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When Cyrus appeared before Babylon he1 stationed his whole force about the city and then rode around it himself in company with his friends and the staff-officers of the allies; [2] but when he had taken a survey of the walls, he prepared to draw off his army from the city. But a deserter came out and told him that they were going to attack him as soon as he began to draw his army off. “For,” the man went on, “your lines looked weak to those who observed them from the walls.” And it was no wonder that they appeared so; for, encompassing walls of such extent,2 the lines necessarily had but little depth. [3]

On hearing this, therefore, Cyrus took his place3 with his body-guard in the centre of his army and gave orders that the hoplites should fold back the phalanx from the extremity of either wing and move toward each other behind the main body, which had been halted, until each of the extreme wings should meet in a line with him, that is, in the centre.4 [4] By this manoeuvre the men that remained standing in their places were at once given more courage, for the depth of the line was thus doubled; and those who had fallen back were likewise rendered more courageous, for thus those troops which had been kept standing had now come to face the enemy, and not they. But when, as they marched in from both sides, the ends came together, they stood thus mutually strengthened—those who had shifted their position were supported by those in front of them, those in front by the men behind them. [5] And when the phalanx was thus folded back, the front ranks and the rear were of necessity composed of the most valiant men and the poorest were drawn up between them. And this arrangement of the lines seemed well adapted both for fighting and for keeping the men from flight; and the cavalry and the light-armed troops upon the wings were in each case brought as much nearer to the commander as the phalanx was shorter when doubled. [6] And when they had thus closed up, they retired backward as long as they were within range of the missiles from the wall; but when they were out of range, they would face about and go forward at first only a few steps and wheel to the left and stand facing the wall; and the further off they got, the less often did they thus wheel around; and when they seemed to be out of all danger, they marched off without stopping until they arrived at their tents. [7]

When they had encamped, Cyrus called together5 his staff-officers and said: “Friends and allies, we have viewed the city on every side. But I am sure I cannot see how any one could take by storm walls so massive and so high; but the more men there are in the city, the sooner they can, I think, be brought by famine to capitulate, seeing that they will not come out and fight. Therefore, unless you have some other method to suggest, I propose that we use this method of laying siege to those gentlemen.” [8]

“But,” said Chrysantas, “does not this river flow through the midst of the city? And it is more than two stadia in width.”

“Aye, by Zeus,” said Gobryas, “and its depth is such that two men, one standing on the other's shoulders, would not reach the surface of the water, so that the city is better defended by the river than by its walls.” [9]

“Chrysantas,” Cyrus answered, “let us not6 trouble ourselves with that which is beyond our powers; but we must apportion the work among ourselves as quickly as possible, to each contingent its proper share, and dig a ditch as wide and as deep as possible, so that we may require only as many men on guard as are absolutely indispensable.” [10]

Accordingly, he took measurements in a circle round about the city, leaving just enough room by the river for the erection of large towers, and began on either side of the city to dig an immense trench; and the earth from it they threw up on their own side of the ditch. [11] First of all, he began to build towers by the river, laying his foundations with the trunks of date-palms not less than a hundred feet long—and they grow even taller than that. And they were good material for this purpose, for it is a well known fact that date-palms, when under heavy pressure, bend upward like the backs of pack-asses. [12] These he used as “mud-sills,” in order that, even if the river should break into his trench above, it might not carry his towers away. And he erected many other towers besides upon the breast-works of earth, so that he might have as many watch-towers as possible. [13]

Thus, then, his men were employed, while the enemy upon the walls laughed his siege-works to scorn, in the belief that they had provisions enough for more than twenty years.

