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Useful Notes: Alexander the Great
"There is nothing impossible to him who will try." - Alexander the Great

"Alexander the Great was the king of Macedon during the 4th century B.C. who saw the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Asia and decided they would make a really bitchin' backyard."
Cracked on Alexander.

Born in 356 B.C., Full name Alexander III of Macedon, he was the son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias of Epirus. One of those extremely rare historical figures whose actual achievements have regularly outshined numerous fictional portrayals.

Alexander was taught by Aristotle until he was about 16. He came to power after the assassination of his father by the captain of his bodyguard. He promptly put down a series of rebellions around the Balkans and marched his army into Persia.

Alexander made his way through the Persian Empire, clashing with Persia's forces and mercenaries. Along the way, he seized Egypt away from Persia and was declared pharaoh. After Alexander's forces defeated the enormously numerically superior Persian armies and forced King Darius III to flee the battle, Darius was assassinated by a general who fled with him and Alexander seized control of the empire.

Later, Alexander's forces marched into Bactria and India, where Alexander was forced to stop his expansion under the threat of revolt from his army, who were beginning to wonder if he truly would march to the very end of the world, circumstances permitting.

Alexander married a Bactrian woman named Roxana, who later bore him a son after his death. Alexander died on 323 BC after a period of sickness in Babylon. It's unclear exactly what killed him. Some historians have suggested that he died of alcohol poisoning after a drinking contest with some of his soldiers, others suggest that he was poisoned, and still others believe that he may have caught some form of disease, specifically untreated typhoid fever. His empire collapsed shortly afterwards, with his generals dividing up Persia, Egypt, and Macedonia amongst themselves.

Alexander never lost a battle, one of the few military leaders of whom this can be said. He was also very interested in philosophy, culture, and the arts, and his conquests led to Greek culture getting spread to the east. In a 2009 poll conducted on Greek television, Alexander the Great was voted the greatest Greek of all time.

Relevant Tropes:

  • Achilles in His Tent: His reaction to the Hyphasis mutiny, where his Macedonian troops objected to any further advancement to the east and expressed their desire to return home and enjoy what they had already achieved. Alexander literally retired to his tent for three days, angry and sulking, before seeing omens that convinced him to relent. Appropriate, too, since Alexander was a strong devotee of Homer and the Iliad and believed himself a descendant of Achilles, whose path he sought to follow.
  • Actually That's My Assistant: According to Arrianus, this happened to Alexander the Great, as he met with Darius's mother Sisygambis, who began to address Alexander's companion Hephaestion as Alexander. One of her subordinates corrected her. It seems they were Expecting Someone Taller. (Don't feel too bad, though; he too is Alexander.)
  • A God Am I: Believed he was a descendant of Zeus and acted as such. More precisely, he thought to have descended from both Herakles (another God) through his father (as was the traditional belief of the Argead dynasty) and Achilles through his mother. If it's true, he certainly made his heroic ancestors proud.
    • Some sources also state that Alexander was told by his mother Olympias that he was actually a son of Zeus, who'd made Olympias just one of his many, many conquests. At one point, when Alexander was wounded, he was astonished to see blood flowing from the wound instead of ichor. Ichor, rather than blood, was what supposedly flowed through the veins of the gods.
    • On a more down-to-earth level, he also co-opted a great deal of divine imagery from Greece and many of the other nations he conquered. He issued coins with his face on them - before him, what we now know as the "heads" of a coin used to feature the patron deity of the city they came from - depicted himself with a divine appearance (from the eternally young appearance of Greek gods, to the horns sported by Egyptian and Persian deities), and insisted that all greet him with proskynesis (only done towards gods in Greece, but a typical royal custom in Persia).
  • The Alcoholic: As time went on, Alexander drank more and more, and it made all his psychological problems that much worse.
  • Anything That Moves: As mentioned below, women, men, young boys, and eunuchs.
    • Believe it or not, there is only one ancient source saying that Alexander had sexual relationships with males. While Aelian hints that that Hephaestion was a "beloved" of Alexander (although "beloved" did not have sexual meaning in Greece), Quintus Curtius explicitly describes the eunuch Bagoas as Alexander's eromenos. Mary Renault's research can be trusted here.
      • And yet, averted. Despite anything that moved being up for grabs, most sources say he was very 'moderate' in his sex life, and rarely indulged his desires. Famously he refused to have sex with slaves and captives. Possibly averted with Bagoas, who had previously been the slave and (male) concubine of the conquered Darius.
      • Or he just thought that war was Better Than Sex.
    • This is actually an Averted trope, as Alexander was reputedly, more often than not, self-disciplined enough to abstain from sex, except for his marriages. He fits more into the Celibate Hero archetype, with few exceptions.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: And he was definitely a "real man".
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: He supposedly said that his realm would go to "the strongest". That wasn't decided until the fledgling Roman Empire and Parthians showed everyone who the "strongest" was.
    • Although he may have actually said "To Craterus," one of his top generals. The ancient Greek word meaning "strongest" was "kraterôi," which sounds rather similar. There's evidence to suggest that some of his more power-hungry generals may have intentionally "misheard" Alexander, allowing the empire to be split into four parts and ruled by said generals.
      • Other reports indicate that Alexander on his deathbed was too far gone to have said anything. There are too many contradictory accounts to be sure.
      • Other accounts hold that Alexander, while unable to speak on his deathbed, handed his signet ring to another of his generals, Perdiccas. While this could be seen as nominating Perdiccas as a successor, Perdiccas preferred to wait and see if Alexander's pregnant wife Roxana would give birth to a male heir. Which she did, but that did nothing to stop the infighting.
  • Badass Family: His father, Philip II of Macedon, was definitely a Bad Ass in his own right. If Philip hadn't been assassinated, then maybe it would had been "Philip the Great" instead.
    • Well, think of him as Philip the Pretty Good.
    • His mother, Olympias, was no slouch in her own right, having significant influence in the royal Macedonian court, and even cutting down a Greek rebellion after Alexander's death. She was ambitious enough that some ancient historians claimed she said she was impregnated by Zeus, and that he was the true father of Alexander.
  • Badass: Oh my...
  • Badass Army: Macedon may have had the best army in the world at the time.
  • Barbarian Hero: Imagine if Conan was taught by Aristotle...
    • Barbarian Longhair: His shoulder-length mane is compared to a lion's by most modern scholars.
  • Blood Knight: He never showed any signs of wanting to stop adding more and more territories to his massive kingdom - his disgruntled soldiers did that for him!
  • Byronic Hero: A great conqueror, strategist, and king... with a (possibly fatal) drinking problem, violent streak, and God complex.
  • Cool Horse: Bucephalus, who effectively would accept him alone as rider. Alexander named one of the cities he founded after the horse.
  • Cure Your Gays: Phillip II worried that his teenaged son was too effeminate, and would not be able to produce an heir, so he dealt with it in a refreshingly straight-forward manner: by sending a string of high class courtesans to his bed chamber.
  • Cutting the Knot: The Trope Namer. Although, as pointed out on the trope's page, in some versions of this story Alexander untied the Gordian Knot without cutting it.
  • Dare to Be Badass: According to Plutarch, after Alexander had tamed Bucephalus, the impressed Philip told him: "My son, ask for thyself another kingdom, for that which I leave is too small for thee."
