The Burgundians (Latin: Burgundiones) were an East Germanic tribe which may have emigrated from mainland Scandinavia to the island of Bornholm, whose old form in Old Norse still was Burgundarholmr (the Island of the Burgundians), and from there to mainland Europe. In Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar, Veseti settled in an island or holm, which was called Borgund's holm, i.e. Bornholm. Alfred the Great's translation of Orosius uses the name Burgenda land. The poet and early mythologist Viktor Rydberg (1828–1895), (Our Fathers' Godsaga) asserted from an early medieval source, Vita Sigismundi, that the Burgundians themselves retained oral traditions about their Scandinavian origin.

The Burgundians' tradition of Scandinavian origin finds support in place-name evidence and archaeological evidence (Stjerna) and many consider their tradition to be correct (e.g. Musset, p. 62). Possibly because Scandinavia was beyond the horizon of the earliest Roman sources, including Tacitus (who only mentions one Scandinavian tribe, the Suiones), Roman sources do not mention where the Burgundians came from, and the first Roman references place them east of the Rhine (inter alia, Ammianus Marcellinus, XVIII, 2, 15). Early Roman sources considered them simply another East Germanic tribe.

About 300, the population of Bornholm (the island of the Burgundians) largely disappeared from the island. Most cemeteries ceased to be used, and those that were still used had few burials (Stjerna, in Nerman 1925:176).

In the year 369, the Emperor Valentinian I enlisted the aid of the Burgundians in his war against another Germanic tribe, the Alamanni (Ammianus, XXVIII, 5, 8-15). At this time, the Burgundians were possibly living in the Vistula basin, according to the mid-6th-century historian of the Goths, Jordanes. Sometime after their war against the Alamanni, the Burgundians were beaten in battle by Fastida, king of the Gepids and were overwhelmed and almost annihilated.

Approximately four decades later, the Burgundians appear again. Following Stilicho’s withdrawal of troops to fight Alaric I the Visigoth in AD 406-408, the northern tribes crossed the Rhine and entered the Empire in the Völkerwanderung, or Germanic migrations. Among them were the Alans, Vandals, the Suevi, and possibly the Burgundians. The Burgundians migrated westwards and settled in the Rhine Valley.

Somewhere in the east the Burgundians had converted to the Arian form of Christianity from their native Germanic polytheism. Their Arianism proved a source of suspicion and distrust between the Burgundians and the Catholic Western Roman Empire. Divisions were evidently healed or healing circa AD 500, however, as Gundobad, one of the last Burgundian kings, maintained a close personal friendship with Avitus, the bishop of Vienne. Moreover, Gundobad's son and successor, Sigismund, was himself a Catholic, and there is evidence that many of the Burgundian people had converted by this time as well, including several female members of the ruling family.

Initially, the Burgundians seem to have had a stormy relationship with the Romans. They were used by the Empire to fend off other tribes, but also raided the border regions and expanded their influence when possible.

Burgundian kingdoms

First Kingdom
In 411, the Burgundian king Gundahar or Gundicar set up a puppet emperor, Jovinus, in cooperation with Goar, king of the Alans. With the authority of the Gallic emperor that he controlled, Gundahar settled on the left (Roman) bank of the Rhine, between the river Lauter and the Nahe, seizing Worms, Speyer, and Straßburg. Apparently as part of a truce, the Emperor Honorius later officially "granted" them the land. (Prosper, a. 386)

Despite their new status as foederati, Burgundian raids into Roman Upper Gallia Belgica became intolerable and were ruthlessly brought to an end in 436, when the Roman general Aëtius called in Hun mercenaries who overwhelmed the Rhineland kingdom (with its capital at the old Celtic Roman settlement of Borbetomagus/Worms) in 437. Gundahar was killed in the fighting, reportedly along with the majority of the Burgundian tribe. (Prosper; Chronica Gallica 452; Hydatius; and Sidonius Apollinaris)

The destruction of Worms and the Burgundian kingdom by the Huns became the subject of heroic legends that were afterwards incorporated in the Nibelungenlied—on which Wagner based his Ring Cycle—where King Gunther (Gundahar) and Queen Brünhild hold their court at Worms, and Siegfried comes to woo Kriemhild. (In Old Norse sources the names are Gunnar, Brynhild, and Gudrún as normally rendered in English.) In fact, the Etzel of the Nibelungenlied is based on Attila the Hun.