Upon hearing of this, Cyrus divided his army into twelve parts as if intending each part to be responsible for sentry duty during one month of each year; [14] but the Babylonians, in their turn, when they heard of that, laughed much more scornfully still, at the thought of Phrygians and Lydians and Arabians and Cappadocians keeping guard against them, for they considered all these to be more friendly to them than to the Persians. [15]

At last the ditches were completed. Then,7 when he heard that a certain festival had come round in Babylon, during which all Babylon was accustomed to drink and revel all night long, Cyrus took a large number of men, just as soon as it was dark, and opened up the heads of the trenches at the river. [16] As soon as that was done, the water flowed down through the ditches in the night, and the bed of the river, where it traversed the city, became passable for men. [17]

When the problem of the river was thus solved, Cyrus gave orders to his Persian colonels, infantry and cavalry, to marshal their regiments two abreast and come to him, and the rest, the allies, to follow in their rear, drawn up as before. [18] They came, according to orders, and he bade his aides, both foot and horse, get into the dry channel of the river and see if it was possible to march in the bed of the river. [19] And when they brought back word that it was, he called together the generals of both infantry and cavalry and spoke as follows: [20]

“My friends,” said he, “the river has made8” way for us and given us an entrance into the city. Let us, therefore, enter in with dauntless hearts, fearing nothing and remembering that those against whom we are now to march are the same men that we have repeatedly defeated, and that, too, when they were all drawn up in battle line with their allies at their side, and when they were all wide awake and sober and fully armed; [21] whereas now we are going to fall upon them at a time when many of them are asleep, many drunk, and none of them in battle array. And when they find out that we are inside the walls, in their panic fright they will be much more helpless still than they are now. [22]

“But if any one is apprehensive of that which is said to be a source of terror to those invading a city—namely, that the people may go up” on the house-tops and hurl down missiles right and left, you need not be in the least afraid of that; for if any do go up upon their houses, we have a god on our side, Hephaestus. And their porticoes are very inflammable, for the doors are made of palm-wood and covered with bituminous varnish which will burn like tinder; [23] while we, on our side, have plenty of pine-wood for torches, which will quickly produce a mighty conflagration; we have also plenty of pitch and tow, which will quickly spread the flames everywhere, so that those upon the house-tops must either quickly leave their posts or quickly be consumed. [24]

“But come, to arms! and with the help of the gods I will lead you on. And do you, Gadatas and Gobryas, show the streets, for you are familiar with them. And when we get inside the walls, lead us by the quickest route to the royal palace.” [25]

“Aye,” answered Gobryas and his staff, “in view of the revelry, it would not be at all surprising if the gates leading to the palace were open, for all the city is feasting this night. Still, we shall find a guard before the gates, for one is always posted there.”

“We must lose no time, then,” said Cyrus. “Forward, that we may catch the men as unprepared as we can.” [26]

When these words were spoken, they advanced.9 And of those they met on the way, some fell by their swords, some fled back into their houses, some shouted to them; and Gobryas and his men shouted back to them, as if they were fellow-revellers. They advanced as fast as they could and were soon at the palace. [27] And Gobryas and Gadatas and their troops found the gates leading to the palace locked, and those who had been appointed to attack the guard fell upon them as they were drinking by a blazing fire, and without waiting they dealt with them as with foes. [28] But, as a noise and tumult ensued, those within heard the uproar, and at the king's command to see what the matter was, some of them opened the gates and ran out. [29] And when Gadatas10 and his men saw the gates open they dashed in in pursuit of the others as they fled back into the palace, and dealing blows right and left they came into the presence of the king; and they found him already risen with his dagger in his hand. [30] And Gadatas and Gobryas and their followers overpowered him; and those about the king perished also, one where he had sought some shelter, another while running away, another while actually trying to defend himself with whatever he could. [31]

Cyrus then sent the companies of cavalry around through the streets and gave them orders to cut down all whom they found out of doors, while he directed those who understood Assyrian to proclaim to those in their houses that they should stay there, for if any one should be caught outside, he would be put to death. [32]

While they were thus occupied, Gadatas and Gobryas came up; and first of all they did homage to the gods, seeing that they had avenged themselves upon the wicked king, and then they kissed Cyrus's hands and his feet with many tears of joy. [33]

And when day dawned and those in possession11 of the citadels discovered that the city was taken and the king slain, they surrendered the citadels, too. [34] And Cyrus at once took possession of the citadels and sent up to them guards and officers of the guards. As for the dead, he gave their relatives permission to bury them. He furthermore ordered the heralds to make proclamation that all Babylonians deliver up their arms; and he ordered that wherever arms should be found in any house, all the occupants should be put to the sword. So they delivered up their arms and Cyrus stored them in the citadels, so that they might be ready if he ever needed them for use. [35]

