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VENETIA (Οὐενετία: Eth.Οὐένετος or Eth. Ἕνετος, Eth. Venetus), a province or region of Northern Italy, at. the head of the Adriatic sea, extending from the foot of the Alps, where those mountains descend to the Adriatic, to the mouths of the Padus, and westward as far as the river Athesis (Adige), or the lake Benacus. But the boundaries of the district seem to have varied at different times, and there is some difficulty in determining them with accuracy. In early times, indeed, before the Roman conquest, we have no account of the exact line of demarcation between the Veneti and the Cenomani, who adjoined them on the W., though according to Livy, Verona was a city of the latter people (5.35). After the Roman conquest, the whole of Venetia was at first included as a part of Cisalpine Gaul, and was not separated from it till the time of Augustus, who constituted his Tenth Region of Venetia and Istria, but including within its limits not only Verona, but Brixia and Cremona also (Plin. Nat. 3.18. s. 22, 19. s. 23), both of which were certainly cities of the Cenomani, and seem to have continued to be commonly considered as belonging to Cisalpine Gaul. (Ptol. 3.1.31.) Some authors, however, extended the appellation of Venetia still further to the W., so as to include not only Brixia and Cremona, but Bergomum also, and regarded the Addua as the boundary. [p. 2.1272](P. Diac. Hist. Lang. 2.14). But in the later period of the Roman Empire the Athesis seems to have been generally recognised as the W. boundary of Venetia, though not so strictly as to exclude Verona, the greater part of which was situated on the right bank of the river. Towards the N. the boundary was equally indefinite: the valleys and southern slopes of the Alps were occupied by Rhaetian and Euganean tribes; and it is probable that the limit between these and the Veneti, on their S. frontier, was always vague and arbitrary, or at least determined merely by nationality, not by any geographical boundary, as is the case at the present day with the German and Italian races in the same region. Thus Tridentum, Feltria, and Belunum, were all of them properly Rhaetian towns (Plin. Nat. 3.19. s. 23), though included in the Tenth Region of Augustus, and for that reason often considered as belonging to Venetia.

On the E. the limits of Venetia were more definite. The land of the Carni, who occupied the greater part of the modern Frioul, was generally considered as comprised within it, while the little river Formio (Risano), a few miles S. of Tergeste, separated it from Istria. (Plin. Nat. 3.18. s. 22.) Several authors, however, regard Tergeste as an Istrian city [TERGESTE], and must therefore have placed the boundary either at the Timavus, or where the Alps come down so close to the sea, between that river and Tergeste, as to prevent the road being continued along the coast. There can be no doubt that this point forms the natural boundary of Venetia on the E., although the Formio continued under the Roman Empire to constitute its political limit.

The physical peculiarities of the region thus limited are very remarkable. The greater part of Venetia is, like the neighbouring tract of Cisalpine Gaul, a broad and level plain, extending, without interruption, to the very foot of the Alps, and furrowed by numerous streams, which descend from those mountains with great rapidity and violence. These streams, swollen by the melting of the Alpine snows, or by the torrents of rain which descend upon the mountains, as soon as they reach the plain spread themselves over the country, forming broad beds of sand and pebbles, or inundating the fertile tract on each side of their banks. Continually stagnating more and more, as they flow through an almost perfectly level tract, they form, before reaching the sea, considerable sheets of water; and the action of the tides (which is much more perceptible at the head of the Adriatic than in any other part of that sea or of the Mediterranean) combining to check the outflow of their waters, causes the formation of extensive salt-water lagunes, communicating with the sea only through narrow gaps or openings in the long line of sandy barriers that bounds them. Such lagunes, which occupy a great extent of ground S. of the present mouth of the Po [PADUS], are continued on from its N. bank to the neighbourhood of Altinum; and from thence, with some interruptions, to the mouth of the Isonzo, at the head or inmost bight of the Adriatic. So extensive were they in ancient times that there was an uninterrupted line of inland navigation by these lagunes, which were known as the Septem Maria, from Ravenna to Altinum, a distance of above 80 miles. (Itin. Ant. p. 126.) Great physical changes have naturally taken place in the course of ages in a country so constituted. On the one hand there is a constant tendency to the filling <*>p of the lagunes with the silt and mud brought down by the rivers, which converts them first into marshes, and eventually into firm land. On the other hand the rivers, which have for ages been confined within artificial banks, keep pushing on their mouths into the sea, and thus creating backwaters which give rise to fresh lagunes. At the same time, the rivers thus confined, from time to time break through their artificial barriers and force new channels for themselves; or it is found necessary to carry them off by new and artificial outlets. Thus all the principal streams of Venetia, from the Adige to the Piave, are at the present day carried to the sea by artificial canals; and it is doubtful whether any of them have now the same outlet as in ancient times.

