Ildar H. Garipzanov, Patrick J. Geary, and Przemyslaw Urbanczyk, eds., Franks, Northmen, and Slavs: Identities and State Formation in Early Medieval Europe.
Omelian (Omeljan) Pritsak, Pokhodzhennia Rusi (The Origin of Rus'), 1: Starodavni skandinavs'ki dzherela (krim islands'kykh sag) (Old Scandinavian Sources Other Than the Icelandic Sagas). 1,073 pp. Kiev: Oberehy, 1997. ISBN 9665131001. 2: Starodavni skandinavs'ki sagy i Stara Skandynaviia (The Old Scandinavian Sagas and Old Scandinavia). 1,303 pp. Kiev: Oberehy, 2003. ISBN 9665132156.
Tat'iana L. Vilkul, Liudi i kniaz'v drevnerusskikh letopisiakh serediny XI-XIII vv. (The People and the Prince in Old Russian Chronicles from the Mid-11th to the 13th Centuries). 406 pp. Moscow: Kvadriga, 2009. ISBN-13978-5917910185.
In 2002, Grigorii Iakovlevich Perel'man solved, in three widely acclaimed papers, "Poincare's Conjecture," which had troubled mathematicians since 1904. In two little-noticed volumes that appeared between 1981 and 2003, Omeljan Pritsak (1919-2006) did much to resolve the so-called "Varangian problem," which has challenged historians since 1749. (1) Mathematicians, however reclusive, work much faster than do historians.
Although it may seem strange to review, in 2011, a work that first appeared in English in 1981--and in translation 8-14 years ago--I believe that Pritsak's sophisticated analysis has not received the attention it deserves. The conclusions that Pritsak reached are: yes, what we call Rus' was established by merchant warriors from Scandinavia; yes, the evidence is there--in a wide variety of sources; and yes, we should acknowledge that the germ of the Kyivan state, like those of the French and English kingdoms, was introduced by what we call (somewhat carelessly) Vikings.
Pritsak--a Slavist, Orientalist, and Scandinavianist--marshaled his evidence from a vast array of times and places. We should not be surprised: he had been investigating matters concerning the peoples of Eurasia--first in Germany, as editor of the Ural-Altaische Jahrbucher, more recently in the United States and his native Ukraine--since the 1950s.
Pritsak's research is far-reaching, profound, and for practical purposes universal. His bibliography and source base contain works in a vast array of Western and Eastern languages, including what appear to be all relevant sources, accessed in the original. He declares: "What has been presented here is another theory.... In the eighth and ninth centuries a multiethnic, multilingual, unified social and economic entity (of low culture) emerged, represented by the maritime and trading society of the Mare Balticum and transplanted by the bearers of the culture of the Mare Nostrum." In his view, this new entity was "transformed into a Christian and linguistically Slavic high culture that became Kievan Rus'" (33).
For all its tendency to overreach, Pritsak's is a stunning achievement. (2) It does incline to repetition; at times he takes us a bit fast on the curves; volume 2 includes a few typos (for which he is not, presumably, responsible).
It may seem imprudent to attempt to summarize a work that already runs to 2,400 pages, with several volumes apparently yet to come. Pritsak himself, however, provided a systematic overview in volume 1 ("Exposition to the Entire Work," 3-33; 1:67-98 of the Ukrainian translation), upon which the following remarks are based.
Pritsak begins his story (3) with the familiar 1749 scandal involving Gerhard Friedrich Muller (Fedor Ivanovich Miuller, 1705-83), Nikita Ivanovich Popov (1720-82), and Mikhail Vasil'evich Lomonosov (1711-65), and Miiller's contention that the Kyivan state was founded by Norsemen. (3) Having listed the views of the various parties, Pritsak concludes, "historians have too often substituted political (or patriotic) issues for improved techniques of historical methodology ... and they have been biased in their use of source materials ... [disregarding] the semantics of the original, relying ... on translations, instead of acquiring knowledge of the sources and the cultures from which they come" (7). (The italicized words are at the base of Pritsak's method; although some specialists have challenged details of his findings, together they make a convincing argument--especially as concerns the origins of Rus'.)
