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Axumite - Byzantine relations

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Prince of Zeila View Drop Down
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    Posted: 22 Jun 2009 at 13:38
The ancient Axumite - Byzantine relationship is quite an interesting one. The Byzantine Emperor referred to his Axumite counterpart as 'brother', which when it comes to the foreign affairs of the Eastern Roman Empire was a rare sign of equal status( i think only the Parthians/Sassanids enjoyed the same). Several scholars from the Byzantine realm would eventually travel to Axum in the 4th century and influence the court to proclaim Christianity as the state religion.
 
There were military alliances and commercial ones, Justinian encouraged the Axumites to bypass the Persian middlemen in India and create an alternative pro-Byzantine Silk route, but the Persians countered this by buying the entire Indian stock.
 
Please add more interesting details about the relations of these two empires. 
  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AksumVanguard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Jun 2009 at 06:48
Greetings Prince Of Zeila

One main reason the Aksumites and Byzantines have relations goes back to rivalries with the Sassanid Empire. The Jewish tribes of Arabia have been known to align themselves with the Sassanids at times and there have been blood ridden rivalries between the Aksumites for control of the Arabian Peninsula . One king was "Bahram" V who was the son of Sassanid King "Yazdegerd I" and a mother who had Jewish Exilarch Lineage, became very Powerful and gained alot of territory from the Eastern Romans.  "Bahram V" son, " Yazdegard" persecuted Christians of the Nestorian ,Monophisyite,and Arian sects, only after some time on did he relinquish his attacks.

Throughout the years the Byzantines have been paying the Persians taxes for safe passage in the Caucasus Mountains  and were depending on the Silk Routes to Asia all lands the Sassanids held control of. The Emperor Justin II had just tooken advantage of an Armenian revolt during 571 AD in a Persian Province and  refused to pay his taxes,then sent his troops to help an Armenian king which failed and proved costly, whilst after his clashing with the Persian he was refused a silk trade route,and the "Eternal Peace" between the Perisan and Eastern Romans was broken. As the Emperor sought a new trade route and Byzantine in the 3rd to 4th AD King Ella Amida the father of King Ezana and his twin Shezana (according to Legend) help rescue  two Eastern Roman Syrian Monks from a ship massacare who were almost killed by Angered Vengeful Axumites due to the faltering relations with the Eastern Roman Emperor  .One of their names  Abune Salamma (St. Frumentius)  baptized him making him the first official Christian Aksumite King, proclaimimg himself an Arian which differed from his Coptic neighbors.Ironically he took the Ark of the Covenant from the Falasha Jews from Lake Tana (who have also had rivalries with Aksumites) and took it to the St.Mary Church of Zion in the city  Axum.

 King Kaleb was an Aksumite who took control of Felix Arabia this would bring rivalry among the Tribes of Yemen who  had Sassanid overlordship at times. They would fight for control of the Aden and establishments in Southern Arabia.Its main benefits was trade and the Byzantines were dependants on the resources and goods coming from India and Asia.There is even  evidence of Buddhist temples in Aksumite Settlements. The last recorded Askumite King over Arabia is Gadarat later on a the Arabian  Jewish King Dhu Nuwass would attack Christian Aksumite settlements in Yemen from then on the  Aksumites lost their control.

But you can also go further back and note that the first recorded King of Aksum was Zoskales who in turn was Greek Speaking. In fact alot of obsecure AKsumite inscriptions on monuments  are Greek.  So who is to know the real beginnings of  these relations.




Edited by AksumVanguard - 24 Jun 2009 at 20:06
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Prince of Zeila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Jun 2009 at 09:07
Greetings A.V!
 
nice reply, it seems Axum's intention to provide Constantinople with an alternative and friendly Silk-route was based on them returning a favor to the Byzantines during Justinian's reign because his uncle Justin I had provided military aid to Kaleb during the conquest of Himyar.  This plan however was flawed from the start because Justinian believed Axum was next to India and thought this would enable them to cut out the Sassanids.
 
There was another ambitious plan and that was an expedition against Persia by the Axumite general Abraha which would also end in failure, but the fact that the Sassanid court was moved does showcase how serious this adventure was taken by Ctesiphon.
 