In the eastern portion of Venetia, from the Piave to the foot of the Alps near Aquileia, these physical characters are less marked. The coast is indeed bordered by a belt of marshes and lagunes, but of no great extent: and within this, the rivers that descend from the Alps have been for the most part left to wander unrestrained through the plain, and have in consequence formed for themselves broad beds of stone and shingle, sometimes of surprising extent, through which the streams in their ordinary condition roll their diminished waters, the trifling volume of which contrasts strangely with the breadth and extent of their deposits. Such is the character especially of the Tagliamento, the largest river of this part of Italy, as well as of the Torre, the Natisone, and other minor streams. The irregularity of their channels, resulting from this state of things, is sufficiently shown by the fact that the rivers Turrus and Natiso, which formerly flowed under the walls of Aquileia, have now changed their course, and join the Isonzo at a distance of more than 4 miles from that city. [AQUILEIA]

Of the history of Venetia previous to the Roman conquest we know almost nothing. It was occupied at that time by two principal nations, the VENETI from whom it derived its name, in the W., and the CARNI in the E.; the former extending from the Athesis to the Plavis, or perhaps to the Tilavemptus, the latter from thence to the borders of Istria. But the origin and affinities of the Veneti themselves are extremely obscure. Ancient writers represent them as a very ancient people (Plb. 2.17), but at the same time are generally agreed that they were not the original inhabitants of the tract that they occupied. This was reported by tradition to have been held in the earliest ages by the Euganeans (Liv 1.1), a people whom we still find lingering in the valleys and underfalls of the Alps within the historical period, but of whose origin and affinities we know absolutely nothing. [EUGANEI] In regard to the Veneti themselves it cannot fail to be remarked that we meet with three tribes or nations of this name in other parts of the world, besides those of Italy, viz. the Gaulish tribe of the Veneti on the coast of Armorica; the Venedi or Veneti of Tacitus, a Sarmatian or Slavonian tribe on the shores of the Baltic; and the Heneti or Eneti, who are mentioned as existing in Paphlagonia in the time of Homer. (Iliad, 2.85.) The name of this last people does not subsequently appear in history, and we are therefore wholly at a loss as to their ethnical affinities, but it is not improbable that it was the resemblance or rather identity of their name with that of the Italian Veneti (according to the Greek form of the latter) that gave rise to the strange story of Antenor having migrated to Venetia after [p. 2.1273]tlie siege of Troy, and there founded the city of Patavium. (Liv. 1.1; Verg. A. 1.242; Serv. ad loc.) This legend, so generally adopted by the Romans and later Greeks, seems to have been current as early as the time of Sophocles. (Strab. xiii. p.608.) Some writers, however, omitted all mention of Antenor, and merely represented the tribe of the Heneti, after having lost their leader Pylaemenes in the Trojan War, as wandering through Thrace to the head of the Adriatic, where they ultimately established themselves. (Id. xii. p. 543; Scymn. Ch. 389.) Whether there be any foundation for this story or not, it is evident that it throws no light upon the national affinities of the Italian Veneti. The other two tribes of the same name would seem to lead our conjectures in two different directions. From the occurrence of a tribe of Veneti among the Transalpine Gauls, just as we find among that people a tribe of Cenomani and of Senones, corresponding to the two tribes of that name on the Italian side of the Alps, it would seem a very natural inference that the Veneti also were a Gaulish race, who had migrated from beyond the Alps. To this must be opposed the fact that, while a distinct historical tradition of the successive migrations of the Gaulish tribes in the N. of Italy has been preserved and transmitted to us (Liv. 5.34, 35), no trace is recorded of a similar migration of the Veneti; but, on the contrary, that people is uniformly distinguished from the Gauls: Livy expressly speaks of them as occupying the same tract which they did in his time not only before the first Gaulish migration, but before the plains of Northern Italy were occupied by the Etruscans (Ib. 33); and Polybius emphatically, though briefly, describes them as a different people from the Gauls their neighbours, and using a different language, though resembling them much in their manners and habits (2.17). Strabo also speaks of them as a distinct people from the Gauls, though he tells us that one account of their origin derived them from the Gaulish people of the same name that dwelt on the shores of the ocean. (Strab. iv. p.195, v. p. 212.) But there is certainly no ground for rejecting the distinct statement of Polybius, and we may safely acquiesce in the conclusion that they were not of Celtic or Gaulish origin.

