power, infringement of civil rights, and betrayal of the revolutionary cause. The students based their verdict on one terse statement from the first book of Tacitus’s Annals. They were right to do so, since...

 

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