I will address some of your other interesting details later on.
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AksumVanguard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Jun 2009 at 21:48
Prince Of Zeila

Indeed it was the Byzantine Philisopher Metrodorus who visited Aksum,mistakenly called it India.It then in turned  inspired the likes of Meropious to bring the Roman Merchant ship who carried the (Syrian Monks Frumentius and Aedesius  ) to seek the opulent  imported goods of India and East Asia. Not to mention the Monsoons that oocured in the highlands of Ethiopia were mistaken for India.

While living in Aksum Frumentius became a government official. Frumentius would also help seek out other Roman Merchants  to help supply building materials and other needs to help build Christianity in Aksum.

Emperor Constantius were II  sent a missionary name Theophilus to persecute the large Jewish presence located in Arabia,who held Christian converts,and he temporarily gained control of the city Najjran,which was pivotal trade route connecting  Southern with central Arabia,Syria  and Mesopotamia.Najjran would still be a Christian city for some time,the Byzantines would also align themselves with Gassanids.This is what brought the Christian presence to Arabia.Emperor Anastisus I would send a bishop to Himyar to keep them from the Pagan religion.Although with the allies of the Gassanids and the establishment of Nabatea (Roman Petra) the Estern Romans felt the wrath of many insurgents such as the Lakhmids,Kindhites and others aligned to the Sassanids.

The Axumites were AntiChalcdonian while the Byzantines were Chalcedonian.This occcured becuase the Empreror Constantius had persecuted some of the Axumite Christians while trying to gain control in Arabia ,they also sought to outsource the Axumites by Trading with Coptic Egypt. This would cause tension bewteen Byznatine and Axum which is probably why Metrodorus and his expedition ship were killed.The Axumites still maintained a presence in southern Arabia presiding over critical cities  Ghaasan and Hira overthrowing Lahkmid Dynasty.

In the 6th centrury AD King Kaleb had brought to the throne the Ma'di-Karib belonging Himyarites(Southern Arabia) and  was a Christian .Mind you the Himyarite King Mundir was a Christian from either Chalcedon or Anti-Chalcdeon,King Dhu Nuwas  invited Mundir to be to accept the Jewish faith.

 In 530/31 A.D. Justinian I attempted to enlist the aid of the contemporary Axumite king Kaleb in a war against the Sassinids and Pagans.The Romans sent the Magistrianos Julian to King Kaleb in aiding them against the Persians.

But a little later on after the Himyarite house asked for an external intervention against warring tribes. The Byzantines and the Lakhmids refused to send their troops but not the PERSIANS.
Sassanids reinforced their settlements in Oman, signed treaties with Arab tribes to the north and west of them, and built a solid alliance with the Himyarite dynasty of Yemen, who had been overthrown by the Aksum invasion.


Ptolemies also established trading post in the Red Sea,they attempted to establish their dominance but never did,but Octavian Augustus  failure of the Yemen capigned.Found friends with the dynasty of Aksum, which  would lasted until the twilight of Rome. Its importance is when  Aksum moved into Yemen, occupying the region spoontaneosly thereafter.






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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Akolouthos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jun 2009 at 01:27
Great discussion guys! Could anyone point me to a couple of sources? This is absolutely fascinating. Smile

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AksumVanguard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jun 2009 at 08:51
Originally posted by Akolouthos Akolouthos wrote:

Great discussion guys! Could anyone point me to a couple of sources? This is absolutely fascinating. Smile

-Akolouthos


They are really old and I forgot but one of Cambridege Philisophy of The Orthodox Church, Christ in Tradition,The History of Ethiopia, i'm sorry to be at a lost now but wil tell you when i recall it
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Prince of Zeila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jun 2009 at 09:05
AksumVanguard Greetings brother, I think Abraha's 'i am my own master' attitude was the reason behind Axum's failure to permanently consolidate the Himyarite empire into their realm because every army send to the Arabian peninsula (to subdue Abraha) was pursuaded to join him, his talent in diplomacy was very similar to the Greek general Phyrrus and this caused the Axumite court to simply grant him and his territories autonomous status.
 
When the Sassanids did come to aid the Himyarites, Kindites and others led by Sayf ibn Dhi Yazan, there was little the Axumites could do because at the time of the Sassanid expedition they had already lost a skilled general with Abraha's death and the garrison had become a lesser force now surrounded by an angry populace. 
 
