Roman finance

The practices of Ancient Roman finance, while originally rooted in Greek models, evolved in the second century BCE with the expansion of Roman monetization. Roman elites engaged in private lending for various purposes, and various banking models arose to serve different lending needs.[1]

Private finance

Pooling capital

Before banks were established in Rome there was little ability to mobilize large amounts of capital, leaving Romans to operate within the constraints of the wealth of their household. When household wealth was exhausted, the elites in Roman society would often extend loans amongst themselves.[2] The value of these loans to the lender was not always derived from interest payments, but rather from the social obligations that were an implication of being a lender.[3][4] The formation of societas allowed for the utilization of pooled capital. Societas were groups who could pool their resources to place a bid for a government contract and then share in the resulting profit or loss.[2][5] The publicani (public contractors) were an early incarnation of societas who would bid for the right to collect taxes from the Roman provinces. Senators were not allowed to engage in trade, so it fell to the knights (equites) to bid on these contracts issued by the censors every five years.[6] Banks were established in Rome that modeled their Greek counterparts and introduced formalized financial intermediation. Livy is the first to acknowledge the rise of formal Roman banks in 310 BCE.[7] Ancient Roman banks operated under private law, which did not have clear guidance on how to decide cases concerning financial matters, which forced Roman banks to operate entirely on their word and character. Bankers congregated around the arch of Janus to conduct their business and despite their informal location, were clearly professional in their dealings.[8][9]

Private loans

Up until the dawn of the empire, it was common for loans to be negotiated as oral contracts. In the early empire, lenders and borrowers began to adopt the usage of a chirographum (“handwritten record”) to record these contracts and use them for evidence of the agreed terms.[10] One copy of the contract was presented on the exterior of the chirographum, while a second copy was kept sealed within two waxed tablets of the document in the presence of a witness.[10][11] Informal methods of maintaining records of loans made and received existed, as well as formal incarnations adopted by frequent lenders. These serial lenders used a kalendarium to document the loans that they issued to assist in tabulating interest accrued at the beginning of each month (Kalends).[12] Parties to contracts were supposed to be Roman citizens, but there is evidence of this boundary being broken.[12] Loans to citizens were also originated from public or governmental positions. For example, the Temple of Apollo is believed to have engaged in secured loans with citizens’ homes being used as collateral.[13] Loans were more rarely extended to citizens from the government, as in the case of Tiberius who allowed for three-year, interest-free loans to be issued to senators in order to avert a looming credit crisis.[14]

Deferred payment

There is sufficient evidence of deferred payments and financing arrangements to be negotiated for large purchases. Deferred payments were used in the auction of wine or oil that was “on the tree” (not yet harvested or produced), requiring payment from the winning bidder long after the auction had ended. Roman peasants who needed money to pay their taxes would use an inverted form of this process by selling the right to a portion of their harvest in the future in exchange for cash in the present.[15] The Sulpicii arose as professional bankers in the first century AD, and among other forms of financial intermediation, they offered financing for speculators in grain markets.[2][5]

Public finance

For centuries the monetary affairs of the Roman Republic had rested in the hands of the Senate. These elite liked to present themselves as steady and fiscally conservative, but as the 19th-century historian of Rome Wilhelm Ihne remarked:

Though individually the Romans were exceedingly economical and careful in the management of their private property, the state as such was extravagant and careless with the state revenue. It was found impossible to protect the public property from being plundered by private individuals, and the feeling of powerlessness resulted in reckless indifference. It was felt that revenues which could not be preserved intact and devoted to the common good were of no value to the state and might as well be abandoned.[16]

The aerarium (state treasury) was supervised by members of the government rising in power and prestige, the Quaestors, Praetors, and eventually the Prefects. With the dawn of the Roman Empire, a major change took place, as the emperors assumed the reins of financial control. Augustus adopted a system that was, on the surface, fair to the Senate. Just as the world was divided in provinces designated as imperial or senatorial, so was the treasury. All tribute brought in from senatorially controlled provinces was given to the aerarium, while that of the imperial territories went to the treasury of the emperor, the fiscus.