When all this was finished, he first called the magi and requested them, inasmuch as the city had been taken by the sword, to select sanctuaries and the first fruits of the booty for the gods. Next he distributed the private houses and official residences among those whom he considered to have had a share in what had been achieved; and he made the division in the way that had been decided upon—the best to the most meritorious. And if any one thought he had less than he should, he bade him come and explain his reasons for thinking so. [36]

He ordered the Babylonians, moreover, to go on tilling their lands, to pay their tribute, and to serve those to whom they had severally been assigned; and he directed the Persians who had shared in the expedition and as many of the allies as chose to remain with him to address those who had fallen to their share as a master would his servants. [37]

After this, Cyrus conceived a desire to establish12 himself as he thought became a king, but he decided to do it with the approval of his friends, in such a way that his public appearances should be rare and solemn and yet excite as little jealousy as possible. So he adopted the following plan: at day-break he would take his station in a place that seemed to him to be adapted to the purpose and there receive all who had any matter to bring before him, give them an answer, and send them away. [38] But when people learned that he was holding audience, they came in an unmanageable throng, and as they crowded up to get in there was no end of trickery and contention. [39] And his attendants would admit them, making the best discrimination they could.

But whenever any of his personal friends managed13 to push their way through the throng and catch his eye, Cyrus would stretch out his hand, draw them up to him, and say: “Just wait, friends, until we get rid of the crowd, and then we will enjoy each other's company quietly.” So his friends would wait, but the throng would stream in greater and greater, so that evening would set in before he had leisure to share his friends' company. [40] So Cyrus would say: “Gentlemen, it is now time to separate; come tomorrow morning; for I, too, have something to talk over with you.”

Upon hearing this, his friends gladly departed, running from his presence, for they had paid the penalty for ignoring all the wants of nature. Thus then they went to rest. [41]

On the following day, Cyrus went to the same place and long before his friends came, there was a much greater crowd of people standing there desiring audience with him. So Cyrus stationed a large circle of Persian lancers about him and gave orders that no one should be admitted except his friends and the officers of the Persians and the allies. [42] And when they had come together, Cyrus addressed them as follows: “Friends and allies, we cannot14 possibly find any fault with the gods that all that we wished for so far has not been fulfilled. However, if great success is to have such consequences that a man is not to be able to have some leisure for himself nor time to enjoy himself with his friends, I am ready to bid farewell to that sort of happiness. [43] For yesterday, too, you saw, of course, that although we began at dawn to give audience to those who came to see us, we did not get through before evening; and now you see that these others, who are here in greater numbers than came yesterday, will give us even more trouble. [44] If, therefore, one is to sacrifice oneself to such affairs, I reckon that you will have but a small part in my society or I in yours; while in myself I know that I shall certainly have no part at all. [45]

“I see also,” he went on, “still another absurd feature in all this: while my affection for you is, as you know, what it naturally ought to be, of these who stand about here I know few or none; and yet all these have made up their minds that if they can get ahead of you in crowding in, they will obtain what they wish from me before you can. Now what I expected all such to do, if any one wanted anything from me, was to get into favour with you as my friends and ask you for an introduction. [46]

“Perhaps some one may ask why I did not adopt this arrangement in the beginning instead of making myself accessible to all. It was, I answer, because I realized that the demands of war made it necessary for a commander not to be behind others in finding out what he ought to know nor in doing what it is expedient that he should do. And I thought generals who were seldom to be seen often neglected much that needed to be done. [47]

“But now that this most toilsome war is really over, it seems to me that I, too, am entitled to find some relaxation of spirit. So, while I am in doubt as to what I could do to harmonize our interests and those of the others for whom we must care, let any one who sees what is to the best advantage give me a word of counsel.” [48]

Thus Cyrus spoke. After him Artabazus arose15—the man who had once claimed to be his kinsman—and said: “I am very glad, Cyrus, that you have opened this discussion. For when you were still a lad, I was very anxious even from the first to be a friend of yours; but when I saw that I could be of no use to you, I shrank from approaching you. [49] But when you once happened to need even my16 services to publish among the Medes the concession obtained from Cyaxares, I reasoned that, if I gave you my earnest support in this, I then might be your intimate friend and talk with you as much as I pleased. Now that particular commission was executed in such a way as to call for your approval. [50]