A long section (10-20) is devoted to "Nomads, Sedentary Empires, and the Merchants," in which Pritsak elaborates his view of the historical process: nomads move--essentially along trade routes--but do not "wander"; the "universal" religions are to be associated with sedentary societies; nomads tend to change their "charismatic clans" (to use his term, "warrior-tribes-in-the-making"), languages, and religions. Nomadic cultures, however, do have at least one important stable element: the idea of the pax, uniting vast areas and diverse societies.
In keeping with this distinction between nomadic and sedentary cultures (he separates them by calling one a pax and the other an empire), Pritsak makes other distinctions as well. Important to his exposition is the notion of the "charismatic clan," whose specialty was leadership and warfare, and which claimed divine origin.
Pritsak turns next to long-distance commerce and merchants, to which he assigns an important role in any pax. He points out that the merchants par excellence in the period in question (the eighth to tenth centuries) were Chinese in the Far East, eastern Iranians (in Central Asia or Eastern Europe), Jewish and Franco-Frisians (later replaced by Saxon-Germans of the Hanse) in the West.
Having given (16-18) a general description of a nomadic pax, Pritsak turns next to the question of why these paces attacked sedentary empires. His answer echoes that of the bank robber Willie Sutton: "that's where the money was." There follows a section on Anglo-Saxons, Frisians, Vikings, and Vaerings (Variagi), the latter apparently named after the two types of trading settlements (vik west of the Hbe, vat to the east) that they established. Here Pritsak makes an important point: the futility of attempts to establish modern "nationalities" when dealing with very early history (22). One now understands why so many artifacts from Ladoga are of questionable--or arguable--ethnicity.
Pritsak seems to embrace the so-called "Pirenne thesis": that the Arab conquests split the Mare Nostrum into two parts, leading to the discovery of the vast territory east of the Elbe and west and north of the Syr Darya as a reservoir of potential slaves (i.e., saqaliba, also the Arabic word for Slavs). (4)
He then argues that the Rus who now appear in the texts of Ibn Khurdadbeh (fl. 840-80) and the Bertinian Annals (Rhos, s.a. 839) must have been skilled international merchants. He has a footnote indicating that "data from Arabic sources on the equation Rodez = Rus are discussed in volume 3," but it would
seem that this matter is the subject of "Ekskurs V" in volume 2 of the Ukrainian edition (854-71). The excursion is not entirely convincing, but many of the details (that both Ibn Khurdadbeh and Ibn Al-Faqih knew of the merchants called ar-Radaniya, whom they confused with ar-Rus from Rodez) seem entirely plausible.
A searingly logical point follows: these ar-Rus, who had just (i.e., in the work of ninth-century Arabic geographers) emerged from obscurity, cannot have been Slavs, "a primitive tribal group with no knowledge of geography, foreign languages, or economics" (i.e., the complexities of international trade) but were in fact merchants trading in Slavs--or slaves--in the East European El Dorado. He hastens to add, "the developing society of the Mare Balticum region was certainly not a national culture in the modern sense," the Rus (and Frisians) being international merchants, using at least two linguae francae--reflected in Constantine Porphyrogenitus's names for the Dnieper rapids--and possibly more.
Pritsak next moves to a society he knows better than most of his readers-the Khazar and Rus kaganates, stressing the use of kagan in the earliest Slavonic sources. (One might have expected him to indicate here the influence of the Avar kaganate [568-ca. 800]--during the flourishing of which, if Florin Curta, who refers to Pritsak's earlier work, is to be believed, proto-Slavic emerged as a pidgin language, later becoming a lingua franca.) (5)
Charlemagne's conquest of the Avars at the end of the eighth century leads to the so-called Moravian Mission of SS. Cyril and Methodius, which failed, Pritsak claims, because "[the Moravian princes] were angered to realize that they had chosen the wrong rite" to serve the vital purpose of impressing their Bavarian neighbors (29). Of course, in the longer term the Slavonic rite, with the rise of Muscovy, had its revenge.