Initially, this process of distribution seemed to work, although the legal technicality did not disguise the supremacy of the emperor or his often used right to transfer funds back and forth regularly from the aerarium to the fiscus. The fiscus actually took shape after the reign of Augustus and Tiberius. It began as a private fund (fiscus meaning purse or basket) but grew to include all imperial monies, not only the private estates but also all public lands and finances under the imperial eye.

The property of the rulers grew to such an extent that changes had to be made starting sometime in the 3rd century, most certainly under Septimius Severus. Henceforth the imperial treasury was divided. The fiscus was retained to handle actual government revenue, while a patrimonium was created to hold the private fortune, the inheritance of the royal house. There is a considerable question as to the exact nature of this evaluation, involving possibly a res privata so common in the Late Empire.

Just as the Senate had its own finance officers, so did the emperors. The head of the fiscus in the first years was the rationalis, originally a freedman due to Augustus' desire to place the office in the hands of a servant free of the class demands of the traditional society. In succeeding years the corruption and reputation of the freedman forced new and more reliable administrators. From the time of Hadrian (117-138), any rationalis hailed from the Equestrian Order (equites) and remained so through the chaos of the 3rd century and into the age of Diocletian.

With Diocletian came a series of massive reforms, and total control over the finances of the Empire fell to the now stronger central government. Tax reforms made possible a real budget in the modern sense for the first time. Previously it had issued the tax demands to the cities and allowed them to allocate the burden. From now on the imperial government driven by fiscal needs dictated the entire process down to the civic level. Under Constantine this aggrandizement continued with the emergence of an appointed minister of finance, the comes sacrarum largitionum (count of the sacred largesses). He maintained the general treasury and the intake of all revenue until Constantine divided the treasury into three giving the prefect, count and the manager of the res privata their own treasuries. The treasury of the prefect was called the 'arca.' His powers were directed toward control of the new sacrum aerarium, the result of the combination of the aerarium and the fiscus.

The comes sacrarum largitionum was a figure of tremendous influence. He was responsible for all money taxes, examined banks, ran the mints and mines everywhere, weaving mills and dye works, paid the salaries and expenses of many departments of the state, the upkeep of imperial palaces and other public buildings, supplied the Courts with clothing and other items. To accomplish these many tasks, he was aided by a large central staff, a regional field force and small staffs in larger cities and towns. Just below the comes sacrarum were the rationales, comptrollers, positioned in each diocese. They supervised the collection of all tribute, taxes, or fees. They were everywhere and omnipotent until Constantine demoted them after his reorganization of the palatine level ministries' competencies in the years 325-326 by restricting their activity to supervision of the collection of ta\xs collected in gold and silver performed by the governors under the general supervision of the vicars. The rationales lost the last of their provincial field force of procurators between 330-337.

Only the praetorian prefects were more powerful. His office, as vice-regent to the emperors, took precedence over all other civilian officials and military officers. They were chief finance officers of the empire. They composed the global budget and set the tax rates across the board. Before Constantine's reforms they were directly responsible for the supply of the army, the Annona militaris which was a separate tax form the time of Diocletian in place of arbitrary requsititions. The Annona civilis, the general in kind taxes were turned over to the prefects alone. To their care was entrusted the supply of food stuffs to the capitals, the imperial armament factories, the maintenance of the state post. The magister officiorum who was a kind of Minister of the Interior and State Security and the comes rerum privatarum could counter the political the comes sacrarum largitionum. The magister officiorum (master of offices) made all the major decisions concerning intelligence matters was not a fiscal officer and could not interfere with the operation of the sacrae largitiones and the res privata. The comes sacrarum largitionum gradually lost power to the prefects as more and more in kind taxes of his department were converted to gold. By the 5th century their diocesan level staff were no longer of much importance, although they continued in their duties. However the heads of the office continued to have power into the 430s in part because appellate jurisdiction in fiscal cases had been returned to them in 385.

The imperial estates and holdings were huge. They res privata was directly under the management of the RP. The patromonium', or imperial inheritance were lands leased to indivivuals. Both were under the jurisdiction of the comes rerum privatarum. In the West the rents and tax income was shared with the sacrae largitionum but not in the East. In the East the palace administration took over gradually post-450 and the RP was finally dissolved by Justinian's successors.