On the other hand the existence of a tribe or people on the southern shores of the Baltic, who were known to the Romans (through their German neighbours) as Venedi or Veneti, a name evidently identical with that of the Wenden or Wends, by which the Slavonian race in general is still known to the Germans, would lead us to regard the Italian Veneti also as probably a Slavonian tribe: and this seems on the whole the most plausible hypothesis. There is nothing improbable in the circumstance that the Slavonians may at an early period have extended their migrations as far as the head of the Adriatic, and left there a detached branch or offshoot of their main stock. The commercial intercourse of the Veneti with the shores of the Baltic, a traffic which we find already established at a very early period, may be the more readily explained if we suppose it to have been carried on by tribes of the same origin. Herodotus indeed represents the Veneti as an Illyrian tribe (1.196, 5.9); but it seems probable that the name of Illyrians was applied in a vague sense to all the mountaineers that occupied the eastern coasts of the Adriatic, and some of these may in ancient times have been of Slavonian origin, though the true Illyrians (the ancestors of the present Albanians) were undoubtedly a distinct people.

Of the history of the Veneti as an independent people we know almost nothing; but what little we do learn indicates a marked difference between them and their neighbours the Gauls on one side, and the Liburnians and Illyrians on the other. They appear to have been a commercial, rather than a warlike, people: and from the very earliest dawn of history carried on a trade in amber, which was brought overland from the shores of the Baltic, and exchanged by them with Phoenician and Greek merchants. Hence arose the fables which ascribed the production of that substance to the land of the Veneti, and ultimately led to the identification of the Eridanus of Northern Europe with the Padus of Northern Italy. [ERIDANUS] Herodotus mentions a peculiar custom as existing among the Veneti in his day, that they sold their daughters by auction to the highest bidder, as a mode of disposing of them in marriage (1.196). We learn also that they habitually wore black garments, a taste which may be said to be retained by the Venetians down to the present day, but was connected by the poets and mythographers with the fables concerning the fall of Phaëton. (Scymn. Ch. 396.) Another circumstance for which they were distinguished was the excellence of their horses, and the care they bestowed on breeding and training them, a fact which was appealed to by many as a proof of their descent from Antenor and “the horsetraining Trojans.” (Strab. v. pp. 212,215.) It is clear that they were a people considerably more advanced in civilisation than either the Gauls or the Ligurians, and the account given by Livy (10.2) of the landing of Cleonymus in the territory of Patavium (B.C. 302) proves that at that period Patavium at least was a powerful and well organised city. Livy indeed expressly contrasts the Veneti with the Illyrians, Liburnians, and Istrians, “gentes ferae et magna ex parte latrociniis maritimis infames.” (Ib.) On this occasion we are told that the citizens of Patavium were kept in continual alarm on account of their Gaulish neighbours, with whom they seem to have been generally on unfriendly terms. Thus at a still earlier period we are informed by Polybius that the retreat of the Senonian Gauls, who had taken the city of Rome, was caused by an irruption of the Venetians into the Gaulish territory (2.18). It was doubtless this state of hostility that. induced them, as soon as the Roman arms began to make themselves felt in Northern Italy, to conclude an alliance with Rome against the Gauls (B.C. 215), to which they appear to have subsequently adhered with unshaken fidelity. (Plb. 2.23, 24.) Hence while we afterwards find the Romans gradually carrying their arms beyond the Veneti, and engaged in frequent hostilities with the Carni and Istrians on the extreme verge of Italy, no trace is found of any collision with the Venetians. Nor have we any account of the steps by which the latter passed from the condition of independent allies to that of subjects of the Roman Republic. But it is probable that the process was a gradual one, and grew out of the mere necessity of the case, when the Romans had conquered Istria and the land of the Carni, in which last they had established, in B.C. 181, the powerful colony of Aquileia. It is certain that before the. close of the Republic the Veneti had ceased to have any independent existence, and were comprised, like the Gaulish tribes, in the province of Gallia Cisalpina, which was placed under the authority of Caesar, B.C. [p. 2.1274]59. The period at which the Veneti acquired the Roman franchise is uncertain: we are only left to infer that they obtained it at the same time as the Transpadane Gauls, in B.C. 49. (D. C. 41.56.)

