Non è il mondan romore altro ch' un fiato
Di vento, ch' or vien quinci, ed or vien quindi,
E muta nome, perchè muta lato.
Of worldly fame is but a blast of wind
That blows from diverse points, and shifts its name
Shifting the point it blows from.
These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
Little to be seen in the necropolis — Sepulchral tumuli — Scenery around Veii — Grotta Campana, a painted tomb — Singular parti-coloured figures — Interpretation of the paintings — Helmet with a death-thrust — Great antiquity of the tomb proved by the paintings and masonry — Ancient sepulchral pottery and urns — Analogy between tombs and houses — No epitaph for the glorious dead
It is to be regretted that so little is to be seen of the long-forgotten dead of Veii. It was the largest, and, in Romulus' time, the most mighty of Etruscan cities, and yet in scarcely one other instance are there so few tombs to be seen. The hills around the city without doubt abound in sepulchres, all hewn out of the rock according to the universal Etruscan custom, but with p46 the exception of those around the hamlet of Isola, which from the exposure of ages have lost almost all form and character, one only remains open to give the traveller an idea of the burying-places of the Veientes. Yet excavations are frequently, almost yearly, carried forward. The greater part of the land belongs to the Queen of Sardinia, who lets it out in the season to excavators, most of them dealers in antiquities at Rome; but as lucre is their sole object they are content to rifle the tombs of every thing convertible into cash, and cover them in immediately with earth. Many tombs, it is true, have no peculiar features — nothing to redeem them from the common herd of sepulchres, of which, ex uno disce omnia; but some discrimination should be exercised as to this, and the filling up should not be left to caprice or convenience. Surely, among the multitude that have been opened, some containing rich articles in gold, jewellery, and highly ornamented bronzes, not a few must be found remarkable enough for their form or decorations to demand conservation.
Of tumuli there is no lack, though they are not so abundant as at Cervetri and Corneto: some of them have been proved to be Roman. That on the east of the city, called La Vaccareccia, with its crest of trees, so prominent an object in the Campagna, has been excavated by the Queen of Sardinia, but without success. Like the rest, it was probably raised over some Lucumo or distinguished man of the Veientes.1 According to Antonio, it is the tomb of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, which shows that for historical or antiquarian information these local guides are as much to be relied on as the song which describes
"The statues gracin'
And nymphs so fair;
In the open air!"
This tumulus is worthy of a visit only for the magnificent view which on a fine day it commands of the Campagna. There are several other tumuli or barrows in the valley of the Crémera below the Arx, and also on the heights on the right bank, which Gell imagines to have been raised over the slain in some of the bloody combats between the citizens and Romans during the ten years' siege. It is quite as probable that they are merely individual or family sepulchres.2 On these heights Gell thinks Camillus must have pitched his camp in the last siege of Veii. At their base is a singular archway in the rock, whether natural or artificial is not easy to say, called L' Arco di Pino, which, with its masses of yellow and grey tufo, overhung with ilices, forms a most picturesque object in form and colouring, and claims a place in the visitor's sketch-book. Gell was of opinion that the Via Veientana, on descending from the heights, led through this arch on its way across the valley to the city. Several other large tumuli lie on the west and north of the city, and may be observed on the right of the modern road to Baccano.
The solitary tomb which I have mentioned as remaining open in the necropolis of Veii was discovered in the winter of 1842‑3. It is of very remarkable character, and its proprietor, the Cavaliere Campana, of Rome, so well known for his unrivalled collection of Etruscan jewellery, p48 with that reverence for antiquity and excellent taste for which he is renowned, has not only preserved it open for the gratification of the traveller, but has left it with its furniture untouched, almost in the exact condition in which it was discovered.
When I first knew Veii, it had no interest in its necropolis; though a thousand sepulchres had been excavated, not one remained open, and it was the discovery of this tomb that led me to turn my steps once more to the site. As I crossed the ancient city, I perceived that the wood which had covered the northern side had been cut down, so as no longer to impede the view. The eye wandered across the valley of the Formello, and the bare undulations of the necropolis opposite, away to the green mass of Monte Aguzzo northwards, with the conical and tufted Monte Musino behind it, and the village of Formello on a wooded slope below — a wild and desolate scene, such as meets the eye from many a spot in the Campagna, and to which the baying of the sheep-dogs in the valley beneath me, and the sharp shriek of the falcon wheeling above my head, formed a harmonious accompaniment — and yet, whether from the associations connected with this region, or the elevating effect of the back-ground of glorious Apennines, it is a wildness that charms — a desolation that, to me at least, yields a delight such as few scenes of cultivated beauty can impart. From this point I descried the site of the tomb, in a hill on the other side of the valley of the Formello, where the deep furrows on its slopes marked recent excavations.