See also


  1. ^ Walter Scheidel (8 November 2012). "13: Money and Finance". The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 266–282. ISBN 978-1-107-49556-2.
  2. ^ a b c Holleran, Claire (2008-01-01). Jones, D. (ed.). "Roman Finance". The Classical Review. 58 (2): 538–539. doi:10.1017/s0009840x08001054. JSTOR 20482578.
  3. ^ Temin, Peter (2013). The Roman Market Economy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-691-14768-0.
  4. ^ Scheidel, Walter (2012-11-08). The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy. Cambridge University Press. p. 279. ISBN 9781107495562.
  5. ^ a b Scheidel, Walter (2012-11-08). The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy. Cambridge University Press. p. 281. ISBN 9781107495562.
  6. ^ Wilhelm Ihne (1882). The History of Rome. Longmans, Green, and Company. pp. 158–159.
  7. ^ Temin 2013, p. 177
  8. ^ Temin 2013, p. 176
  9. ^ Scheidel, Walter (2012). Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 280. ISBN 978-0-521-89822-5.
  10. ^ a b Temin 2013, p. 168
  11. ^ Scheidel, Walter (2012-11-08). The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 277–278. ISBN 9781107495562.
  12. ^ a b Temin 2013, p. 169
  13. ^ Temin 2013, p. 178
  14. ^ Temin 2013, p. 175
  15. ^ Temin 2013, p. 171
  16. ^ Wilhelm Ihne, The History of Rome (London, 1884), vol. 4, p. 156, full text online.

Further reading

  • Jean Andreau: Banking and Business in the Roman World, translated by Janet Lloyd (Cambridge University Press, 1999). Limited preview online.
A rationibus

The a rationibus was the secretary of finance in the Roman Empire and in charge of the imperial treasury, the fiscus. His responsibilities involved monitoring the state's revenues and expenditures and maintaining the accounts of the fiscus, giving the a rationibus considerable influence.The role of the a rationibus was originally created by Augustus, who needed accurate and comprehensive accounts of the state's finances in order to exercise budgetary control, and was thus given to members of his household, probably freedmen. This role was then institutionalized in the position of the a rationibus, who was paid a salary by the aerarium and given an office in the Palatine bureaus, under Tiberius. Roman patrician families such as the Junii Silani may also have designated their accountants as "a rationibus", although this custom fell out of practice when the imperial office of the a rationibus became institutionalized and had vanished at the latest under Nero's reign. Within his role as accountant, the careful bookkeeping of military expenditures, the costs of the public distribution of grain, religious constructions and infrastructure projects, but also the embellishment of the imperial palace, and project public revenues, e.g. from the Empire's various mines, were among the a rationibus' most important tasks. Moreover, the a rationibus was also responsible for the behavior of the magistrates of the fiscus and public complaints were addressed to his office. The praepositus a rationibus was helped by his chief subordinate, the proximus a rationibus, and strongly relied on the continuous confidence of the emperor, as evidenced by the consequences of Tiberius Iul. Aug. lib.'s dismissal. Sometimes, the offices of the a rationibus and ab epistulis, the secretary in charge of the imperial correspondence, were joined, e.g. in the case of Tiberius Claudius Vibianus Tertullus.The office of a rationibus was initially held by freedmen such as Pallas, Phaon, and the father of Claudius Etruscus. However, from the 2nd century AD on (i.e., around the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian), the position was occupied only by Equestrians (Equites) after the reputation of freedmen had been blackened due to their undue influence at the imperial court and several corruption affairs. The office of the a rationibus was abolished through Diocletian's tetrarchic reforms, which put the management of the imperial finances during the 4th and 5th century AD under the purview of the comes sacrarum largitionum (master of the sacred largess).


In ancient Roman law, ambitus was a crime of political corruption, mainly a candidate's attempt to influence the outcome of an election through bribery or other forms of soft power. The Latin word ambitus is the origin of the English word "ambition," which is another of its original meanings; ambitus was the process of "going around and commending oneself or one's protégés to the people," an activity liable to unethical excesses. In practice, bringing a charge of ambitus against a public figure became a favored tactic for undermining a political opponent.