“After that, the Hyrcanians were the first to become our friends, and at a time, too, when we were very hungry for allies, so that in our affection for them we all but carried them around in our arms. And after that, when the enemy's camp was taken, you did not have any time to concern yourself about me, I suppose, and I did not blame you. [51] Next, Gobryas became our friend, and I was glad; and then Gadatas; and then it was hard work to get any share of your attention. When, however, both the Sacians and the Cadusians had become our allies, you must needs show them proper attention, for they also were attentive to you. [52]

“When we came back to the place from which17 we had started, I saw you busy with horses and chariots and engines, but I thought that as soon as you had leisure from these distractions you would have some time to think of me. Still, when the terrible news came that the whole world was assembling against us, I realized that that was a matter of paramount importance; but if it should turn out successfully, then at last I thought I might be sure that the intercourse between me and you would be unstinted. [53]

“And now we have won the great battle and have Sardis and Croesus in subjection; we have taken Babylon and subjugated everything; and yet yesterday, by Mithras, if I had not fought my way through the crowd with my fists, I vow I could not have got near you. However, when you took me by the hand and bade me stay by you, I was the object of all envious eyes, for having spent a whole day with you—without a thing to eat or drink. [54] If, therefore, it can now be so arranged that we, who have proved ourselves most deserving, shall have the largest share of your company, well and good; if not, I am ready once again to make a proclamation in your name to the effect that all shall keep away from you, except us who have been your friends from the beginning.” [55]

At this Cyrus laughed as did many others.18 Then Chrysantas, the Persian, rose and spoke as follows: “Well, Cyrus, it was hitherto quite proper for you to make yourself approachable, for the reasons you have yourself assigned and also because we were not the ones whose favour you most needed to win; for we were with you for our own sakes. But it was imperative for you in every way to win the affections of the multitude, so that they might consent to toil and risk their lives with us as gladly as possible. [56] But now, seeing that you do not hold your power by this method alone but are in a position in still other ways to win the hearts of those whom it is of advantage for you to win, it is meet that you should now have a home. Else what enjoyment would you have of your power, if you alone were to have no hearth and home of your own? For there is no spot on earth more sacred, more sweet, or more dear than that. And finally,” he said, “do you not think that we also should be ashamed to see you living in discomfort, out of doors, while we ourselves lived in houses and seemed to be better off than you?” [57]

When Chrysantas had finished his speech,19 many supported him in the same tenor. After that, Cyrus moved into the royal palace, and those who had charge of the treasures brought from Sardis delivered them there. And after he took possession, Cyrus sacrificed first to Hestia, then to sovereign Zeus, and then to any other god that the magi suggested. [58]

This done, he began at once to organize the rest of his court. And as he considered his own situation, that he was undertaking to hold sway over many people, and preparing to dwell in the greatest of all famous cities, and that that city was as hostile to him as a city could be to any man—as he reflected on this, he decided that he needed a body-guard. [59]

And as he realized that men are nowhere an easier20 prey to violence than when at meals or at wine, in the bath, or in bed and asleep, he looked around to see who were the most faithful men that he could have around him at such times; and he held that no man was ever faithful who loved any one else better than the one who needed his protection. [60] Those, therefore, who had children or congenial wives or sweethearts, such he believed were by nature constrained to love them best. But as he observed that eunuchs were not susceptible to any such affections, he thought that they would esteem most highly those who were in the best position to make them rich and to stand by them, if ever they were wronged, and to place them in offices of honour; and no one, he thought, could surpass him in bestowing favours of that kind. [61] Besides, inasmuch as eunuchs are objects of contempt to the rest of mankind, for this reason, if for no other, they need a master who will be their patron; for there is no man who would not think that he had a right to take advantage of a eunuch at every opportunity unless there were some higher power to prevent his doing so; but there is no reason why even a eunuch should not be superior to all others in fidelity to his master. [62] But he did not admit what many might very easily be inclined to suppose, that eunuchs are weaklings; and he drew this conclusion also from the case of other animals: for instance, vicious horses, when gelded, stop biting and prancing about, to be sure, but are none the less fit for service in war; and bulls, when castrated, lose somewhat of their high spirit and unruliness but are not deprived of their strength or capacity for work. And in the same way dogs, when castrated, stop running away from their masters, but are no less useful for watching or hunting. [63] And men, too, in the same way, become gentler when deprived of this desire, but not less careful of that which is entrusted to them; they are not made any less efficient horsemen, or any less skilful lancers, or less ambitious men. [64] On the contrary, they showed both in times of war and in hunting that they still preserved in their souls a spirit of rivalry; and of their fidelity they gave the best proof upon the fall of their masters, for no one ever performed acts of greater fidelity in his master's misfortunes than eunuchs do. [65] And if it is thought with some justice that they are inferior in bodily strength, yet on the field of battle steel makes the weak equal to the strong. Recognizing these facts, he selected eunuchs for every post of personal service to him, from the door-keepers up. [66]

