Foundation of Moldavia
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The foundation of Moldavia (in Romanian chronicles Descălecatul Moldovei) is linked by medieval chronicles to Dragoș, a Romanian nobleman from Maramureș (then in the Kingdom of Hungary, now in Romania and Ukraine). However, Dragoș took possession of the province in the name of the king of Hungary in the 1350s. Therefore, as an autonomous state – the second independent Romanian principality after Wallachia – Moldavia was established some years later by Bogdan I the Founder, another Romanian nobleman from Maramureș, who proclaimed himself independent of the kingdom.
But the existence of incipient states in the territory of the future Moldavia – that is in the region between the Eastern Carpathian Mountains, the lower branch of the Siret River, the Black Sea (Romanian: Marea Neagră), and the river Dniester (Romanian: Nistru) – is well documented by medieval sources even before the foundation of the principality. The process of political unification, however, was slower here than in Wallachia, because Moldavia was more exposed to the attacks and plunders of nomad peoples, such as the Pechenegs, the Cumans, and the Mongols.
After 1242, the territories between the Carpathians and the Dniester were under direct Mongol control. The formation of Moldavia took place within the external context created by the offensive of Poland and Hungary against the Golden Horde (the westernmost part of the Mongol Empire) from the 1340s. First a defensive border province was established in northern Moldavia by King Louis I which was ruled by Dragoș. Later, the local boyars rose up against Dragoș’s descendants, and the latter’s opponent, Bogdan I the Founder seized the throne. Afterward, none of the military campaigns undertaken by King Louis I could force Bogdan’s allegiance, and thus the independent Moldavia was created.
The initial centre of Moldavia was located in the Moldova River basin. The territories to the south of the central region fell under the jurisdiction of the voivodes or princes of Moldavia towards the end of the 14th century. The first silver and bronze coins were minted in the principality in 1377. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople acknowledged the Metropolitan See of Moldavia, after years of negotiations, in 1401.
- 1 Last centuries of the Early Middle Ages
- 2 Incipient states in Moldavia in medieval documents
- 3 Towards the establishment of a defensive border province
- 4 'Dismounting' by Dragoș
- 5 Bogdan I the Founder
- 6 After the foundation of the independent principality
- 7 See also
- 8 Footnotes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Last centuries of the Early Middle Ages
In the second half of the 8th century, by the imposition of the Khazar political domination upon numerous populations, a period of stability and peace was established within a vast territory between the rivers Volga and Dnieper. The local population of the Carpathian-Danubian area also fully profited from the pax Chazarica for almost two centuries. The local population in 10th to 12th-century Moldavia is known from excavations of sites attributed to the so-called Dridu and Răducăneni cultures. In Moldavia, to the west of the river Prut, field surveys identified 129 archaeological sites from the 9th and 10th centuries, and the number of sites (296) is substantially higher for the 10th and 11th centuries.
But in the steppes north of the Caspian Sea, the Khazar Khaganate had to confront the Pechenegs, a tribal confederation of Turkic origin, in the late 9th century. During the second half of the 10th century, the Pechenegs settled “through violence” between the Khazars’ territories and those of Byzantium. The Byzantine Emperor, Constantine Porphyrogenitus in his work De Administrando Imperio (‘On Governing the Empire’) specifies that around 950 the land controlled by the Pechenegs or Patzinakia stretched from the bank opposite Distra (now Silistra, Bulgaria) of the Danube to Sarkel (now in Russia) on the Don River. One of Patzinakia’s eight “provinces”, Charaboi was located between the rivers Southern Bug and Dniester, and another “province”, Chabouxingyla stretched across the upper courses of the rivers Siret, Prut, and Dniester.
The oldest written record referring to the Vlachs (early Romanians) living in the territory of the future Moldavia seems to be the inscription, dated to the 11th century, on a memorial rune stone from Sjonhem on the Gotland island (Sweden). It mentions the murder of the Varangian Rodfos by “the Blakumen during his voyage abroad”. Since the usual route of the Varangians from the Baltic coasts to Constantinople passed along the Moldavian littoral of the Black Sea, these Vlachs must have lived east of the Carpathians.