The tomb, in compliment to its discoverer and proprietor, should be termed —
Half way up the slope of a mound, the Poggio Michele, is a long passage, •about six feet wide, cut through the p49 rock towards the centre of the hill. At the entrance on each side couches a stone lion, of that quaint, singular style of sculpture, that clumsy, and, I may say, ludicrous form, which once seen, can never be forgotten, and which the antiquary recognises as the conventional mode among Etruscan sculptors of representing the king of beasts. At the further end of the passage, couch two similar lions, one on each side of the door of the tomb — all intended as figurative guardians of the sepulchre.3 The passage, be it observed, is of ancient formation, and has merely been cleared out by the spade of the excavator.
The door, of which Antonio keeps the key, is a modern addition — the ancient one, which was a slab of stone, having been broken to pieces by former excavators; for it is rare to find an Etruscan tomb which has escaped the spoilers of every previous age, though the earliest riflers, after carrying off the precious metals and jewellery, often left every other article, even the most beautiful vases, untouched. It is a moment of excitement, this — the first people within an Etruscan painted tomb; and if this be the first the visitor has beheld, he will find food enough for wonderment. He enters a low, dark chamber, hewn out of the rock, whose dark-greyish hue adds to the gloom. p50 He catches an imperfect glance of several jars of great size, and smaller pieces of crockery and bronze, lying on benches or standing on the floor, but he heeds them not, for his eye is at once riveted on the extraordinary paintings on the inner wall of the tomb, facing the entrance. Were there ever more strangely devised, more grotesquely designed figures? — was there ever such a harlequin scene as this? Here is a horse with legs of most undesirable length and tenuity, chest and quarters far from meagre, but barrel pinched in like a lady's waist. His colour is not to be told in a word — as Lord Tolumnius' chesnut colt, or Mr. Vibenna's bay gelding. His neck and fore-hand are red, with yellow spots — his head black — mane and tail yellow — hind-quarters and near-leg black — near fore-leg corresponding with his body, but off-legs yellow, spotted with red. His groom is in deep-red livery p51 — that is, he is naked, and such is the colour of his skin. A boy of similar complexion bestrides the horse; and another man precedes him, bearing a hammer, or, it may be, a bipennis, or double-headed axe, upon his shoulder; while on the croup crouches a tailless cat, parti-coloured like the steed, with one paw familiarly resting on the boy's shoulder. Another beast, similar in character, but with the head of a dog, stands beneath the horse. This is but one scene, and occupies a band •about three feet deep, or the upper half of the wall.
Below is a sphinx, standing, not crouching, as is usual on ancient Egyptian monuments, with a red face and bosom, spotted with white — straight black hair, depending behind — wings short, with curling tips, and striped black, red, and yellow — body, near hind-leg and tail of the latter colour, near fore-leg black, and off-legs like the bosom. p52 A panther, or large animal of the feline species, sits behind, rampant, with one paw on the haunch, the other on the tail of the sphinx; and beneath the latter is an ass, or it may be a deer, of smaller size than the panther. Both are painted in the same curious parti-colours as those described.