Second Kingdom
The Second Burgundian Kingdom between 443 and 476

For reasons not cited in the sources, the Burgundians were granted foederati status a second time, and in 443 were resettled by Aëtius in the region of Sapaudia. (Chronica Gallica 452) Though the precise geography is uncertain, Sapaudia corresponds to the modern-day Savoy, and the Burgundians probably lived near Lugdunum, known today as Lyon. (Wood 1994, Gregory II, 9) A new king Gundioc (Latin: Candiaco[citation needed]), or Gunderic in German diallect, presumed to be Gundahar's son, appears to have reigned from his father's death. (Drew, p.1) Historien Pline tells that Gonderic reigned the areas of Saone, Dauphiny, Savoie and a part of Provence. He set up Vienne as the capital of the kingdom of Burgundy. In all, eight Burgundian kings of the house of Gundahar ruled until the kingdom was overrun by the Franks in 534.

As allies of Rome in its last decades, the Burgundians fought alongside Aëtius and a confederation of Visigoths and others in the battle against Attila at the Battle of Chalons (also called "The Battle of the Catalaunian Fields") in 451. The alliance between Burgundians and Visigoths seems to have been strong, as Gundioc and his brother Chilperic I accompanied Theodoric II to Spain to fight the Sueves in 455. (Jordanes, Getica, 231)

Aspirations to the Empire
Also in 455, an ambiguous reference infidoque tibi Burdundio ductu (Sidonius Apollinaris in Panegyr. Avit. 442.) implicates an unnamed treacherous Burgundian leader in the murder of the emperor Petronius Maximus in the chaos preceding the sack of Rome by the Vandals. The Patrician Ricimer is also blamed; this event marks the first indication of the link between the Burgundians and Ricimer, who was probably Gundioc's brother-in-law and Gundobad's uncle. (John Malalas, 374)

The Burgundians, apparently confident in their growing power, negotiated in 456 a territorial expansion and power sharing arrangement with the local Roman senators. (Marius of Avenches)

In 457, Ricimer overthrew another emperor, Avitus, raising Majorian to the throne. This new emperor proved unhelpful to Ricimer and the Burgundians. The year after his ascension, Majorian stripped the Burgundians of the lands they had acquired two years earlier. After showing further signs of independence, he was murdered by Ricimer in 461.

Ten years later, in 472, Ricimer–who was by now the son-in-law of the Western Emperor Anthemius–was plotting with Gundobad to kill his father-in-law; Gundobad beheaded the emperor (apparently personally). (Chronica Gallica 511; John of Antioch, fr. 209; Jordanes, Getica, 239) Ricimer then appointed Olybrius; both died, surprisingly of natural causes, within a few months. Gundobad seems then to have succeeded his uncle as Patrician and king-maker, and raised Glycerius to the throne. (Marius of Avenches; John of Antioch, fr. 209)

In 474, Burgundian influence over the empire seems to have ended. Glycerius was deposed in favor of Julius Nepos, and Gundobad returned to Burgundy, presumably at the death of his father Gundioc. At this time or shortly afterward, the Burgundian kingdom was divided between Gundobad and his brothers, Godigisel, Chilperic II, and Gundomar I. (Gregory, II, 28)

Consolidation of the Kingdom
According to Gregory of Tours, the years following Gundobad's return to Burgundy saw a bloody consolidation of power. Gregory states that Gundobad murdered his brother Chilperic, drowning his wife and exiling their daughters (one of whom was to become the wife of Clovis the Frank, and was reputedly responsible for his conversion).[1] This is contested by, e.g., Bury, who points out problems in much of Gregory's chronology for the events.

C.500, when Gundobad and Clovis were at war, Gundobad appears to have been betrayed by his brother Godegisel, who joined the Franks; together Godegisel's and Clovis' forces "crushed the army of Gundobad." (Marius a. 500; Gregory, II, 32) Gundobad was temporarily holed up in Avignon, but was able to re-muster his army and sacked Vienne, where Godegisel and many of his followers were put to death. From this point, Gundobad appears to have been the sole king of Burgundy. (e.g., Gregory, II, 33) This would imply that his brother Gundomar was already dead, though there are no specific mentions of the event in the sources.