Under the Roman Empire, Venetia (as already mentioned) was included, together with Istria, in the Tenth Region of Augustus. The land of the Carni (Carnorum regio, Plin. Nat. 3.18. s. 22) was at this time considered, for administrative purposes, as a part of Venetia; though it is still described as distinct by Ptolemy (3.1. § § 25, 26); and there is no doubt that the two nations were originally separate. But as the population of both districts became thoroughly Romanised, all traces of this distinction were lost, and the names of Venetia and Istria alone remained in use. These two continued to form one province, aud we meet with mention, both in inscriptions and in the Notitia, of a “Corrector Venetiae et Histriae,” down to the close of the Roman Empire. (Notit. Dign. ii. p. 65; Böcking, ad loc. p. 441; Orell. Inscr. 1050, 3191.) The capital of the united provinces was Aquileia, which rose under the Roman Empire to be one of the most flourishing cities of Italy. Its importance was derived, not from its wealth and commercial prosperity only, but from its situation at the very entrance of Italy, on the highroad which became the great means of communication between the Eastern and Western Empires. The same circumstance led to this part of Venetia becoming the scene of repeated contests for power between rival emperors. Thus it was before Aquileia that the Emperor Maximin perished in A.D. 238; it was on the banks of the river Alsa (Avsa) that the younger Constantine was defeated and slain, in A.D. 340; again, in 388, the contest between Maximus and Theodosius the Great was decided in the same neighbourhood; and in 425, that between the usurper Joannes and the generals of Theodosius II. [AQUILEIA] Finally, in A.D. 489, it was on the river Sontius (Isonszo) that Odoacer was defeated by the Gothic king Theodoric. (Hist. Miscell. xvi. p. 561.)

It seems certain that Venetia had become under the Roman Empire a very opulent and flourishing province: besides Aquileia, Patavium and Verona were provincial cities of the first class; and many other towns such as Concordia, Altinum, Forum Julii, &c., whose names are little known in history, were nevertheless opulent and considerable municipal towns. But it suffered with peculiar severity from the inroads of the barbarians before the close of the Empire. The passage across the Julian Alps from the valley of the Save to the plains of Aquileia, which presents few natural difficulties, became the highway by which all the barbarian nations in succession descended into the plains of Italy; and hence it was Venetia that felt the first brunt of their fury. This was especially the case with the invasion of Attila in A.D. 452, who, having at length reduced Aquileia after a long siege, razed it to the ground; and then, advancing with fearful rapidity, devastated in like manner the cities of Concordia, Altinum, Patavium, Vicentia, Verona, Brixia, and Bergomum, not one of which was able to oppose any effectual resistance. (Hist. Miscell. xv. p. 549.) The expression of the chronicler that he levelled these cities with the ground is probably exaggerated; but there can be no doubt that they suffered a blow from which three of them at least, Concordia, Altinum, and Aquileia, never recovered. In the midst of this devastation many fugitives from the ruined cities took refuge in the extensive lagunes that bordered the coasts of Venetia, and established themselves on some small islands in the midst of the waters, which had previously been inhabited only by fishermen. It was thus that the refugees from Aquileia gave origin to the episcopal city of Grado, while those from Patavium settled on a spot then known as Rivus Altus, in the midst of the lagunes formed by the Meduacus, where the new colony gradually grew up into a wealthy city and a powerful republic, which retained the ancient name of the province in that of Venezia or Venice. “This emigration (observes Gibbon) is not attested by any contemporary evidence; but the fact is proved by the event, and the circumstances might be preserved by tradition.” (Decl. and Fall, ch. 35, note 55.) A curious letter of Cassiodorus (Var. 12.24), written in A.D. 523, describes the islands of Venetia as inhabited by a population whose sole occupation and resource was derived from their fisheries: and it is remarkable, that he already appears to confine the appellation of Venetia to these islands, an usage which had certainly become prevalent in the time of Paulus Diaconus, who says, in speaking of the ancient province, “Venetia enim non solum in paucis insulis, quas nunc Venetias dicimus, constat” (2.14). It is clear, therefore, that the transfer the name of the province to the island city, which has continued ever since, was established as early as the eighth century.