The oldest source to attest the presence of the Romanians east of the Carpathians is an episode in the Eymundar saga, preserved in the codex Flateyjarbók. The episode narrates that Burizleif, that is Grand Prince Sviatopolk I of Kiev (1015–1019), during his war preparations against his brother, retreated to Tyrkland where he planned to launch an attack on the Kievan Rus’ with an army made up of Tyrkir and Blökumenn, that is of Pechenegs and Vlachs respectively. According to the Russian chronicles, Grand Prince Sviatopolk I took refuge with the Pechenegs in the winter of 1018–1019.
In 1036 the Pechenegs were defeated by Grand Prince Yaroslav I of Kiev (1019–1054), and thenceforward, they were hindered not only by their clashes with the Turkic tribe of the Oghuz, but also by their own intertribal disagreements. The massive migration of the Pechenegs to the Balkan Peninsula started in 1046 when two Pecheneg groups crossed the Danube into the Byzantine Empire. Although some Pecheneg groups decided to stay in the steppes, they were obliged to enter other Turkic tribal unions, or to offer their services to the Rus’ princes.
Shortly after 1060, the Oghuz moved into the steppe north of the Danube and in 1064 they burst into the Byzantine Empire. Defeated by provincial troops and by the Pechenegs in Byzantine service, one part of the Oghuz submitted to the empire, but others returned to the region north of the Danube and sought refuge in the domains of the Rus’s princes.
Next another Turkic tribe, the Cumans approached the Danube Delta. According to a variant of the oldest Turkic chronicle, Oghuzname, inserted into the Turkish Genealogy by Abu’l-Ghazi Behadur Khan (1603–1663), the Cumans fought against the countries of the Rus’, the Romanians (Ulak), the Hungarians, and the Bashkirs. The Cumans had by 1070 controlled the entire steppe corridor north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, a region hence known as Dašt-i Qipčak (‘the steppe of the Cumans’) in the Muslim sources.
In 1159, a candidate to the throne of Halych, Ivan Rostislavich the Berladnik is reported to have looted two boats belonging to fishermen from Halych on the Danube which suggests that the influence of the Principality of Halych may have extended as far as southern Moldavia. A line from the poem The Lay of Igor’s Campaign also refers to Prince Yaroslav Osmomysl of Halych (1153–1187) saying that “Your law reigns up to the river Danube”. However, the fact that Ivan Rostislavich, during his disputes with the princes of Halych, twice fled to the lands by the Danube shows that the same region could not have been under the rule of those same princes from whom he was fleeing.
In 1164 Andronicus Comnenus, the cousin and political rival of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (1143–1180) escaped from prison and fled to Halych. However, when he reached the borders of Halych, he was captured by Romanians (Vlachs) who thus probably were located somewhere in present-day Moldavia. The fact that the Romanians acted in the emperor’s interest suggests that the Byzantine Empire had a strong political influence beyond its Danube frontier.
In 1211, the Teutonic Knights were settled by King Andrew II of Hungary (1205–1235) to defend the kingdom against the Cumans. The knights decided to expand “beyond the snowy mountains” (ultra montes nivium) and managed to impose their military control over territories outside the Carpathians. In a charter of 1222 confirming the knights’ privileges, King Andrew II described their new acquisitions as reaching the “borders of the Brodniks” (ad terminos prodnicorum) to the east. At that time the Brodniks, whose ethnicity is still unclear and a matter of debate, lived in southern Moldavia. In 1225 King Andrew II removed the Teutonic Knights from the territory by the force, because they had started to ignore the royal authority and recognized only that of the Holy See.
On May 31, 1223, the Cumans allied with Rus' princes suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Mongols in the Battle of the Kalka River (now in Ukraine). Afterwards several Cuman groups expected support from the Kingdom of Hungary in case of a new confrontation with the Mongols. According to the chronicle of Alberic of Trois-Fontaines, in 1227 the son of the Cuman khan, at the head of a small delegation, presented himself to Robert, the archbishop of Esztergom (Hungary), and requested baptism for him and his followers. As a consequence of the large-scale acts of conversion and of the consolidation of Hungary’s positions in the outer Carpathian region, the archbishop created the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cumania with jurisdiction over the entire territory stretching eastwards to the river Siret. According to a letter of Pope Gregory IX (1227–1241), dated November 14, 1234, the Romanians (Walati) living in the territory of the bishopric ignored the bishop’s prerogatives. The pope also relates that the Romanians had their own ‘pseudo-bishops’ and even attracted some Hungarians and Germans to their Orthodox rite.