On the opposite side of the doorway (for there is a door in this wall, opening into an inner chamber), in the upper band, is a horse, with a boy on his back, and a "spotted pard" behind him sitting on the ground. In the lower band is another similar beast of great size, with his tongue lolling out, and a couple of dogs beneath him. All these quadrupeds are of the same curious patchwork of red, yellow, and black.4
To explain the exact signification of these figures I pretend not. In quaintness and peculiarity of form, they p53 strongly resemble the animals represented on the vases of the most archaic style, and like them had probably some mystic or symbolic import but who shall now interpret them? who shall now read aright the handwriting on these walls? Panthers are frequently introduced into the painted tombs of Etruria, as figurative guardians of the dead, being animals sacred to Bacchus, the Hades of the Etruscans. The boys on horseback, I take to be emblematical of the passage of the soul into another state of existence, as is clearly the case in many cinerary urns of later date; and the figure with the hammer is probably intended for the Charon of the Etruscans. Though the style of the figures seems to assimilate them to Egyptian paintings, yet there is nothing of that character in the faces of the men, as in the oldest painted tombs of Tarquinii, where the figures have more or less of the Egyptian physiognomy, according to their degree of antiquity. The features here on the contrary are very rudely drawn, and quite devoid of any national peculiarity, seeming rather like untutored efforts to portray the human face divine.5 Indeed, in this particular, as well as in the uncouth representations of flowers interspersed with the figures, and of the same parti-coloured hues, there is a great resemblance to the paintings on early Doric vases — nor would it be difficult to find certain points of analogy with Mexican paintings. The sphinx, though with an Egyptian coiffure, has none of that character in other respects, for the Egyptians never represented this chimaera with wings, nor of so attenuated a form. The land of the Nile however may be seen in the ornamental border of lotus-flowers, emblematical of immortality, which surmounts the figures. The side-walls and the ceiling of this chamber show the bare rock, roughly hewn.
p54 On either side of this tomb, and projecting from the walls, is a bench of rock •about two and a half feet high, on each of which, when the tomb was opened, a skeleton was found extended; but exposure to the air caused them in a very short time to crumble to dust. One of these had been a warrior, and on the right-hand bench you still see portions of the breast-plate, and the helmet entire, which once encased his remains. Observe the helmet — it is a plain casque of the simplest form, rather Greek than Roman.a You perceive on one side of it a hole, which seems by the indentation of the metal to have been caused by a hard blow. Do you doubt it? Turn the casque about and you will observe on the opposite side a gash, evidently formed by the point of a sword or lance from within; proving this to have been the fatal wound which deprived the warrior of life.
"Through teeth and skull and helmet
So fierce a thrust was sped,
Behind the Tuscan's head."
On the same bench you see the iron head, much corroded, and the bronze rest of a spear — it may be the very weapon which inflicted the death-wound. And how long since may that be? If it were not subsequent to the decorations of the tomb — and the fact of this warrior being laid out on one of the rock benches, goes far to prove him one of its earliest occupants — it must have been in very remote antiquity. The most untutored eye can perceive at a glance that the paintings belong to a very early age of the world. To me, after I had seen and studied every other painted tomb now open in Etruria, this seemed in point of antiquity pre-eminent; and I have not a moment's hesitation in asserting, that it is unquestionably the oldest painted tomb yet discovered in that land, or, as p55 far as I can learn, now to be seen in Europe, and that few other tombs in Italy, though unpainted, have any claim to be considered anterior to it.6 Its great antiquity is confirmed by the rest of its contents, all of which are of the most archaic character. Cav. Campana is of opinion that if it did not much precede the foundation of Rome it was at least coeval with, and in no way posterior to that event. I am inclined to assign to it by no means an inferior antiquity. The wall within the doorway is built up with masonry of very rude character, uncemented, belonging to an age prior to the invention of the arch; for the door is formed of blocks gradually converging towards the top, as in the oldest European architecture extant — in the style of the Cyclopean gateways of Greece and Italy — those mysteries of unknown antiquity. On one side of the door indeed there is some approximation to the arch — cuneiform blocks like voussoirs, and one also in the place of a key-stone; but if this be not mere accident, as might be supposed from the blocks not holding together as in a true p56 arch, it shows merely a transition period, when, though somewhat of the principle of the arch was comprehended, it was not fully brought to perfection. Now as there is every reason to believe that the arch was known to, and practised by, the Etruscans at a very early period, prior to the reign of the Tarquins, when the Cloacae of Rome were constructed, it is obvious that the masonry in this tomb indicates a very high antiquity.