But, as he deemed this guard insufficient in21 view of the multitude of those who bore him ill-will, he looked around to see whom he could find among the rest who would be the most trustworthy guards about the palace. [67] Now he knew that the Persians on account of their poverty lived in the greatest privation at home and were accustomed to a life of the hardest toil, because their country was rugged and they had to work with their own hands; so he believed that they would especially welcome life with him. [68] Accordingly, he took from among them ten thousand spearmen, who kept guard about the palace day and night, whenever he was in residence; but whenever he went away anywhere, they went along drawn up in order on either side of him. [69]

And since he considered that all Babylon, too,22 stood in need of adequate protection, whether he himself happened to be at home or abroad, he stationed there also an adequate garrison, and he arranged that the Babylonians should furnish the money for their wages, for it was his aim that this people should be as destitute of resources as possible, so that they might be as submissive and as easily restrained as possible. [70]

This guard that he then established about himself and in the city of Babylon is maintained on the same footing even to this day. And as he studied how his whole empire might be held together and at the same time enlarged, he reflected that these mercenaries were not so much better men than those he had made subject as they were inferior in number; and he realized that the brave men, who with the aid of the gods had brought him victory, must be kept together and that care must be exercised that they should not abandon their practice of virtue. [71] But in order that he might not seem to be issuing orders to them, but that they also might of themselves recognize that this was the best course for them and so abide in virtue and cultivate it, he collected the peers and all who were men of influence, together with such as seemed to him most worthy sharers of his toil and its rewards; [72] and when they had come together he addressed them as follows:

“Friends and allies, thanks be above all to the gods23 that they have vouchsafed to us to obtain all that we thought we deserved. For now we are in possession of broad and fertile lands and of subjects to support us by tilling them; we have houses also and furniture in them. [73] And let not one of you think that in having these things he has what does not belong to him; for it is a law established for all time among all men that when a city is taken in war, the persons and the property of the inhabitants thereof belong to the captors. It will, therefore, be no injustice for you to keep what you have, but if you let them keep anything, it will be only out of generosity that you do not take it away. [74]

“As for the future, however, it is my judgment that if we turn to idleness and the luxurious self-indulgence of men of coarse natures, who count toil misery and living without toil happiness, we shall soon be of little account in our own eyes and shall soon lose all the blessings that we have. [75] For, to have quitted yourselves once like valiant men does not, we know, assure the perpetuity of valour, unless you devote yourselves to it to the end; but, just as skill in other arts retrogrades if neglected, and as bodies, too, that were once in good condition change and deteriorate as soon as the owners relax into idleness, so also self-control and temperance and strength will take a backward turn to vice as soon as one ceases to cultivate them. [76] Therefore, we dare not become careless nor give ourselves up to the enjoyment of the present moment; for, while I think it is a great thing to have won an empire, it is a still greater thing to preserve it after it has been won. For to win falls often to the lot of one who has shown nothing but daring; but to win and hold—that is no longer a possibility without the exercise of self-control, temperance, and unflagging care. [77]

“Recognizing all this, we ought to practise24 virtue even more than we did before we secured these advantages, for we may be sure that the more a man has, the more people will envy him and plot against him and become his enemies, particularly if, as in our case, he draws his wealth and service from unwilling hands.