The Mongol campaign to conquer the southern half of Eastern Europe started in 1236. The invasion caused a real exodus of the Cumans who tried to find refuge in various places, for example in the Crimea, in the Balkan Peninsula and in the Kingdom of Hungary. But the massacre of the Cumans and their exodus did not lead to total evacuation of Dašt-i Qipčak, and some Cuman groups were subdued by the Mongols, the new rulers of the Eurasian steppes.
The main target of the Mongol invasion of 1241–1242 was the Kingdom of Hungary. But en route a Mongol group led by a certain Bochetor crossed Moldavia and occupied the whole “country of the Cuman bishop”. Then his armies proceeded by the way of the Quara Ulagh (‘Black Vlachs’) who lived outside of the Carpathians.
The invasion of the Mongols in Eastern Europe checked for several decades the political offensive of the Kingdom of Hungary beyond the Carpathians. Moreover, the territories east of the mountains fell under Mongol overlordship, but until 1260, during the first twenty years of the formative period of the Golden Horde, their status was obscure.
Incipient states in Moldavia in medieval documents
The name of the Bolokhoveni (an ethnic group whose conflicts with prince Daniel of Galicia between 1231 and 1257 were recorded in the Hypatian Chronicle) may be connected to voloch, the East Slavic exonym of the Romanians. For instance, Alexandru V. Boldur identified the Bolokhoveni as Romanians inhabiting the regions along the middle course of the rivers Dniester and Dnieper. However, this identification has been challenged by Victor Spinei.
The first possible reference to a Romanian incipient state after the Mongol invasion was recorded by John of Plano Carpini who, on his way back from the Great Khan of the Mongols in 1247, met a duke named Olaha, who was on his way to the court of Batu Khan, the founder of the Golden Horde. The name of the duke is strikingly similar to the ethnic name for the Romanians in Hungarian (oláh), but his name may also be a distorted transcription of the Russian name Oleg. The Franciscan William of Rubruck reports that in 1253 he met messengers of the Romanians (Blaci, Blati) and other peoples who carried their gifts to Batu Khan.
According to Thomas Tuscus’ chronicle, the Romanians (Blaci) were at war with the Ruthenians in 1276–1277, and thus prevented the latter’s arrival in support of their ally, King Ottakar II of Bohemia (1253–1278). This information suggests that the Blaci formed a political entity somewhere in northern Moldavia and they had a military force strong enough to worry the Kingdom of Halych. Brief mention of Romanians of the sub-Carpathian areas is also made in two papal acts issued in 1279 and 1288 in connection with the papal attempts to reactivate Catholic missionary activities in Eastern Europe. The pope knew that bishops "suitable to that Romanian nation" were needed for the success of the Catholic action in Moldavia.
The richness of the stores of weapons and harness pieces, from the 13th–14th centuries, found at Vatra Moldoviței, Coșna and Cozănești suggests the existence of well-organized military bodies in the region. The correspondence of the popes from the 1330s also contain references to the “powerful men of those parts” (potentes illorum partium). However, before the middle of the 14th century there had been no fortified settlements to the east of the Carpathian Mountains, probably as a consequence of the Golden Horde’s power.
Towards the establishment of a defensive border province
After the Mongol invasion of 1241–1242, the population of the steppe regions between the rivers Prut and Dniester was still heterogeneous, because various peoples (such as Cumans, Alans, Mordvins), who had been integrated into the Mongol Empire’s political and military system, were settled there. In these territories, the circulation of Mongol and Byzantine coins was predominant during the first half of the 14th century.