The Lex Baebia was the first law criminalizing electoral bribery, instituted by M. Baebius Tamphilus during his consulship in 181 BC. The passage of Rome's first sumptuary law the previous year suggests that the two forms of legislation are related; both were aimed at curbing wealth-based inequities of power and status within the governing classes. The temptation to indulge in bribery indicates that the traditional patron-client relationship was insufficient to gather enough votes to win election.The word ambitus for electoral corruption is a general term for the crime; defendants would have been charged under a specific statute (lex). The 2nd-century BC Greek historian Polybius, a major source on the workings of the Roman constitution, makes the extravagant assertion that while Carthaginians acquire public office by openly offering gifts, the penalty at Rome for doing so is death. The point is perhaps that ambitus could be construed as treason under some circumstances.The rhetorical tactics of Cicero's speeches demonstrate how an initial charge of ambitus, under whatever statute, might devolve into an occasion for impugning or humiliating a public figure. Popularist politicians were particularly vulnerable to charges of currying favor with the masses, and ambitus might be alleged when a man of lower social rank defeated his superior in an election: "The defeat of a candidate boasting nobilitas by another not in possession of such standing appears to have been sufficient grounds for initiating a charge of ambitus."During the Imperial era, the ambitious politician yielded of necessity to the bureaucrat in the holding of Roman magistracies. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus (1st–2nd centuries AD) recoiled from the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics and ambitus:

Bribery of a person already holding office was covered by laws de repetundae; provincial governors were particularly susceptible to such charges.

As (Roman coin)

The as (plural assēs), occasionally assarius (plural assarii, rendered into Greek as ἀσσάριον, assarion) was a bronze, and later copper, coin used during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire.


"Comes" ( KOH-meez), plural "comites" ( KOM-i-teez), is the Latin word for "companion", either individually or as a member of a collective denominated a "comitatus", especially the suite of a magnate, being in some instances sufficiently large and/or formal to justify specific denomination, e. g. a "cohors amicorum". "Comes" derives from "com-" ("with") and "ire" ("go").

Comes sacrarum largitionum

The comes sacrarum largitionum ("Count of the Sacred Largesses"; in Greek: κόμης τῶν θείων θησαυρῶν, kómes tōn theíon thesaurōn) was one of the senior fiscal officials of the late Roman Empire and the early Byzantine Empire.

Although it is first attested in 342/345, its creation must date to ca. 318, under Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306–337). The comes was the successor of the Principate-era rationalis, and supervised those financial sectors that were left outside the purview of the praetorian prefects: the taxation of senators, the chrysargyron tax, customs duties, mines, mints and state-run mills and textile factories. Initially, the comes also controlled the emperor's private domains, but these passed under the control of the comes rerum privatarum by the end of the 4th century. He also exercised some judicial functions related to taxation in his administrative courts in particular in matters of fiscal debt.

The office of the comes gradually declined in importance after the late 5th century, especially after Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491–518) abolished the hated chrysargyron. He remained however one of the main fiscal ministers, controlling an array of bureaux (scrinia) and with an extensive staff detached to the provinces. The last comes known is mentioned under the Emperor Phocas (r. 602–610). He was succeeded by the sakellarios and the logothetes tou genikou, who remained the chief fiscal ministers in the middle Byzantine period (7th–11th centuries).


Of Ancient Roman containers, a congiarium, or congiary (Latin, from congius), was a vessel containing one congius, a measure of volume equal to six sextarii.In the early times of the Roman Republic, the congius was the usual measure of oil or wine which was, on certain occasions, distributed among the people; and thus congiarium became a name for liberal donations to the people, in general, whether consisting of oil, wine, grain, or money, or other things, while donations made to the soldiers were called donativa, though they were sometimes also termed congiaria.Congiarium was, moreover, occasionally used simply to designate a present or a pension given by a person of high rank, or a prince, to his friends; and Fabius Maximus called the presents which Augustus made to his friends, on account of their smallness, heminaria, instead of congiaria, because hemina was only the twelfth part of a congius.Tiberius gave a congiarium of 72½ denarii (300 sesterces) to each citizen. Caligula gave the same amount of three hundred sesterces on two occasions. Nero, whose congiaria were the earliest known examples represented on medals, gave four hundred.Despite Trajan's financial success, his practice of giving extravagant congiaria to the people of Rome received severe condemnation. His first congiarium, in 99, was probably no larger than that of Nerva (75 denarii per person), but his second and third distributions of money, after each Dacian War, amounted to 650 denarii per person.Hadrian treated the Roman people in the same way as Trajan, and of him Fronto said:

I consider it good policy that the prince did not neglect the theatre or the circus and arena, as he well knew that there are two things which the Roman applaud especially—the distribution of grain, and games. The neglect of the important thing [grains] causes great harm, of the frivolous thing [entertainment] greater hatred—the crowd hungering more for games than for bread, because by the gift to the people [congiarium] only those who are authorized to receive the grain will be gratified, while by the games the whole population is pacified.


Fiscus, from which comes the English term fiscal, was the name of the personal chest of the emperors of Rome.

The word is literally translated as "basket" or "purse" and was used to describe those forms of revenue collected from the provinces (specifically the imperial provinces), which were then granted to the emperor. Its existence pointed to the division of power in the early era of the Empire between the imperial court and the Senate.

Oregon, Ohio

Oregon is a city in Lucas County, Ohio, United States. It is an industrial suburb of Toledo, located on Lake Erie, just east of the city. The population was 20,291 at the 2010 census.

Outline of ancient Rome

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to ancient Rome:

Ancient Rome – former civilization that thrived on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world.

Outline of classical studies

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to classical studies:

Classical studies (Classics for short) – earliest branch of the humanities, which covers the languages, literature, history, art, and other cultural aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world. The field focuses primarily on, but is not limited to, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during classical antiquity, the era spanning from the late Bronze Age of Ancient Greece during the Minoan and Mycenaean periods (c. 1600-1100 BCE) through the period known as Late Antiquity to the fall of the Western Roman Empire, c. 500 CE. The word classics is also used to refer to the literature of the period.


A rationalis was a high-ranking fiscal officer in the Roman Empire. Until replaced by the comes sacrarum largitionum by Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century, the rationalis summarum – comparable to a modern-day finance minister – was one of two state officials who had authority over the imperial treasury, the other one being the rationalis rei privatae (manager of imperial estates and city properties). Examples for tasks that were performed by a rationalis are "the collection of all normal taxes and duties, the control of currency and the administration of mines and mints".Each province also had various classes of rationales, and Emperor Diocletian's administrative reforms had mirrored the dual structure on the diocesis–level, instituting the local positions rationalis summarum and magister rei privatae above the procuratores. The former continued to exist after the reforms, one example are the comes et rationalis summarum Aegypti. In the 6th century, the post was increasingly rendered into its Greek equivalent, logothetes, which later was given to the senior fiscal secretaries of the middle Byzantine Empire (7th–12th centuries).

Roman commerce

The commerce of the Roman Empire was a major sector of the Roman economy during the early Republic and throughout most of the imperial period. Fashions and trends in historiography and in popular culture have tended to neglect the economic basis of the empire in favor of the lingua franca of Latin and the exploits of the Roman legions. The language and the legions were supported by trade while being at the same time part of its backbone. Romans were businessmen and the longevity of their empire was due to their commercial trade.

Whereas in theory members of the Roman Senate and their sons were restricted when engaging in trade, the members of the Equestrian order were involved in businesses, despite their upper class values that laid the emphasis on military pursuits and leisure activities. Plebeians and freedmen held shop or manned stalls at markets, while vast quantities of slaves did most of the hard work. The slaves were themselves also the subject of commercial transactions. Probably due to their high proportion in society (compared to that in Classical Greece), and the reality of runaways; as well as, the Servile Wars and minor uprisings, they gave a distinct flavor to Roman commerce.

The intricate, complex, and extensive accounting of Roman trade was conducted with counting boards and the Roman abacus. The abacus, using Roman numerals, was ideally suited to the counting of Roman currency and tallying of Roman measures.