Either Gundobad and Clovis reconciled their differences, or Gundobad was forced into some sort of vassalage by Clovis' earlier victory, as the Burgundian king appears to have assisted the Franks in 507 in their victory over Alaric II the Visigoth.

During the upheaval, sometime between 483-501, Gundobad began to set forth the Lex Gundobada (see below), issuing roughly the first half, which drew upon the Lex Visigothorum. (Drew, p. 1) Following his consolidation of power, between 501 and his death in 516, Gundobad issued the second half of his law, which was more originally Burgundian.

Fall of the Second Kingdom
The Burgundians were extending their power over southeastern Gaul; that is, northern Italy, western Switzerland, and southeastern France. In 493 Clovis, king of the Franks, married the Burgundian princess Clotilda (daughter of Chilperic), who converted him to the Catholic faith.

At first allies with Clovis' Franks against the Visigoths in the early 6th century, the Burgundians were eventually conquered by the Franks in 534 after a first attempt in the battle of Vézeronce. The Burgundian kingdom was made part of the Merovingian kingdoms, and the Burgundians themselves were by and large absorbed as well.

Burgundian laws
The Burgundians left three legal codes, among the earliest from any of the Germanic tribes.

The Liber Consitutionum sive Lex Gundobada (The Book of the Constitution following the Law of Gundobad), also known as the Lex Burgundionum, or more simply the Lex Gundobada or the Liber, was issued in several parts between 483 and 516, principally by Gundobad, but also by his son, Sigismund. (Drew, p. 6-7) It was a record of Burgundian customary law and is typical of the many Germanic law codes from this period. In particular, the Liber borrowed from the Lex Visigothorum (Drew, p. 6) and influenced the later Lex Ribuaria. (Rivers, p. 9) The Liber is one of the primary sources for contemporary Burgundian life, as well as the history of its kings.

Like many of the Germanic tribes, the Burgundians' legal traditions allowed the application of separate laws for separate ethnicities. Thus, in addition to the Lex Gundobada, Gundobad also issued (or codified) a set of laws for Roman subjects of the Burgundian kingdom, the Lex Romana Burgundionum (The Roman Law of the Burgundians).

In addition to the above codes, Gundobad's son Sigismund later published the Prima Constitutio.

Origin of Burgundy
The name of the Burgundians has since remained connected to the area of modern France that still bears their name: see the later history of Burgundy. Between the 6th and 20th centuries, however, the boundaries and political connections of this area have changed frequently; none of those changes have had anything to do with the original Burgundians. The name Burgundians used here and generally used by English writers to refer to the Burgundiones is a later formation and more precisely refers to the inhabitants of the territory of Burgundy which was named from the people called Burgundiones. The descendants of the Burgundians today are found primarily among the west Swiss and neighbouring regions of France.

The German Nibelungen and the corresponding Old Norse form Niflung (Niflungr) is the name in Germanic and Norse mythology of the royal family or lineage of the Burgundians who settled at Worms. The vast wealth of the Burgundians is often referred to as the Niblung or Niflung hoard. In some German texts Nibelung appears instead as one of the supposed original owners of that hoard, either the name of one of the kings of a people known as the Nibelungs, or in variant form Nybling, as the name of a dwarf. In Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, Nibelung is used to mean "dwarf".

The earliest probable surviving mention of the name is in the Latin poem Waltharius (lines 555–6) in which Walter, seeing Guntharius (Gunther) and his men approaching says (in the Chronicon Novaliciense text, usually taken to be the oldest):

"Non assunt Avares hic, sed Franci Nivilones,
cultures regionis."

The translation is: "These are not Avars, but Frankish Nivilons, inhabitants of the region." The other texts have nebulones 'worthless fellows' instead of nivilones, a reasonable replacement for an obscure proper name. In medieval Latin names, b and v often interchange, so Nivilones is a reasonable Latinization of Germanic Nibilungos. This is the only text to connect the Nibelungs with Franks. Since Burgundy was conquered by the Franks in 534 Burgundians could loosely be considered Franks of a kind and confused with them. The name Nibelunc became a Frankish personal name in the 8th and 9th centuries, at least among the descendants of Childebrand I ( who died in 752). (See Dronke, p. 37). Yet, in this poem, the center of Gunther's supposedly Frankish kingdom is the city of Worms on the Rhine.