We are all out of our depth in such matters--the sources being so exiguous-but it seems here that Pritsak has simplified somewhat: both the Avar kaganate and the (first) Bulgarian kingdom were very important in shaping the Kyivan state. The notion, stimulated by Horace Lunt's skepticism and picked up by both Pritsak and Florin Curta, that what we have become accustomed to calling "proto-Slavic" emerged first as a pidgin, later as a lingua franca during the Avar kaganate, strikes me as quite plausible. (6)
Pritsak turns next to more familiar territory: "The Rise of the Christian Kievan State." Here too, however, he has an original treatment: he divides the "history of the kagans of Rus'" into three periods--the Volga period (839-930); the Dnieper period (ca. 930-1036); and the Kievan period (1036-1169; the end date here remains unargued). It is in that final period that he places the "consolidation" of the Rus'--as "an attempt at their 'nationalization'" (31). In this period Novgorod surpassed the Scandinavian Old Ladoga and adopted the so-called Pravda rus'kaia (Russian Justice or Russian Law), and Yaroslav (Jarizleifr) routed the Pechenegs (successors of the Khazars), imposed his own version of the Roman imperium, and adopted Church Slavonic as his realms sacred and legal language.
Pritsak's books are very important to our understanding of both Rus'ian history and Russian historiography, but my expectation is that they will continue to sink like stones in the historiography of the subject, given the Russian tendency to ignore works in English or Ukrainian. More's the pity.
It is particularly satisfying also to be able to review a monograph by the accomplished young scholar Tat'iana Vilkul. I am happy to report that she has changed my mind about many things, including the veche. (7)
It should be noted that Vilkul's book has stirred up a flurry of Russian interest in the veche, expressed in several blogs (8) and in a searing review (9) by her erstwhile collaborator, Pavel Vladimirovich Lukin, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Russian History. (10)
Vilkul is a "narratologist"--that is, she "examines [the descriptive principles of the sources] through the prism of the chroniclers' attitudes and narrative constructions" (her English "Summary," 405). It is arguable that she speculates overly about those attitudes, but in general her account, given the absence of native documentary sources for the period in question, is convincing. As she points out (5), "a strict delimitation to the theme of the veche will lead only to research determined by pre-existing notions, or else will lead nowhere" (v tupik).
The "pre-existing notions" that Vilkul is resisting are well described: pre-revolutionary (Russian) scholarship is largely deficient for its Aristotelianism and Slavophilism (6-8) or its essentialism (9-10); post-1917 trends for their Marxist populism (11-14). (She does cut some slack for Aleksandr Evgen'evich Presniakov [1870-1929], calling his ideas the "most productive" [naibolee produktivnye] of the available approaches.) (11) She is a candid critic; perhaps it is her skepticism vis-a-vis more standard views that so irritates Lukin.
Vilkul, who has previously published on a number of related topics, is enormously energetic. (12) Her notes (1,354 in all) attest to a broad reading in both Western and Russian literature and to a close reading of the sources-the chronicles: chiefly the Povest' vremen i let (The Tale of Times and Years, in Horace Lunt's clever emendation--also translated as "The Tale of Bygone Years" and known as the Primary Chronicle), the Novgorod First, and the Galician-Volynian Chronicle. As I have indicated, she is primarily interested in narratology, but along the way she effectively challenges the veracity of the accounts of the chroniclers and identifies their heroes and antiheroes.
Vilkul's first chapter deals with a number of terms found in the chronicle accounts--liudie, narod, and the like--and concludes that much of the accompanying verbiage is taken from Slavonic translations of Scripture. In a longish second chapter, she treats parallel accounts of what she calls "conflict situations" (konfliktnye situatsii), concluding that variations in the narratives are not random: chroniclers had their patrons and points of view. They also were profoundly influenced by biblical and homiletic sources, which she identifies and describes.
In a third chapter, Vilkul gets to the veche--its composition, competence, and variations--and concludes that these are impossible to establish from the sources, despite the valiant but unavailing efforts of generations of Slavophile and Marxist scholars. The final chapter discusses the interactions between princes and the "people," concluding that the "surviving records lack the authentic statements about the veche" (406) that would permit a modern reader to discern chroniclers' attitudes toward that institution/event.