The original land of the Veneti, as already observed, was almost entirely a plain. The underfalls of the Alps, and the hills that. skirt the foot of that range, were for the most part inhabited by tribes of mountaineers, who were of the same race with the Rhaetians and Euganeans, with whom, so far as we can discover, the Veneti themselves had nothing in common. But a portion of this district was comprised within the limits of the province of Venetia, as this came to be marked out under Augustus; so that the boundary line between Venetia and Rhaetia was carried apparently from the head of the Lake Benacus (Logo di Garda) across the valley of the Athesis (Adige) to the ridge which separates the valley of the Plavis from that of the Meduacus, so as to exclude the Val Sugana, while it included the whole valley of the Piave (Plavis), with the towns of Feltria and Belunum, both of which are expressly ascribed by Pliny to the Tenth Region. Thence the boundary seems to have followed the ridge which divides the waters that fall into the Adriatic from the valleys of the Drave and Gail, both of which streams flow eastward towards the Danube, and afterwards swept round in a semicircle, till it nearly touched the Adriatic near Trieste (Tergeste).

Within these limits, besides the underfalls of the Alps that are thrust forward towards the plain, there were comprised two distinct groups of hills, now known as the Colli Euganei and Monti Berici, both of them wholly isolated from the neighbouring ranges of the Alps, and, in a geological sense, unconnected with them, being both clearly of volcanic origin. The name of the Euganean hills, applied to the more southerly of the two groups, which approaches within a few miles of Patavium (Padova), is evidently a relic of the period when that people possessed the greater part of this country, and is doubtless derived from a very early time. The appellation is not noticed by any ancient geographer, but the name of Euganeus Collis is given by Lucan [p. 2.1275]to the hill above the baths of Aponus, one of the group in question; and Martial gives the name of “Euganeae Orae” to the hills near the town of Ateste (Este), at the southern extremity of the same range. (Lucan 7.192; Martial. 10.93). There can, therefore, be no doubt that this beautiful range of hills was known in ancient times as the Euganei Colles.

The rivers of Venetia are numerous, but, for the reasons already mentioned, not always easy to identify. Much the largest and most important is the ATHESIS (Adige), which at one period formed the boundary of the province, and which, emerging from the Alps, near Verona, sweeps round in a great curve till it pours its waters into the Adriatic only a few miles N. of the mouths of the Padus. The next river of any magnitude is the MEDUACUS or Brenta, which flows under the walls of Patavium, and receives as a tributary the Bacchiglione, apparently the Meduacus Minor of Pliny. After this (proceeding eastwards) comes the SILIS (Sele), a small stream flowing by the town of Altinum: next, the PLAVIS (Piave), a much more important river, which rises in the Alps above Belunum (Belluno), flows past that city and Feltria (Feltre), and enters the sea a few miles E. of Altinum: then the LIQUENTIA (Livenza), and the ROMATINUS (Lemene), a small river flowing under the walls of Concordia. Next to this comes the TILAVEMPTUS (Tagliamento), the most important of the rivers of the E. portion of Venetia, having its sources in the high ranges of the Alps above Julium Carnicum, whence it traverses the whole plain of the Carni, nearly in a direct line from N. to S. Beyond this come several minor streams, which it is not easy to identify with certainty: such are the Varanus and Anassus of Pliny, probably the Stella and the torrent of Cormor; and the ALSA which still bears the name of Ausa. E. of these, again, come three considerable streams, the TURRUS, NATISO, and SONTIUS which still preserve their ancient names, as the Torre, Natisone, and Isonzo, but have undergone considerable changes in the lower part of their course, the Natiso having formerly flowed under the walls of Aquileia, about 4 miles W. of its present channel, while the Isonzo, which now unites with it, originally followed an independent channel to the sea, near Monfalcone. The Isonzo receives a considerable tributary from the E., the Wippach or Vipao, which descends from the elevated table-land of the Karst, and was known in ancient times as the FLUVIUS FRIGIDUS. It was by the valley of this river that the great highroad from the banks of the Danube, after crossing the dreary highlands of Carniola, descended to Aquileia and the plains of Venetia. On the extreme confines of the province the little river TIMAVUS must be mentioned, on account of its classical celebrity, though of no geographical importance;and the FORMIO (Risano), a few miles S. of Tergeste, which, from the time of Pliny, constituted the limit between Venetia and Istria. (Plin. Nat. 3.18. s. 22.)