In the eddic poem (see Poetic Edda) Atlakvida, the word Niflungar is applied three times to the treasure (arfr) or hoard (hodd) of Gunnar (the Norse counterpart of German Gunther). It is also applied once to Gunnar's warriors and once to Gunnar himself. It elsewhere appears unambiguously as the name of the lineage to which the brothers Gunnar and Högni (Hǫgni) belong and seems mostly interchangeable with Gjúkingar, meaning descendants of Gjúki, Gjúki being Gunnar's father.

The variant form Hniflungr also occurs, as the name of Högni's son in the eddic poem Atlamál and as a term for the children born by Gunnar's sister Gudrún (Guðrún) to Atli (Attila the Hun). It appears to be a general term for "warrior" in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I. Hniflungar might be of separate origin, meaning descendants of Hnef, referring to the Hnæf son of Hoc who is prominent in the Old English Finnesburg Fragment. However h was early dropped initially before other consonants in Norwegian dialects which might lead to the adding of h to names in other dialects where it did not originally belong.

In the Lex Burgundionum, issued by the Burgundian king Gundobad (c. 480–516), it is decreed that those who were free under the kings Gibica, Gundomar, Gislaharius, and Gundaharius will remain free. But as will be seen below, legendary tradition often makes Gibiche or Gjúki (that is Gibica) the father of Gunther/Gunnar and names Giselher (the same name as Gislaharius) as one of Gunther/Gunnar's brothers. In Norse tradition another brother is named Gutthom (Gutþormr) which looks like a slight garbling of Gundomar. German tradition provides instead a third brother named Gernot, which may be a substitution of a more familiar name for an unfamiliar one. In the Nibelungenlied, all three brothers are called kings. If these legends preserve authentic tradition, then historically Gibica of the Burgundian Laws might have been the father of the three kings Gundomar, Gislaharius, and Gundaharius who shared the kingdom among them, presumably with Gundaharius as the high king (the sharing of the throne between brothers was a common tradition among the Germanic tribes, see Germanic king). But if so, the order of the names here is puzzling. One would expect Gundaharius to be named immediately after Gibica.

In the Lex Burgundionum, issued by the Burgundian king Gundobad (c. 480–516), it is decreed that those who were free under the kings Gibica, Gundomar, Gislaharius, and Gundaharius will remain free. But as will be seen below, legendary tradition often makes Gibiche or Gjúki (that is Gibica) the father of Gunther/Gunnar and names Giselher (the same name as Gislaharius) as one of Gunther/Gunnar's brothers. In Norse tradition another brother is named Gutthom (Gutþormr) which looks like a slight garbling of Gundomar. German tradition provides instead a third brother named Gernot, which may be a substitution of a more familiar name for an unfamiliar one. In the Nibelungenlied, all three brothers are called kings. If these legends preserve authentic tradition, then historically Gibica of the Burgundian Laws might have been the father of the three kings Gundomar, Gislaharius, and Gundaharius who shared the kingdom among them, presumably with Gundaharius as the high king (the sharing of the throne between brothers was a common tradition among the Germanic tribes, see Germanic king). But if so, the order of the names here is puzzling. One would expect Gundaharius to be named immediately after Gibica.

The Skáldskaparmál names the founder of the Niflung lineage as Nefi, one of the second set of nine sons of Halfdan the Old who founded many famous legendary lineages. The Ættartolur (genealogies attached to the Hversu Noregr byggdist) call this son of Halfdan by the name Næfil (Næfill) and relate that King Næfil was father of Heimar, father of Eynef (Eynefr), father of Rakni, father of Gjúki.

The form Gjúki is etymologically equatable to Gebicca of the Lex Burgundionum. According to the Skáldskaparmál and the Ættartolur, Gjúki was father of two sons named Gunnar (Gunnarr) and Högni (Hǫgni) and of two daughters named Gudrún (Guðrún) and Gullrönd. Their mother was named Grímhild (Grímhildr). Gudný is mentioned in no other extant texts. A younger brother named Gutthorm (Gutþormr) take on the role of Sigurd's slayer, after being egged on by Gunnar and Högni in the eddic poems Brot af Sigurðarkviðu (stanza 4), in Sigurðarkviða hin skamma (stanzas 20–23), and in the Völsunga saga (as well as being mentioned in the eddic poems Grípisspá and Guðrúnarkviða II). According to the eddic poem Hyndluljóð, stanza 27:

Gunnar and Högni, the heirs of Gjúki,
And Gudrún as well, who their sister was;
But Gotthorm was not of Gjúki's race,
Although the brother of both he was:
And all are thy kinsmen, Óttar, thou fool!