This modern reader is led to pose two questions: (1) is there anything that can be taken on faith from the so-called "Old Russian chronicles"? and (2) should one really talk of a continuous chronicle tradition embracing all East Slavic lands, or are the various domains of the Riurikids (Kyiv, Volyn', Novgorod, Suzdal') bound only by dynastic ties--ties that are profoundly distorted by the separate court-based dynastic histories? And what about documentary sources--other than those from Novgorod and Pskov (307)?
An additional word about Lukin's response to the book. He seems to object to two things: first, the fact that Vilkul is so dismissive of all (pre-revolutionary and Soviet) Russian historiography, including the work of recent eminences; and second, the fact that she is Ukrainian. That is, his pique, in my view, is stimulated not by "narratology" or "deconstruction." (13) There is, however, a third possibility, as Lukin hints (421): that "narrativism," like other tendencies, has come from the West.
It is true that Vilkul indulges in some speculation: "One may cautiously suggest that the condemnation of princes carried a certain risk" (225). She also has no doubt that the appearance of information about the election of liudi depended directly on the narrative strategies of the chroniclers (although I found particularly convincing her treatment [262-63] of the famous "levy" [chislo] allegedly imposed by the "cursed" Tatars on Novgorod). (14) Her text is full of recent borrowings, of which I can give only one example: "please forgive me for this truism" (Da prostitsia rune etot triuizm ). (15) Although Vilkul cites an enormous literature, including older Western works (see her Bibliography, 382-402), she seems to be unfamiliar with a number of relevant contributions, such as Jesse Byock's Feud in the Icelandic Saga, Horace Lunt's "Lexical Variation in the Copies of the Rus' Primary Chronicle: Some Methodological Problems," or George Perfecky's annotated translation of the Galician-Volynian chronicle. (16)
In conclusion, this is an important book, ultimately destined to revise much of what we think we understand about "Old Russian chronicles" and the early centuries of East Slavic culture.
The third title under review, Franks, Northmen, and Slavs, is a conference volume, representing an editorial collaboration among a distinguished American medievalist, a Polish Scandinavianist, and a medievalist/numismatist from Kazan'. (17) Here, according to a publisher's blurb, "Eleven specialists examine ... the role of ethnic identity in the formation of medieval polities on the periphery of the Frankish world in the eighth through eleventh centuries." As is so often the case with so-called "conference volumes," the work is of varying quality, but it does "avoid the academic vitriol that marred On Barbarian Identity." (18) As an Australian reviewer, Shane McLeod, has pointed out: "The debate over ethnic identity is particularly interesting as it is perhaps the area in early medieval studies that witnesses the most strident debates between two opposing schools of thought (usually referred to as the 'Vienna School' and the 'Toronto School').... [S]cholars, who do not necessarily agree with each other, are able to sit happily within the covers of the same volume." (19) Being a nonspecialist, I am unable to evaluate the papers, but in light of my comments on the Vilkul book, I should perhaps say a word or two about the contribution of Oleksii Petrovych Tolochko on the so-called Primary Chronicle, which seems oddly contrary to the main thrust of the volume. The editors mention in their introduction (21) that the Primary Chronicle "still exercises its influence upon the ways scholars tend to imagine the earliest stages of Rus" ethnic and political history," as should be clear from the paragraphs above. (20) It is particularly noteworthy that Tolochko fails to mention the work of Omeljan Pritsak, whom he presumably knew personally. (21)
More generally, the authors and editors of this conference volume are obviously reacting to the work of Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931). (22) They think, with a number of contemporaries, such as Fredrik Barth and Richard Jenkins, that ethnicity is bunk--or at the very least a subjective category. (So does Omeljan Pritsak but not our Russian colleagues.) More to the point: the authors simply choose to ignore the scholarship represented in the other books reviewed here. (23)
All these authors support Pritsak's claim, made three decades ago: "It is futile to attempt to establish the nationality of the Vikings and Vaerings. They had none. They were simply professionals ready to serve anyone who needed their skills and could pay for their services."
David Brooks, writing in The New York Times about transformations in the U.S. Army produced by General David Petraeus and other officers, begins: "They say that intellectual history travels slowly, and by hearse." He concludes, "most institutions are hindered by guild customs, by tenure rules, and by the tyranny of people who can only think in one way." (24) Readers of these books should keep both observations in mind. To respond to Lukin's title (see n. 10): "Yes, we do need new approaches" (novatorstvo).