The Buddhist influence in Axum is also an interesting subject, similar to Byzantium there were also relations with the powerful and wealthy Kushan empire from where the Buddhist merchants probably originated(there is also China of course), during one excavation in Debra Damo a chest full of Kushan gold coins was found, supposedly belonging to a second century Axumite merchant.
 
Greetings Akolouthos, the information in my posts are mainly derived from the book The Age of Justinian, which you can read in Googlebooks.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Prince of Zeila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jun 2009 at 18:17
Originally posted by AksumVanguard AksumVanguard wrote:

Prince Of Zeila

The Axumites were AntiChalcdonian while the Byzantines were Chalcedonian.This occcured becuase the Empreror Constantius had persecuted some of the Axumite Christians while trying to gain control in Arabia ,they also sought to outsource the Axumites by Trading with Coptic Egypt. This would cause tension bewteen Byznatine and Axum which is probably why Metrodorus and his expedition ship were killed.The Axumites still maintained a presence in southern Arabia presiding over critical cities  Ghaasan and Hira overthrowing Lahkmid Dynasty.
 
A online source that corroborates this part of your post and goes into great detail about the establishment of Christianity in Aksum (Iberia is ancient Georgia):

The first steps in the Christianization of the Iberian and Aksumite countryside occurred in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, through the efforts of small bands of foreign-born monks, in both cases from Syriac-speaking regions. They arrived in each kingdom as disciples of one leading ascetic, and they eventually dispersed throughout the kingdoms to evangelize, work miracles, and establish monasteries. Within a generation, indigenous monastic traditions took root, and facilitated the spread of Christianity into the more peripheral regions of both kingdoms.67 In each of the ecclesiastical traditions, the monks are venerated collectively: in Ethiopia, they are known as the Nine Saints; in Georgia, as the Thirteen Syrian Fathers.68 They also are venerated individually, most often in connection with a church or monastery founded during their lifetime. It usually is assumed that these Syrian monks were refugees from the persecutions initiated by Byzantine emperors against those who did not subscribe to the creed of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. As a consequence, they are viewed as Monophysite dissidents who fled from Syria looking for a more congenial theological climate.69 This interpretation probably holds [End Page 117] true for the Aksumite Nine Saints, for the Aksumite church closely followed the theological stance of its hierarchical leader, the Alexandrian patriarch. Nearly the entire Egyptian (or Coptic) church stoutly supported the cause of patriarch Dioscorus, the “Militant Father” who was exiled after Chalcedon. As a consequence, the fifth-century Aksumite church followed Alexandria into schism, and the Ethiopian church remains non-Chalcedonian to this day. There is, however, no clear evidence for Monophysite leanings among the Iberian Thirteen Syrian Fathers. It is just as likely that a combined missionary and ascetic impulse sent them to Iberia, the same motivation that inspired St. Patrick and St. Columbanus. Perhaps an even better comparison would be the ministry of St. Severinus in fifth-century Noricum (modern Austria), who is portrayed by his biographer as monk from eastern lands sent by God to care for the inhabitants of a distant province.70

The Nine Saints arrived in Aksum during the reign of Ella Amidas (c. 475–486), and according to their gedle (acts), they stayed at court for nearly twelve years.71 Admittedly, the gedle of the Nine Saints constitute a problematic set of source material. The traditions concerning them seem to have taken shape during the Zagwe dynasty in the ninth and tenth centuries, and only took a definitive form after the beginning of the Solomonic dynasty in 1270. In places, the gedle are heavily mythologized, but there is enough material in them consistent with archaeological material and with what is otherwise known about the Aksumite kingdom, to suspect that the basic narrative goes back to Late Antiquity.72

It's a very elaborate and interesting article, especially this section which highlights the Axumite-Byzantine relations:

Meanwhile, in the first half of the sixth century, Aksumite power reached its apogee during the reign of Kaleb I (Ella Asbeha).89 He was a great conqueror, and, perhaps at the instigation of the Byzantine emperor Justin (518–527), expanded the Aksumite Empire into south Arabia after a punitive expedition against the nominally Jewish kingdom of Himyar ca.523. According to Malalas, this campaign resulted from an intersection of the Aksumite king’s interests in both religion and trade. Roman merchants, Malalas reported, were attacked, despoiled, and killed by the king of Himyar, who was addressed by the Axumite king, “You have acted badly because you have killed merchants of the Christian Romans, which is a loss both to myself and my kingdom.”90 In this account, the king of Axum was not yet a Christian, and he vowed that if he overcame the Himyarite king, he would become a Christian, a tale that recalls the Frankish king Clovis’ vow to do the same before a battle with the Alamanni.91 Victory then was duly gained by the Axumites.