The skeleton on the other bench was probably that of the wife of this warrior, as no weapons or armour were found on the couch. But these were not the sole occupants of the tomb. The large jars on the floor were found to contain human ashes, probably of the family or dependents of the principal individuals; if so, they would indicate that among the Etruscans of that age, to bury was more honourable than to burn — or at least they prove that both modes of sepulture were practised at a very early period. There are four of these jars, •about three feet high, of dark brown earthenware, and ornamented with patterns in relief or colours; also several smaller jars of quaint, squat form, with archaic figures painted in the earliest style of Etruscan art, representing in one instance a dance of Bacchanals.7 A bronze praefericulum or ewer, and a light • p57 candelabrum of very simple form, stand on the bench, by the warrior's helmet. Several bronze specchi, or mirrors, and small figures of men or gods in terra-cotta, and of animals in amber, were also found, but have been removed. All bore out the archaic character of the tomb.
Of similar description is the furniture of the inner and smaller chamber. The ceiling has two beams carved in relief; showing that even at an early period Etruscan tombs were imitations of the abodes of the living. A low ledge of rock runs round three sides of the chamber, and on it stand as many square cinerary urns or chests of earthenware, •about eighteen inches long and a foot high, each with an overhanging lid, and a man's head projecting from it, as if for a handle; probably intended for a portrait of him whose ashes are stored in the urn.8 On the p58 same ledge are eight tall jars, some plain, others painted — banded red and yellow. Two stand in pans of terra-cotta, with a rim of animals of archaic form, beautifully executed in relief. There are other smaller jars or vases, all probably of cinerary character. In the centre of the apartment stands a low brazier of bronze, nearly •two feet in diameter; which must have served for burning perfumes to destroy the effluvium of the sepulchre.
The walls of this inner chamber are unpainted, save opposite the doorway, where six discs or "crowns," as Cav. Campana calls them, are represented as suspended. They are •fifteen inches in diameter, and are painted with a mosaic-work of various colours, black, blue, red, yellow, and grey, in such small fragments, and with such an arrangement, as if they were the copies of some kaleidoscope effect. What they are intended to represent is not obvious; nor have I ever heard a satisfactory explanation. They are too small for shields; and the whole disc being filled with colour, seems to preclude the idea of crowns or chaplets. They more probably represent paterae or goblets, though their colouring is an objection also to this supposition; but the colour may here represent merely the carving with which such paterae were adorned.9 Above them are many stumps of iron nails rusted away, formerly supporting, perhaps, crockery — the originals, it may be, of these painted discs; and around the door between the two chambers are many similar traces of nails. It was a common custom to suspend vessels, and jugs of terra-cotta or bronze in this manner in Etruscan tombs; p59 but, as no fragments of such were found at the foot of the wall, it is probable that something of a more perishable nature, or so valuable as to have been removed by previous spoilers, was here suspended.
At the entrance of this double-chambered tomb, and opening on the same passage, is another small tomb, evidently an appendage to the family-vault, and it may be of more recent formation. It is the porter's lodge to this mansion of the dead — and not metaphorically so, for Etruscan tombs being generally imitations of houses, the analogy may be concluded to hold throughout; and these small chambers, of which there are often two, one on each side of the ostium, or doorway, answer to the cellulae janitoris, or ostiarii — not here within the entrance, as usual in Roman houses, but just outside — janitor ante fores — and it is highly probable that the lions here found were in place of the dog in domestic houses — custos liminis — Cave canem! This little chamber has a bench of rock on one side, on which are rudely carved the legs of a couch, with a hypopodium or long low stool beneath it; the former to intimate that here was the last resting-place of the deceased; the latter, an imitation of the stool used by the attendant on the corpse, as shown more clearly in a painting in one of the tombs of Corneto; and doubtless also representing respectively the banqueting-couch and accompanying stool, so often pictured on the walls of Etruscan tombs. The body was probably extended on its rocky bier without coffin or sarcophagus. No vestiges of it, or of its habiliments, now remain — nothing beyond sundry small articles of pottery, perfume-vases, drinking-cups, plates, paterae, and bronze mirrors — the usual furniture of Etruscan sepulchres.
The rock out of which these tombs are hewn is not tufo, but an arenaceous clay, of greyish-brown hue, and of a tendency to indurate by exposure to air. In the outer p60 passage, beside the couching lions, were found two small stone urns, either dragged out from the tombs by previous spoilers, or, if originally placed here, containing the remains of the slaves of the family, who were not unfrequently buried at the doors of sepulchres. This is a fair specimen of the Etruscan tombs found at Veii, though in general they have not more than one chamber. Sometimes too they are formed with a rounded, sometimes with a pointed ceiling, always alike hewn out of the rock.