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(1) Volume 1 was originally published as Omeljan Pritsak, The Origin of Rus', 1: Old Scandinavian Sources Other Than the Sagas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1981). Unless noted otherwise, in-text page references are to this English edition. On the lack of notice given to Pritsak's work, see, e.g., Simon Franklin's survey of then-recent literature: "Pre-Mongol Rus': New Sources, New Perspectives?" Russian Review 60, 4 (2001): 465-73.
(2) For the impact of Pritsak's work, see the equally substantial study of Elfriede R. Knauer, "A Man's Caftan and Leggings from the North Caucasus of the Eighth to Tenth Century: A Genealogical Study," Metropolitan Museum Journal 36 (2001): 125-54.
(3) It is unfortunate that Pritsak died before the appearance of Lev Samuilovich Klein (Klejn), Spor o variagakh: Istoriia protivostoianiia i argumenty storon (St. Petersburg: Evraziia, 2009). It can be noted, however, that the two scholars were apparently unaware of one another's work, the exception being a reference (in Klein's bibliography ) to a very early work by Pritsak.
(4) Apparently Pritsak was quoting--without identification--Henri Pirenne, "A propos de la Hanse parisienne des marchands de l'eau," in Melanges d'histoire offerts a M. Charles Bemont (Paris: Alcan, 1913), as an epigraph to his "Preface."
(5) Florin Curta, "The Making of the Slavs between Ethnogenesis, Invention, and Migration," Studia Slavica et Balcanica Petropolitana, no. 2 (2008): 155-72.
(6) Horace G. Lunt, "Common Slavic, Proto-Slavic, Pan-Slavic: What Are We Talking About?" International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics 41, 1 (1997): 7-67.
(7) For my previous views, see Edward L. Keenan, "Veche," Russian History/Histoire russe 34, nos. 1-4 (2007): 83-99, which, presumably, Vilkul has not seen. In my turn, I had not at that time seen Jonas Granberg, "Veche in the Chronicles of Medieval Rus': A Study of Functions and Terminology," Ph.D. diss., Goteborg University, 2004), which she mentions on 5 n. 1 et passim. Granberg's work has been published in an abbreviated Russian translation: "Veche v drevnerusskikh pis'mennykh istochnikakh: Funktsiia i terminologiia," in Drevneishie gosudarstva Vostochnoi Evropy, 2004 god (Moscow: Nauka, 2006) (hereafter DGVE 2004), 3-163.
(8) The quotations below from Lukin's text derive from one such, "Faily@mail.ru" (files.mail.ru/ H408BZ, accessed 15 December 2010), which provides a link to his review, "Dekonstruktsiia dekonstruktsii," Scrinium: Revue de patrologie, d'hagiographie critique et d'histoire ecclesiastique, no. 4 (2008): 403-34, where his review was originally published.
(9) The page numbers in Lukin's review (and the errors he points out) do not coincide with those in the volume I have for review (Liudi i kniaz'). My copy was published under the editorship of Ivan Aleksandrovich Tikhaniuk and with the blessing of the patriarch of Moscow by Kvadriga, a Moscow house, but it was printed in Kazan'. I conclude from his text that Lukin's is a review of an earlier printing, which I have not seen: "Liud'e"i kniaz' v konstruktsiiakh letopistsev XI-XIII vv. (Kyiv: Institut istorii Ukraini NAN Ukraini, 2007).
(10) She has answered (Tat'iana L. Vilkul, "Po povody retsenzii P. V. Lukina 'Dekonstruktsiia dekonstruktsii'"); and he has responded to her reply (Pavel V. Lukin, "Nuzhno li nam 'novatorstvo'? [Ob otvete T. L. Vilkul]"), Scrinium, no. 5 (2009), which I have not seen.
(11) She does, however, conclude that Presniakov's influence on succeeding generations "in view of the specific development of our scholarship" (otechestvennaia nauka) (10) was limited, and that he himself apparently abandoned his views between 1917 and 1938 (15).