On the other hand, during the same period, there was a large circulation of Hungarian and Central European coins in the northwestern parts of the territory between the Carpathians and the Dniester, because the road linking the city of Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine) to the Black Sea crossed this region, and it was also connected to the cities of Transylvania. These economic relations with Transylvania and Halych allowed some Saxon colonists (Romanian: Sași) to settle here. Their presence significantly contributed to the development of mining, craft, and trade in the territory. For example, a Saxon inhabitant of Baia, Alexandro Moldaowicz was mentioned in 1334 in a document signed at Lemberg. Although urban development was still incipient, but Baia, Siret and Suceava became developing economic centers. Place names and hydronyms of Hungarian origin, such as Bacău, Cuejd, prove that communities of Hungarians also moved to settle in the territory; the origin of the Csangos (Romanian: Ceangai) can probably be traced back to them. Hungarian placenames can even be found near the river Dniester where Orhei preserved the Hungarian term for the "place of a stronghold" (várhely), although the Hungarian colonists might have only arrived in the 15th century.
Between 1340 and 1355 a series of Polish and Hungarian campaigns relieved Mongol pressure on the frontier zone and this military offensive pushed the Mongols back onto the steppes. The first stage of these military achievements took place between 1340 and 1349 when King Casimir III of Poland (1333–1370) annexed Halych to his kingdom.
King Louis I of Hungary also started a wide scale policy of expansion in 1343, but the first confrontations with the Mongols and their allies were unfavorable to the royal troops. Afterward, the king appointed Andrew Lackfi, the voivode of Transylvania to carry out an expedition in the country of the Mongols at the head of an army of Székely (Romanian: Secui) and other peoples. In 1345 Andrew Lackfi and his troops launched an expedition across the Carpathians and defeated the Mongols. In lack of documentary evidence, it is disputed whether the Romanians of Maramureş took part in Lackfi's campaign, but it seems plausible to reckon with their participation. In 1346, Székely warriors crossed the mountains again and they also returned with large booty. Pope Clement VI (1342–1352) considered it an appropriate moment to restore the Catholic Church hierarchy east of the Carpathians, and therefore ordered the restoration of the former bishopric of Cumania, with its seat in Milcov, on January 29, 1347. The spread of Hungarian influence in the future Moldavia also contributed to an increasing Romanian presence in the territory, because the Romanian elements that would organize Moldavia migrated there from the Kingdom of Hungary, from the region of Maramureş.
'Dismounting' by Dragoș
The foundation of Moldavia, often referred to as descălecat (‘dismounting’) in the Romanian historiography, is explained by a legend narrated in various old Moldavian chronicles. The most detailed account can be found in the Moldo-Russian chronicle, written in the 16th century. According to the legend, one day Dragoș, one of the “Romans” to whom a certain “King Vladislav of Hungary” had granted landed property in Maramureș, left for a hunting. While Dragoș was following a bison or an aurochs, he crossed the Carpathians and reached as far as the Moldova River where he killed the beast. As he liked the pleasant places and the open fields he found there, he decided to choose them as his new homeland. Therefore, he went back to Maramureș only to return with all his people.
Legends of following magic wild beasts in hunts which lead the hunter to unknown places and various adventures are widespread. However, a hunt which result in the mythical foundation of a nation is a typical Central Asian myth, for example Dragoș’s hunting for the bison is similar to the legends of the Proto-Bulgarians or the Hungarian myth of Hunor and Magor involving the hunting for a white stag.
The descălecat by Dragoș is dated either to 1352 or to 1359 by the chronicles. However, based on the identification of "King Vladislav of Hungary" with King Ladislaus IV the Cuman (1270–1290), the historian Pavel Parasca argues that Dragoș arrived in Moldavia in his reign. All the same, first a defensive border province began to develop which gradually included the Romanian polities that had come out of the influence of the Kingdom of Halych and the Golden Horde. For example, such a polity was ruled by a certain Voivode Peter who defeated the armies of King Casimir III of Poland in 1359.
But Moldavia was still a border district of the Kingdom of Hungary, and Dragoș and his successors were appointed by King Louis I to rule that province. The king always spoke of Moldavia as his property; for example in a diploma of 1365, he mentioned the country four times as “our Moldavian land” (terra nostra Molduana).
In 6867 AM, two Christian brothers, Roman and Vlahata, fleeing from the persecution by heretics, left the castle of Venice and arrived at the place called Old Rome. There he built a castle and named it Roman after himself. He lived there up to the time when Pope Formosus converted from the Orthodox faith to the Latin Church.