“We must, therefore, believe that the gods will be on our side; for we have not come unjustly into our possessions through plotting against others, but plotted against we have avenged ourselves. [78] But that which is next in importance after the favour of the gods we must get for ourselves—namely, we must claim the right to rule over our subjects only on the ground that we are their betters. Now the conditions of heat and cold, food and drink, toil and rest, we must share even with our slaves. But though we share with them, we must above all try to show ourselves their betters in such matters; [79] but the science and practice of war we need not share at all with those whom we wish to put in the position of workmen or tributaries to us, but we must maintain our superiority in these accomplishments, as we recognize in these the means to liberty and happiness that the gods have given to men. And just as we have taken their arms away from them, so surely must we never be without our own, for we know that the nearer to their arms men constantly are, the more completely at their command is their every wish. [80]

“But if any one is revolving in his mind any25 such questions as this—‘of what earthly use it is to us to have attained to the goal of our ambitions if we still have to endure hunger and thirst, toil and care’—he must take this lesson to heart: that good things bring the greater pleasure, in proportion to the toil one undergoes beforehand to attain them; for toil gives a relish to good things; and nothing, however sumptuously prepared, could give pleasure unless a man get it when he needs it. [81]

“Now if God has helped us to obtain that which men most desire, and if any one will so order these results for himself that they shall give as great pleasure as possible, such a man will have this advantage over those who are not so well supplied with the means of living: when hungry he will enjoy the most dainty food, and when thirsty he will enjoy the finest drinks, and when in need of rest he will find it most refreshing. [82]

“Wherefore I maintain that we should now strain every nerve after manliness, so that we may enjoy our success in the best and most delightful manner and have no experience in that which is hardest of all. For failure to obtain good things is not so hard as the loss of them, when once obtained, is painful. [83]

“And think of this also: what excuse should we offer for allowing ourselves to become less deserving than before? That we are rulers? But, you know, it is not proper for the ruler to be worse than his subjects. Or that we seem to be more fortunate than before? Will any one then maintain that vice is the proper ornament for good fortune? Or shall we plead that since we have slaves, we will punish them, if they are bad? [84] Why, what propriety is there in any one's punishing others for viciousness or indolence, when he himself is bad?

“And think also on this: we have made arrangements26 to keep many men to guard our homes and our lives; and how would it be otherwise than base in us to think that we have a right to enjoy security protected by other men's spears, while we ourselves do not take up the spear for our own defence? And yet we must be fully aware that there is no such safeguard as for a man to be good and brave himself; this guard must be ever at our side. But if a man lack virtue, neither is it fitting that aught else be well with him. [85]

“What, then, do I propose that we should do, wherein practise virtue, and where apply the practice? I have nothing new to tell you, my men; but27 just as in Persia the peers spend their time at the government buildings, so here also we peers must practise the same things as we did there; you must be in your places and watch me to see if I continue to do what I ought, and I will watch to see the same in you, and whomsoever I see pursuing what is good and honourable, him will I honour. [86] And as for our boys, as many as shall be born to us, let us educate them here. For we ourselves shall be better, if we aim to set before the boys as good examples as we can in ourselves; and the boys could not easily turn out bad, even if they should wish to, if they neither see nor hear anything vicious but spend their days in good and noble pursuits.”

1 Cyrus surrounds Babylon

2 See Index, s.v. Babylon, note.

3 He retires from the wall

4 See Appendix I.

5 Cyrus plans for a siege

6 He proposes to divert the Euphrates

7 The river is turned

8 Cyrus issues instructions for entering the city

9 Babylon falls

10 Gobryas and Gadatas avenge their wrongs

11 The entire city yields to Cyrus

12 Cyrus holds court

13 His personal friends are crowded out

14 He discusses organization of his court

15 Artabazus reviews his own relations with Cyrus

16 IV. i. 21-24

17 His hopes too long deferred

18 Chrysantas proposes a royal home for Cyrus

19 Cyrus moves into the palace

20 He selects his bodyguard

21 The palace guard

22 The city guards

23 Cyrus advocates the old morals for his new empire

24 He emphasizes the Persians' need

25 The secret of happiness

26 Virtue the strongest safeguard

27 The Persian discipline in Babylon Xen. Cyrop. 1.2.4 ff.

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  • Cross-references to this page (4):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), SERVUS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), BA´BYLON
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter IV
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter VI
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