Although the expedition certainly served Byzantine interests as a proxy war against a major Sassanian ally, Kaleb had his own strategic goals in mind as he sought to secure Aksumite dominance of the Red Sea and the spice-producing regions of Yemen. Ethiopian tradition speaks of a legendary meeting of Kaleb and Justinian in Jerusalem, after the successful completion of the war, when they decided to divide the world between them.92 Thus, in Aksumite eyes, Kaleb was no mere Byzantine lackey.93

In his religious policy, Kaleb likewise struck an independent course in his fervent promotion of Christianity, not simply as a way to ape the Roman emperor, but rather to enhance his own kingly status as a divinely-appointed ruler, with as much access to divine favor as any other monarch, for as negusa [End page 122] nagast, Kaleb was portrayed as successor to a tradition of kingship regarded as descending from Solomon and David.94 What greater token of God’s blessing could there be than serving as custodian of the Ark of the Covenant? How could a mere ruler of Rome hope to compete against such credentials?95

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AksumVanguard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Jun 2009 at 05:50
Originally posted by Prince of Zeila Prince of Zeila wrote:

A online source that corroborates this part of your post and goes into great detail about the establishment of Christianity in Aksum (Iberia is ancient Georgia):
 
Hello Brother

There are many stories who tell different versions and say the client king of Himyar Abraha defected against Kaleb joined the side of Yemeni Kings and became part of the Great alliance with powerful Arabian kings, some that he was overran by a Dhu Nuwas and the Arabian Jewish tribes,and they are some that say he was killed but we don't know for sure.

They are also different versions of saying that King Ezana was Pagan worshipping Greek Gods ,such as Zeus,other say he was Jewish,this is more  likely because it  does not apper to be an upsurgence of any kind.There is a legend that says that King Bazen of Axum was the Kings who brought the gifts in the time of Christ's birth.

It seems the Emperor Constantius I has used some overbearing twisted agenda to irridicate Jews and Christians not adhering to his faith which would cause a riff sometimes.He had done it in Arabia and he did it in the Caucacus,the Armenians were first Christian Church outside of Rome because they were never really under Byzantine rule,they only sent bishops to there courts.As with Aksum kingdom being the Second Christian church which has similarities because they adhered to the Jewish faith before Christianity.




Edited by AksumVanguard - 29 Jun 2009 at 02:14
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Prince of Zeila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Jun 2009 at 14:46
AksumVanguard, I doubt Ezana's religious orientation was different from his predecessors in his early life because he constructed several massive Obelisks that had the same status as an obelisk would have in Ancient Egypt. This Axumite religion though still an enigma was a well established religion and very different from the one practiced in ancient Greece: 
 
Comparatively little is known of the religion of pre-Christian Ethiopia. Only fragmentary information is afforded by classical authors, by the victory stelae erected by a few Aksumite rulers, and by the evidence of archaeology. Some additional details can be inferred on the basis of parallels with the better-known religions of South Arabia.

During the Yeha period, the Ethiopian religion seems to have been little different from that of Sheba. The major deities were the familiar Semitic triad of the Sun, the Moon, and Venus. In the Aksumite period a somewhat different triad emerged, consisting of Ashtar (Venus), the sea god Behr, and the earth god Medr. The sun was a female deity, called by the Sabaean name Zat-Badar. As the military power of Aksum expanded, the war god Mahram assumed increasing importance and became the special tutelary of the Aksumite rulers.

The most extraordinary monuments of Aksumite religious architecture are the great stone stelae erected over the tombs of many rulers. They are elaborately carved in the form of miniature skyscrapers, with a false door at the bottom and row upon row of false windows above. They are, however, devoid of inscription. Underground, the royal dead were interred in large rock-cut burial chambers, but these have been so thoroughly plundered that no offerings have ever been found in them. For this reason, and in the absence of inscriptions, it is difficult to form an impression of the part that mortuary ritual played in the religious life of the ancient Ethiopians.