Roman economy

During the Roman Republic, the Roman economy was largely agrarian, centered on the trading of commodities such as grain and wine. Financial markets were established through such trade, and financial institutions which extended credit for personal use and public infrastructure, were established primarily through inter-family wealth. In times of agricultural and cash shortfall, Roman officials and moneyers tended to respond by coining money; this happened during the prolonged crisis of the First Punic War, and created economic distortion and difficulties. Beginning in the early Roman Empire, the economy became monetized to a near-universal extent, in the sense of using money to express prices and debts, and a basic banking system was formed. Emperors issued coinage stamped with their portraits to disseminate propaganda, to create public goodwill, and to symbolise their wealth and power.

The Roman Imperial economy was often unstable, inflated in part by Emperors who issued money to fund high-profile imperial projects such as public building works, or costly wars that offered opportunities for propaganda, but little or no material gain.

There was no central bank to monitor the money supply and control economic conditions, and nearly no regulation of the banking system. The setup of the banking system under the Empire allowed the exchange of extremely large sums without the physical transfer of coins, which led to fiat money. With no central bank, a professional deposit banker (argentarius, coactor argentarius, or later nummularius) received and held deposits for a fixed or indefinite term, and lent money to third parties. Generally, available capital exceeded the amount needed by borrowers, so loans were made and credit was extended on risky terms. The senatorial elite were involved heavily in private lending, both as creditors and borrowers, making loans from their personal fortunes on the basis of social connections. Banks of classical antiquity typically kept less in reserves than the full total of customers' deposits, as they had no incentive to ensure that customers' deposits would be insured in the event of a bank run. It was common consensus among Romans at the time, especially due to Seneca's ideologies, that anyone involved in commerce should have access to credit. This tendency toward fiat money caused the money supply to fluctuate consistently.Emperors of the Antonine and Severan dynasties overall debased the currency, particularly the denarius, under the pressures of meeting military payrolls. Sudden inflation during the reign of Commodus damaged the credit market. In the mid-200s, the supply of specie contracted sharply. Conditions during the Crisis of the Third Century—such as reductions in long-distance trade, disruption of mining operations, and the physical transfer of gold coinage outside the empire by invading enemies—greatly diminished the money supply and the banking sector by the year 300. Although Roman coinage had long been fiat money or fiduciary currency, general economic anxieties came to a head under Aurelian, and bankers lost confidence in coins legitimately issued by the central government. Despite Diocletian's introduction of the gold solidus and monetary reforms, the credit market of the Empire never recovered its former robustness.


Sabinus was a common name among ancient Romans - see Sabinus (cognomen)

It can also refer to:

Sabines, a tribe in Latium predating the Roman RepublicAncient Romans

Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis, founder of the Claudian family

Titus Flavius Sabinus (disambiguation), several people

Quintus Titurius Sabinus (died 54 BC), legate under Julius Caesar

Gaius Calvisius Sabinus (consul 39 BC), Roman consul in 39 BC

Gaius Poppaeus Sabinus, consul in AD 9

Sabinus (Ovid) (died AD 14 or 15), Roman poet, known friend of Ovid

Gaius Calvisius Sabinus (consul AD 26)

Masurius Sabinus, Roman jurist who lived during the reign of Tiberius (Tiberius reigned 14-37 AD)

Calvisius Sabinus (mentioned by Seneca), a contemporary of Seneca, alive around 30 AD

Julius Sabinus, Romanised Gaul who rebelled against Rome, living around AD 69

Cornelius Sabinus, military tribune who conspired against Caligula

Gaius Valarius Sabinus, Roman finance minister around AD 271

Sabinus of Seville, 3rd-century bishop of Seville, Spain

Sabinus (4th century), 4th-century historianSaints

Sabinus of Spoleto (d. 304), Roman martyr

Sabinus of Hermopolis, Christian martyr of Egypt

Sabinus of Canosa (461-566), bishop of Canosa in Italy

Sabinus of Piacenza (333-420), bishop of Piacenza in ItalyOther uses

Angelus Sabinus (15th century), Italian Renaissance poet and classical philologist

Georg Sabinus (1508–1560), first rector of University of Königsberg

Sabinus (opera), a 1773 opera by Gossec

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