Following the division of the laws of Christ, the Latins built a new castle for themselves and called it New Rome and invited those from Roman’s Castle to join the Latin Church. The latter, however, preferred to declare war to forsaking the Christian faith. Thenceforward a war was raging up to the time of the Hungarian king, Vladislav. He was the grandson of the brother of the Serbian Archbishop, Sava. He was baptized by the archbishop himself, and thus he was Christian in his heart, but Latin in his words and in his royal dignity.
In the time of King Vladislav, the Tatars led by their prince, Neymet advanced from the waters of the Prut and the Moldva against the Hungarians. They crossed the high mountains of Transylvania and Hungary and reached as far as the waters of the Mureș, where they stopped. King Vladislav, as soon as he got word of the invasion of the Tatars, sought the assistance of the emperor and the pope in Rome. He also sent envoys to the Old-Romans and the Romanians. Thereupon we, Romanians joined forces with the Old-Romans and came to Hungary to help King Vladislav.
But the New-Romans secretly sent a letter to King Vladislav and wrote the following message: “Vladislav, great king of the Hungarians, the Old-Romans have been at war with us because of their faith, because they did not want to convert to the new Latin faith, and they still live in Old Rome according to the Greek rite. But now they all came with us to help to you, and solely their wives and children had been left in Old Rome. We follow the same faith as you, and we are the friends of your friends and enemies of your enemies. Therefore you should appoint them to fight in the first lines against the Tatars, because in this way they all will probably perish. But even if they were saved from the Tatars by God, keep them in your country to hinder their return to Old Rome, and we will force their wives and children to our Latin faith.”
Before long, the decisive battle was fought between the Hungarian king, Vladislav and the Tatar prince, Neymet along the banks of the Tisa. It was the Old-Romans who started to fight preceding everybody else. They were followed by the masses of the Hungarians and the Romans in Latin faith. Thus the Tatars were defeated first by the Old-Romans, then by the Hungarians and the Romanians. There were not many Old-Romans who fell in the battle.
Vladislav, the Hungarian king rejoiced over the divine assistance. He highly appreciated and rewarded the Old-Romans for their courage. Soon he showed them the letter the New-Romans had written about their wives and children. He also urged them to join his army and not to return to Old Rome, because the New-Romans would harm them. Having seen the king’s letter, they did not believe it and asked the king to let them sent some men home in order to learn whether their wives and children still lived in Old Rome. The envoys left, but soon returned to report: “Our castle, Old Rome is in ruins, and our wives and children were induced by the New-Romans to adopt their faith.” Thereupon, they asked King Vladislav not to force them to adopt the Latin faith, but to let them keep their own Christian faith according to the Greek rite and to grant them a place to stay. King Vladislav received them with great joy and granted them lands in Maramureș between the Moreș and Tisa at a place called Crij. The Old-Romans gathered and settled there. They started to marry Hungarian women and to lead them into their own Christian religion. And up to this time, they have been living in such a way.
And among them, there was an intelligent and courageous man, Dragoș. One day, he left with his companions for a hunt and they came across the footprints of a bison. Following it, they crossed the snowy mountains and arrived at a wonderful and even place where they spotted the bison. They killed it under a willow and feasted on it.
Then God brought the idea to his mind that he should find a new homeland and settle there. They all agreed to settle there. Therefore they returned home and spoke of the country’s beauty and of its rivers and springs to the other people in order to convince them to move there. The latter also liked the idea and decided to leave for the place where their companions were staying and to search for a new homeland. It was surrounded by deserted lands and the Tatars roved in the borderlands with their cattle. Thereupon they asked Vladislav, the Hungarian king to let them leave, and King Vladislav graciously assented. They left Maramureș, together with all their companions and with their wives and children, in order to cross the high mountains. Many trees were cut down and many cliffs were pushed aside, but they crossed the mountains and arrived at the place where Dragoș had killed the bison. They liked it and dismounted there. They chose an intelligent man named Dragoș of their number and appointed him to be their lord and voivode, and thus the country of Moldavia was founded by the will of God.First Voivode Dragoș dismounted at a place by the banks of the Moldva. Later he founded Baia and other towns along the rivers and by the springs. He also had a princely seal prepared for the whole country with the head of a bison on it. He reigned for two years.—Moldo-Russian chronicle
Bogdan I the Founder
The fate of the border district of Moldavia was decided in Maramureș where a certain Voivode Bogdan rose against the Hungarian king already in the 1340s. King Louis I labelled him “notoriously unfaithful” in 1349 after Bogdan had confiscated the domains of another Romanian noble family in Maramureş.