 
Ezana coins
 
(Pre-Christian period. The disc and the crescent symbol represents the Axumite religion)
 
(After conversion to Christianity, notice the crosses.) - Source (goes into detail about Axumite coinage)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AksumVanguard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2009 at 02:18
Originally posted by Prince of Zeila Prince of Zeila wrote:

AksumVanguard, I doubt Ezana's religious orientation was different from his predecessors in his early life because he constructed several massive Obelisks that had the same status as an obelisk would have in Ancient Egypt. This Axumite religion though still an enigma was a well established religion and very different from the one practiced in ancient Greece: 
 

 
Ezana coins
 
(Pre-Christian period. The disc and the crescent symbol represents the Axumite religion)
 
(After conversion to Christianity, notice the crosses.) - Source (goes into detail about Axumite coinage)


Prince Of Zeila

They are varying sources that say he may or may not,but most schoars consider him the first contemporary Christian. There is definietly similiraties between the Sabean Gods and Pre-Axumite Gods,but it might end there. Some archelogist conclude that they are Axumite versions of Hellenistic Gods.

http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761564182/aksum.html

he names of some of the gods who were worshipped have survived. The chief god was Astar, associated with the Greek god Zeus. Mahrem was a war god, like the Greek god Ares, and a patron of the royal family. It is not known how the gods were worshipped, though the remains of a number of religious buildings still exist. The largest such structurestill standing is in Yeha.

http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/english/ethiopian/prechristian.html

Later, with the introduction of Greek culture into Ethiopia, worship of the Greek pantheon became widespread. In the well-known Greek inscription, left at Adulis by an anonymous Ethiopia Emperor, mention is made of Zeus, Poseidon and Aries.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Prince of Zeila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2009 at 17:44
A.V, Greetings! thanks for the links.
 
I'm guessing you are referring to the monumentum adulitanum inscriptions right? Pity it's no longer there. The Ezana stone also has a similar style where one side is written in Geez and the other in Greek:
 
Ezana Stone (Source 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Prince of Zeila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jun 2009 at 17:58
Just to give you an impression of what for place Frumentius would have been arguing his case for Christianity and its compatibility with Axumite society - which eventually won him a supporter in Ezana as he succeeded his Father - here is a reconstruction of one of the Palace ruins in Axum. The Axumites were great builders.
Axumite Palace(Source)
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AksumVanguard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jun 2009 at 08:19
Originally posted by Prince of Zeila Prince of Zeila wrote:

Just to give you an impression of what for place Frumentius would have been arguing his case for Christianity and its compatibility with Axumite society - which eventually won him a supporter in Ezana as he succeeded his Father - here is a reconstruction of one of the Palace ruins in Axum. The Axumites were great builders.
Axumite Palace(Source)
 


The cities of Adulis,Qohaito,Gekazakle, and Yeha are some of the most ever revealing fact finding discoveries around. It is ashame they are not excavating the sites more.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Prince of Zeila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Jun 2009 at 13:52
^98% of Axum itself has not been excavated yet. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jul 2009 at 19:43
I concur with Akolouthos; this is a fascinating topic!
 
The contacts between Byzantium, and later the Ottomans, with eastern Africans is a subject that has not been discussed much in either discipline.  This is probably because of the different methodologies that must be employed and the language difficulties.
 
Of course, it is not advisable to put forward anachronisms or teleologies, but one wonders what kind of relations (not just commercial) might have developed between the Axumites and Byzantines had Justinian known what his successors would deal with in Persia and later the Arabian Muslims.  The Axumites, Ethiopians, and Sabaeans were excellent allies and bulwarks against these two powers.  Unfortunately, Justinian did not play his cards right with the Sabaeans and wore them down to nothing.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Prince of Zeila Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jul 2009 at 22:41
Greetings Byzantine Emperor, thanks for your contribution. There is little info unfortunately on Axumite-Byzantine relations other than a few footnotes here and there. The Axumites after the muslim conquests of Persia and Egypt did still play a major role in the region as Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) send his family to the Axumite court because he had heard as a kid in Makkah of a pious Emperor ruling Axum. After that there were several naval skirmishes and expeditions between the Rashiduns and the Axumites which would ultimately fail but Axum was from then on cut off from it's centuries old allies and partners.  
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