One peculiarity of this sepulchre remains to be noticed. In almost every Etruscan tomb there is some inscription, either on sarcophagus, or urn, or cippus, or tile, or it may be on the inner walls, or external façade; but to whom this belonged, no epitaph, no inscription whatever, remains to inform us.10 Here was interred some bold but unfortunate chieftain, some Veientine Lucumo, not less brave, not less worthy, it may be, of having his name preserved, than Achilles, Ulysses, Aeneas, or half the heroes of antiquity; but he had no bard of fame to immortalise his deeds.
"Vain was the chief's, the hero's pride!
He had no poet — and he died;
In vain he fought, in vain he bled! —
He had no poet — and is dead."
More than this we know not of him. His deeds may have been sung by some native Homer — some compatriot may have chronicled his valour with the elegance and poetic fire of a Livy, or the dignified pen of a Tacitus, but p61 they and their works have alike perished with him. It might be that his renown was so great that it was deemed a vain thing to raise a monumental stone — his deeds spoke for him — they were such as his friends and admiring countrymen fondly imagined could never die; so they laid him out on his rocky bier, fresh, it would seem, from the battlefield, with his battered panoply for a shroud, and there
"They left him alone with his glory."
1 Gell (II.323) suggests that it may be the tomb of Propertius, king of Veii (Servius, Aen. VII.697), or of Morrius, the Veientine king who instituted the •Salian rites and dances. (Serv. Aen. VIII.285).
2 Gerhard (Mem. Inst. I., p28) describes some of these as Roman tombs.
3 Inghirami (Mon. Etrus. I., 216) rejects this notion, on the ground that they could not frighten violators, who, if they had overcome their dread of the avenging Manes, so as to attempt to plunder a sepulchre, would not be deterred by mere figures in stone. But he argues from a nineteenth-century point of view, and does not allow for the effect of such palpable symbols of vengeful wrath, upon the superstitious minds of the ancients. Figures of lions, as images of power, and to inspire dread, are of very ancient use, and quite oriental. Thus, Solomon set lions around his throne (I Kings X., 19, 20), and the Egyptians and Hindoos placed them at the entrance of their temples. That they were at a very early period used by the Greeks as figurative guardians, is proved by the celebrated gate of Mycenae. The monuments of Lycia, now in the British Museum, and the tombs of Phrygia, delineated by Steuart (Ancient Monuments of Lydia and Phrygia), show this animal in a similar relation to sepulchres; and moreover establish a strong point of analogy between Etruria and the East.
Thayer's Note: This seems as good a place as any to remark that it may well be to these Etruscan lions that we should look for the principal origins of the guardian lions of so many Italian Romanesque churches. They usually greet the visitor in pairs flanking the main door of the church, as in this handsome example at the cathedral of Civita Castellana, an Etruscan city only 39 km N of Veii; but sometimes they've been brought inside, as in this rather showier pair in the Duomo of Jesi in the Marche. Such lion guardians are at any rate far more characteristic of Italian churches than of, say, French or German Romanesque.
4 These harlequin figures are not unique. They have been found also in a painted tomb at Cervetri, and to a lesser extent are to be seen in the tombs of Tarquinii, where, however, they cannot pretend to so high an antiquity.
6 Even Micali, who tries to assign as recent a date as possible to every relic of antiquity, admits that paintings in this tomb are the earliest works yet known of the Etruscan pencil on walls. He does not however attempt to fix their date, but leaves it undecided in the three centuries and a half between the foundation of Rome and the fall of Veii! (Mon. Ined. p395). He remarks that there is here no imitation of the Egyptian, but all is genuinely national, and characteristic of the primitive Etruscan school.
The only painted tomb yet discovered in Greece is in the island of Aegina, and it has only four figures sketched in charcoal on the walls of rock. It represents a Bacchic dance. The style is free and masterly, but no conclusion can be drawn from this solitary specimen, observes Professor Welcker, as to the mode of painting sepulchres among the Greeks, or even as to its being a custom at all. (Bull. Inst. 1843, 57). Pausanias, however (VII. c22), describes one near the city of Tritia, painted by Nicias, the Athenian. "On an ivory chair sits a young woman of great beauty; before her stands a maid-servant, holding an umbrella, and a youth quite beardless is standing by, clad in a tunic and a purple chlamys over it, and by him stands a slave with some javelins in his hand, leading dogs such as are used by hunters. We were not able to divine their names; but we all alike conjectured that here a husband and wife were interred in the same sepulchre."