If Gotthorm or Gutthorm, the slayer of Sigurd in northern tradition, is brother of Gunnar and Högni, but is not a son of Gjúki, he must be a maternal half-brother, just as Hagen, the slayer of Siegfried in the German tradition, is a maternal half-brother in the Thidreks saga.

Gudrún bore to Sigurd a son named Sigmund according to the Völsunga saga, presumably the same as the unnamed son mentioned in stanza 5 of Sigurdarkvida hin skamma. But nothing more is said of him. More often mentioned is Gudrún's daughter named Svanhild (Svanhildr) who became the wife of Jörmunrek (Jǫrmunrekr). By her third husband Jónakr, Gudrún is mother of Hamdir (Hamðir) and Sörli (Sǫrli). In the eddic poems Guðrúnarhvöt and Hamðismál, Erp (Erpr), a third son of Jónakr, was born by a different mother. But in the Skáldskaparmál and the Völsunga saga Erp is also a son of Gudrún.

In the Atlakviða (stanza 12), a son of Högni says farewell to his father as Gunnar and Högni depart to visit Atli. The Atlamál (stanza 28) brings in two sons of Högni by his wife Kostbera, named Snævar (Snævarr) and Sólar (Sólarr). They accompany their father and uncle on their fateful journey to Atli's court where they also meet their deaths. These sons are also mentioned in the prose introduction to the eddic poem Dráp Niflunga along with a third son Gjúki. The Atlamál later introduces another son of Högni (or possibly Gjúki son of Högni under another name) who, along with Gudrún, kills Atli. In the Völsunga saga this son is named Niflung (Niflungr). He may be a reflex of the posthumous son of Högni who is called Aldrian in the Thidreks saga. The Danish Hven Chronicle also tells the story of Högni's posthumous son begotten as Högni is dying, of the switching of children so that Högni is brought up as son of Atli and "Gremhild", and of how this son lures Gremhild to the cave of treasure and seals her in.

Although Nibelungs refers to the royal family of the Burgundians in the second half of the Nibelunglenlied (as well as in many other texts), in the first half Nibelungenlant is instead a kingdom on the borders of Norway of which Siegfried becomes the ruler.

In Adventure 3 Hagen tells how Siegfried came by chance upon the two sons of the king of the Nibelungs who had just died. Their names were Schilbung and Nibelung and they were attempting to divide their father's hoard, the hoard of the Nibelungs. They asked Siegfried to make the division for him. For a reason not explained, Siegfried was unable to make the division despite much effort. Fighting broke out and Siegfried slew Schilbung, Nibelung, twelve giants, and seven hundred warriors, at which point those still alive, not unreasonably, surrendered and took Siegfried as their king. In this way Siegfried gained the Nibelung treasure, though he still had to fight the dwarf Alberich whom he defeated and made guardian of the hoard. We are to presume that when the treasure passed to the Burgundian kings after Siegfried's death, the name Nibelung went with it. It is a common folklore motif that the protagonist comes upon two or three persons or creatures quarreling about a division of treasure or magical objects among themselves, that they ask the protagonist to make the division for them, and that in the end it is the protagonist who ends up as owner of the treasure. Schilbung and Niblung are otherwise unknown. It may be coincidence that in the Ættartolur, Skelfir ancestor of the Skilfings and Næfil ancestor of the Niflungs (Nibelungs) are brothers, though there they are two of nine brothers.

In a later poem Das Lied vom Hürnen Seyfried ('The Song of Horny-skinned Siegfried'), known only from 16th century printed versions, the original owner of the hoard is a dwarf named Nybling. Siegfried happened to find it one day and bore it away. At Worms Siegfried met King Gybich, his three sons Gunther, Hagen, and Gyrnot, and his daughter Kriemhild. When Kriemhild was abducted by a dragon, Siegfried rescued her and was given her hand in marriage.