Having failed in his attempt to get rid of the Hungarian hegemony, Bogdan left Maramureș with his supporters and crossed the mountains into Moldavia, where he started a rebellion against the king in 1359 or 1365. He was also welcomed by the local people who had been discontent with the Hungarian domination. He expelled the descendants of Dragoș, declared himself independent and did not accept Hungarian vassalage any more.
Although King Louis I sent a task force to punish Bogdan, but the Romanian voivode came off victorious. Therefore, Bogdan can rightly be regarded the first ruler of the independent principality of Moldavia. This is also corroborated by the fact that the Turkish name for Moldavia was Kara Boğdan (‘Black Bogdan’) which refers to him.
The geographical names Moldova, Moldava and Moldavia, which took their origin from the river Moldva, spread strongly both in the Latin and Slavic documents from 1360 onward. In Byzantine documents, the new country was called Maurovlakhia (Μαυροβλαχία), that is ‘Black Vlachia’, in 1386 and Rusovlakhia (Ρωσοβλαχία), that is ‘Vlachia near Russia’, in 1391; and finally it was called Moldovlakhia (Μολδοβλαχία), that is ‘Moldavian Vlachia’, in 1401.
After the foundation of the independent principality
In the 1360s, Moldavia still comprised a minuscule area between the rivers Prut and Siret.
At that time, a late Mongol state still continued to survive in the southern regions of Moldavia. This polity had been isolated from the central nucleus of the Golden Horde as a result of the great Lithuanian victory over the Mongols at Sinivody in 1362. In 1368, King Louis I exempted “the traders of Demetrius, prince of the Tatars” from paying customs duties in the Kingdom of Hungary, in exchange for a similar treatment for traders of Brașov “in the country of Lord Demetrius”. This remnant of the Mongol power disappeared during the next decade and was included in the “Wallachian country” constituted in the southern regions of Moldavia.
Bogdan’s successor, Laţcu (c. 1367–1375) maintained good relations with Poland and also established direct connection with the Holy See. As a result of these activities, and in exchange for his acceptance of the Catholic faith, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Siret was set up under the direct subordination of the pope. By bestowing the title “duke” on Lațcu, the pope also consolidated the international status of Moldavia.
Moldavia’s evolution towards an independent state was stopped, for a short time, by the establishment of Hungarian domination over Halych in the 1370s, which brought Moldavia again under Hungarian suzerainty. For example, Wladislaw of Oppeln, who had been appointed by King Louis as governor of Halych, gave shelter to a “Romanian voivode”, Giurgu who had sought refuge because of the “unexpected treason of his people”. According to a Russo-Lithuanian chronicle, the Romanians elected a Lithuanian prince, Iuriy Koriatovich as voivode, but later (before March 1375) poisoned him.
After the death of King Louis I in 1382, Moldavia reoriented itself towards Poland. Thus Peter I Muşat (1375–1395) interrupted the relations with Hungary in 1387 and formally inaugurated vassalage relations with Poland. Around this time the “Wallachian country” was still under the rule of a certain Voivode Costea (Constantin): in 1386 two Genoese envoys were accredited to the Moldavian princes Constantino et Petro.
Peter I Muşat became the defender of the Orthodox rite. Seeking to stabilize the ecclesiastical situation, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Halych consecrated two bishops for Moldavia, Joseph Muşat and Meletius. The first was a relative of the voivode, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople objected his consecration. Therefore the Metropolitan See of Moldavia was officially recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1401–1402, after a long canonical debate.
During the rule of Peter I Mușat Moldavia extended its territory to the Danube and the Black Sea. At the end of his rule or at the beginning of the rule of his follower, Roman I Mușat (c. 1391–1394), Moldavia achieved territorial unity by including the southern “Wallachian country”. Consequently, in a letter of grant, dated March 30, 1392, Roman I Mușat could call himself “by the grace of God the Almighty, great ruler of Moldavia’s lands from the mountains to the sea”.
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