7 This is some of the earliest pottery of Veii, and is very similar to that found at Caere. That of purely Etruscan manufacture, peculiar to Veii, consists of vases and jars of similar description, of plain black or brown ware, but with figures scratched upon the clay when wet, or else moulded in very low relief. Such plain ware is the most abundant on this site; painted vases are comparatively rare. Those in the Egyptian style with animals and chimaeras are sometimes of extraordinary size, larger than any Panathenaic vases. There are also some with black figures in the archaic style, and even with red figures on a black ground, sometimes of a noble and sublime simplicity; yet, in spite of the beauty of conception and design, the rigidity and severity of the early school are never wholly lost. We may hence infer that vase-painting in Etruria had not reached its perfection when Veii was captured. This is a fact worthy of attention as tending to fix the era of the art. For as Veii was taken in the year •358, and remained uninhabited and desolate till the commencement of the Empire, we have the surest grounds for ascribing all the Etruscan pottery found in its tombs to a period prior to •the middle of the fourth century of Rome.
For a description of the vases of Veii, see "Descrizione de' Vasi dell' Isola Farnese, &c., di Secondiario Campanari, Roma 1839," or a review of the same in Bull. Inst. 1840, pp12‑16. Also Micali, Mon. Ined., p156, et seq. tav. XXVII; and p242, tav. XLI.
8 Such urns as this are almost the only specimens yet found of the fictile statuary for which Veii was of old renowned, though a few •antefixae and decorated tiles have been brought to light, of which some good specimens may be seen in the Campana collection at Rome. The fictile quadriga made at Veii by order of Tarquinius Superbus was, like the Palladium, one of the seven sacred things, on the preservation of which the power and safety of Rome were believed to depend — the others being, Cybele's needle, the ashes of Orestes, Priam's sceptre, Ilione's veil, and the Salian bucklers. Serv. Aen. VII.188. The legend of the quadriga is worth recording. Tarquin had bespoken one or more such cars of earthenware to adorn the pediment of his new temple on the Capitoline, according to the Etruscan fashion in architecture; but the clay, instead of shrinking as usual, swelled so as to burst the mould, and not to be extracted from the furnace; and the Etruscan soothsayers interpreting this as betokening increase of dominion to the possessor, the chariot was retained at Veii. Shortly after, however, a chariot-race was held at this city, and the victor having received his crown was leaving the arena, when his horses suddenly took fright, and dashed off at full speed towards Rome; nor did they stop till they arrived at the foot of the Capitol, where they threw out and killed their driver at the gate, afterwards called from his name, Ratumena. Whereon the Veientes, terrified at this second portent, gave up the earthen quadriga to the Romans.
9 Paterae on sepulchral urns are not unfrequently found with the same style of adornment, but carved not coloured. Whatever these may be, as Dr. Braun suggests, have relation to the hero here interred, who seems to have died gloriously for his country. Bull. Inst. 1843, p70.
Thayer's Note: I have not seen these paintings, nor have I read the literature; but these little discs remind me very much of phalerae, which were military decorations worn by meritorious soldiers in the Roman army: see A Roman Frontier Post and its People The Fort of Newstead in the Parish of Melrose, pp174 ff. for a discussion, particularly relevant to this passage since it includes not only photographs of phalerae, but an image of a tombstone of a soldier wearing his phalerae.
10 Micali (Mon. Ined. p383) remarks that no inscriptions are found in any of the earliest tombs, either at Monteroni, Vulci, or Chiusi (he forgets the Regulini tomb at Cervetri, where inscriptions were found on the silver bowls), and thinks writing in those remote ages was only known to a few of the principal citizens privileged by the priests, and only used in public and sacred documents. Letters we know were rare in those early times, and therefore nails were driven into the temple of Nortia, at Volsinii, as public records. Liv. VII.3.
a Etruscan helmet: While the helmet below is not the one Dennis is describing, but rather from the Arezzo area, currently in the Museum there, it will at least give an idea of the type:
Etruscan helmet, early 5c B.C.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
of the Lazio
Parco di Veio
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