This variant usage of Niblung may arise from the identification of the hoard of the Burgundians, or at least most of it, with the hoard of treasure won by Siegfried. The German versions of the tale make much of Kriemhild's right to the "Nibelungen" treasure through her previous marriage to Siegfried. Some seemingly took Nibelung to apply primarily to Siegfried's treasure, in which case it must mean something else than the Burgundian royal family, and so another explanation was contrived.

The alternate theory is that the connection with the treasure was indeed primary, and that nibel-, nifl-, meaning 'mist, cloud', referred originally to a dwarfish origin for the hoard, though this was later forgotten and the application of the name to the Burgundian royal family arose from misunderstanding. In the first half of the Nibelungenlied, Siegfried's last fight to win the treasure is against the dwarf Alberich. In Das Lied vom Hürnen Seyfried the treasure belonged to the dwarf Nybling. Though the kings of the Nibelungs named Schilbung and Nibelung in the first half of the Nibelungenlied are humans as far as is told, it would not be impossible that in earlier tradition they were explicitly dwarfs like Alberich. The people of the Nibelungs also have giants in their service, perhaps an indication of their earlier supernatural stature. In the Norse tales the hoard originates from a dwarf named Andvari, thence passes to Odin, and then to Hreidmar (Hreiðmarr), and then to Hreidmar's son Fáfnir who changes into dragon form, and from him to Sigurd (Siegfried).

Niflheim ("Mist-home") is a mythical region of cold and mist and darkness in the north. Niflhel is a term for part of all of Hel, the land of the dead. As dwarfs are subterranean creatures in these tales, who live in darkness, Niflung would seem a reasonable name for these beings, an old name forgotten in the north and only preserved in the garblings of some German accounts of the origin of the Niblung hoard. In "Silver Fir Cones", one of the tales found in Otmar's Volkssagen (Traditions of the Harz) (Bremen, 1800), the king of the dwarfs is named Gübich.

It cannot be proved which meaning was primary, that of dwarf or Burgundian prince. Scholars today mostly believe that the Burgundian connection is the more original one. In the 19th century, the dwarf theory was popular and was adopted by Richard Wagner for his operatic Ring cycle which was very freely adapted from the tales surrounding Siegfried and the Burgundians. In Wagner's operas Nibelungs refers to the race of dwarfs.

The relatively obscure grammatical status of Nibelung as a weak noun frequently confuses native speakers of English, especially in the context of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Although the German plural of Nibelung is Nibelungen, not every occurrence of Nibelungen as a word or as a prefix is plural. In the Wagner title, the "-en" suffix does not change the number of the noun, but rather reflects the genitive case, expressing the possession or ownership of the ring by one Nibelung (namely Alberich). Misunderstanding that point invites

1. misremembering the English title, by mis-reconstructing the translation: If Nibelungen in the German title were plural, it would justify the (perhaps intentionally) erroneous title of Anna Russell's classic monologue "The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis)";
2. misremembering the German title: If Nibelungen were plural, the genitive plural article der would immediately precede Nibelungen (rather than the genitive singular des); Google results suggest that about 10% of pages using the German title make this error.
3. potentially, misremembering Nibelungen as singular in English (although English never inflects nouns according to case), whether or not German would inflect it in the corresponding construction.
4. Adding to the confusion is the tendency to read the German masculine singular genitive article "des" as if it were the French plural "des" < "de les" "of the [plural]".

[edit] Variant spellings

Variant anglicizations are: Brân the Blessed: Bran the Blessed, Bendigeidvrân, Bendigeidvran ; Dankrat: Dancrat ; Dankwart: Dancwart ; Efnisien: Evnisien ; Fáfnir: Fafnir ; Gjúki: Gjuki, Giuki ; Grímhild: Grimhild ; Gübich: Gubich ; Gudrún: Gudrun, Guthrun, Guthrún, Gudhrun ; Gudný: Gudny, Guthny, Gudhny Hamdir: Hamthir, Hamdhir; Hnæf: Hnaef ; Högni: Hogni ; Jónakr: Jonakr, Ionakr ; Jörmenrek: Jormenrek; Iormenrek; Iormenrekk ; Snævar: Snaevar ; Sólar: Solar ; Sörli: Sorli.

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