(12) Including T. L. Vilkul, "Konstruirovanie narrativa v parallel'nykh letopisnykh soobshcheniiakh o veche," DGVE 2004, 210-43, which contains many parallels with this book. (Compare, e.g., 213-14 and 120-21 of her monograph.)
(13) Even though his review (of the Kyiv edition) is titled "Dekonstruktsiia dekonstruktsii" (The Deconstruction of Deconstruction), Lukin begins his review, "The book of the Ukrainian scholar T. L. Vilkul is devoted to the problem of the Old Russian veche" (403); and he goes on to use the words "Ukrainian scholar" or their equivalent on every one of his first 14 pages (403-17)--26 times in just over 30 pages, leaving even the inattentive reader in no doubt as to Vilkurs ethnicity.
(14) In "O sotsial'nom sostave," DGVE 2004, 197 n. 154, Lukin calls Vilkul's treatment of these matters a "curiosity."
(15) I noticed, however, only one Ukrainianism: "vinu vozlozheno na ... arkhiepiskopa" (182). The phrase "o popytke gorozhan vykazati svoe 'pokorenie'" (300) may be another, if it is not a simple omission. But I must say that I detect far fewer typographical errors--especially in foreign words--than Lukin apparently did in the Kyivan edition.
(16) Jesse Byock, Feud in the Icelandic Saga (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); Horace Lunt, "Lexical Variation in the Copies of the Rus" Primary Chronicle." Some Methodological Problems," Harvard Ukrainian Studies 17, 1-2 (1994): 10-28; George Perfecky, The Galician-Volynian Chronicle (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1973).
(17) Patrick J. Geary, professor of history at UCLA, is well known as the author of a stimulating first book, Aristocracy in Provence: The Rhone Basin at the Dawn of the Carolingian Age (Stuttgart: A. Hiersemann, 1985), and of the more recent The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002). Geary has dealt with Russian history before ("A Western Medievalist's Perspective," Russian History/Histoire russe 5, 2 (1978): 195-96), in response to Ellen Hurwitz, "Kievan Rus' and Medieval Myopia," especially to her final words: "Let us not wait for the Academy to invite us in; let us invite them to learn about early Russia and thus possibly to unlearn some revered assumptions about the pre-modern West" (187). Geary's colleague, Przemystaw Urbanczyk, a member of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, is the author of Trudne poczatki Polski (Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wroclawskiego, 2008), which was awarded the Kilo Prize in Poland for the best book on history in 2008. Urbanczyk is also something of a "public intellectual"; see, e.g., his article, "Z bezpiecznej odleglosci latwo krytykowad--odpowiada prof. Przemyslaw Urbanczyk z Instytutu Archeologii i Emologii PAN prof. Przemyslaw Urbanczyk," Gazeta wyborcza, 26 November 2007. Their coeditor, Ildar Khaidarovich Garipzanov. is the author of a major study of Carolingian kingship and of a number of more detailed numismatic and cultural studies, including "Retseptsiia antichnogo naslediia v karolingskuiu epokhu: Imperskii kod vlasti i problema 'Karolingskogo vozrozhdeniia,'" Srednie veka 66 (2005): 3-22, and 67 (2006): 116-39; and "Communication of Authority in Carolingian Titles," Viatar 36 (2005): 41-82. His contribution here (113-44) is "Frontier Identities: Carolingian Frontier and the gens Danorum," where he argues that King Godfried controlled a small border area and not a unified Denmark.
(18) Shane McLeod, review in Parergon 25, 2 (2008): 154. The reference is to A. Gillett, ed., On Barbarian Identity: Critical Approaches to Ethnicity (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2002).
(20) It is puzzling that Tolochko seems unaware of Vilkul's work, despite the fact that they have been publishing in the same journals (Paleoslavica, Ruthenica, Srednevekovaia Rus) for some years.
(21) An exception on 181 n. 15 is a reference to a volume Pritsak edited with Norman Golb. Tolochko's n. 22 (186) is refuted by 110-13 in that volume.
(22) See esp. 22-26.
(23) For the sake of completeness, I should register the fact that, as in many collective works, typos are more numerous than in the volumes reviewed above.
(24) The New York Times, 7 May 2010, A23.
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|Author:||Keenan, Edward L.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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