The cities and towns of Venetia may now be enumerated in geographical order. Farthest to the W., and situated on the Athesis, was the important city of VERONA Considerably to the E. of this was VICENTIA and beyond that again, PATAVIUM S. of Vicentia, at the southern extremity of the Euganean hills, was ATESTE (Este). On the border of the lagunes, at their N. extremity, was ALTINUM and 30 miles farther to the E., CONCORDIA Inland from these lay OPITERGIUM and TARVISIUM both of them considerable towns; and on the slopes of the hills forming the lowest underfalls of the Alps, the smaller towns of ACELUM (Asolo) and Ceneta (Cenedo), the name of which is found in Agathias and Paulus Diaconus (Agath. Hist. Goth. 2.8; P. Diac. 2.13), and was in all probability a Roman town, though not mentioned by any earlier writer. Still farther inland, in the valley of the Plavis, were FELTRIA and BELUNUM E. of the Tilavemptus, and therefore included in the territory of the Carni, were AQUILEIA near the sea-coast; FORUM JULII N. of the preceding; VEDINUM (Udine), farther to the W.; and JULIUM CARNICUM in the upper valley of the Tilavemptus, and in the midst of the Alps. TERGESTE on the E. side of the bay to, which it gave its name, was the last city of Venetia, and was indeed by many writers considered as belonging to Istria. [TERGESTE].

Besides these, there were in the land of the Carni several smaller towns, the names of which are mentioned by Pliny (3.19. s. 23.), or are found for the first time in Paulus Diaconus and the Geographer of Ravenna, but were in all probability Roman towns, which had grown up under the Empire. Of these, Flamonia (Plin.) is probably Flagogna, in the valley of the Tagliamento; Osopum (P. Diac. 4.38) is still called Osopo, and Glemona, Gemona, higher up in the same valley; and Artemia, Artegna, a few miles SE. of the preceding. Cormones (ib.) is still called Cormons, a small town between Cividale and Gradisca; and PUCINUM (Plin., Ptol.) is Duino, near the sources of the Timavus.

The other obscure names mentioned by Pliny (1. c.), and of which he himself says, “quos scrupulose dicere non attineat,” were apparently for the most part mountain tribes or communities, and cannot be determined with any approach to certainty.

Venetia was traversed by a great line of highroad, which proceeded from Aquileia to Verona, and thence to Mediolanum, and formed the great highway of communication from the latter city to the Danube and the provinces of the Eastern Empire. It passed through Concordia, Altinum, Patavium, Vicentia, and Verona. From Patavium a branch struck off through Ateste and Anneianum. (probably Legnago on the Adige) to join the Aemilian Way at Mutina. A still more direct line of communication was established from Altinum to Ravenna by water, through the lagunes and artificial canals which communicated from one to another of these sheets of water. This line of route (if such it can be called) is briefly indicated by the Antonine Itinerary ( “inde [a Ravenna] navigantur Septem Maria Altinum usque,” p. 126); while the stations are given in detail by the Tabula; but from the fluctuations that the lagunes have undergone, few of them can be identified with any certainty.


hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.17
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.24
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 1
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.242
    • Lucan, Civil War, 7.192
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.19
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 35
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 34
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 3.1
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