  • Determinator: The island of Tyre refuses to kneel before him, and Alexander doesn't have a fleet to invade with. The answer? Cutting down a forest to turn the island into a Peninsula!
    • Where seemingly everyone from Ancient Persia to the Soviet Union have generally failed, history may well record him as the only leader to ever conquer all of Afghanistan, "graveyard of empires", by the only method that seems to work: hunting down and subjugating every last rebel tribal leader in the whole country.
    • And then he left because he was tired of Afghanistan and never really wanted it in the first place, it was just in the way.
      • Also noteworthy that the only other possible contenders for the title? Genghis Khan, The British Empire at the peak of its' power and NATO. The fact that he probably built a more lasting settlement than any of them ultimately achieved should tell you something, though to be fair Genghis wasn't particularly interested in "settling" it.
  • Egopolis: There were how many Alexandrias now? Even more than you might think, because many use other languages' translations of his name. Kandahar, Afghanistan is one example.
    • To be precise, he founded between a dozen and eighteen cities during his expeditions in Asia, of which the majority were named Alexandria. After his death, his successors created even more cities called that, claiming that Alexander had founded them, too.
    • And many other cities were named after things that were either beloved by Alexander or associated with the king himself. For instance, the Greek-city of Thessaloniki was named after Alexander's younger sister, Thessalonike. And as mentioned above, the town of Bucephala was founded and named after his beloved horse Bucephalus. And he also founded one named after his dog, Peritas.
  • Folk Hero: He became this for centuries. The more cynical would argue that this just proves Humans Are Bastards. A more charitable view is that Humans Are Warriors who admire a Badass and Alexander was at least that. He's also a Bogeyman for parts of the Middle East.
  • Glory Seeker: To name just one example, he literally ordered the Athenians, back in Greece, to declare him a god by official decree.
  • Handicapped Badass: Possibly - it's often claimed that he had epilepsy, but the actual evidence of this is doubtful. It has also been theorized — based on descriptions of him — that he had problems with his eyes.
  • Heroic BSOD: In 324BC, Hephaestion was struck with prolonged fever. When it seemed he had finally recovered and was out of danger, Alexander left to watch the festival games. His companion relapsed suddenly and Alexander was unable to return in time before he died. The loss of his lifelong friend plunged the young king into profound mourning that lasted until his own death, eight months later.
    ''"He flung himself on the body of his friend and lay there nearly all day long in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he was dragged away by force by his Companions"" — Arrian
    • Toyed with in the film. In the Hindu Kush battle, Alexander is pierced with an arrow as is Bucephalus with a spear. After falling to the ground, he reopens his eyes and all the scenery is cast in shades of fuschia and red. Would this be an Heroic RSOD?
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: What a lot of people like to think he and Hephaestion were. Whether this was true, or that they were lovers is up for debate, but the latter is very likely.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: See the trope for specifics.
  • History Marches On: Perhaps the Trope Codifier, as historians change their minds about him more often than the seasons.
  • Honor Before Reason: At the battle of Gaugamela he refused to make a night attack because it was undignified. Though as Arrian pointed out (it's 3(10)), attacking in daylight might have actually been both more honorable and a more practical solution.
    • Alexander also liked to be right on the front lines, which resulted him taking an arrow to the chest in India.
  • I Fight for the Strongest Side: Several Persian commanders, such as Mazaeus and Atropates, decided to switch sides and join Alexander in the months following his victory in the battle of Gaugamela. Some of these Persians eventually became satraps in Alexander's new empire. Similarly, Indian king Porus became Alexander's ally after Alexander defeated him in the battle of the Hydaspes River.
  • Idiot Ball: His arrogance could cause him to carry it at times. Prime example when he choose to cross Gedrosia instead of picking an easier route leading troops home, causing the deaths of more soldiers than any of his battles ever did thanks to dehydration, starvation, disease, and flash flood.
    • Some historians believe that this was intentional, out of anger at his troops questioning his desire to advance further into India. Even after being convinced to return home, this interpretation suggests that his infamous temper led him to punish his men for questioning him by taking the hardest possible route.
  • Idiot Hair: Unlike any previous statues from Ancient Greece, Alexander's royal portraits depicted him with long, messy locks and a quiff. This quiff would go on to be replicated in Greek and Roman statuary for several centuries.
  • Invincible Hero: At least until he died.
  • Kill It with Fire: Did this to Persepolis.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Alexander had a very notably strong, square jaw.
  • Life Will Kill You: Conquered half of the known world, never lost a battle, survived dozens of them while being in the front line... and killed by a fever.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Alexander had a wilder streak than Phillip. But, yeah.
  • Magnetic Hero: His men either worshiped him or were in love with him. Not uncommon with successful commanders before the twentieth century; because of poor communications, to actually command it was necessary for generals to get close enough to the fighting to be in as much danger as the men(even if they had less hardship between battles). Alexander, though actually went into the fighting, wielding hand weapons enthusiastically.
  • Memetic Badass: In the ancient world he was considered so badass that when the Greeks declared he could have defeated Rome easily the Roman reply could be summarized as "not that easily, and we would need to get lucky once and kill him while he would have to win all the times". Yes, the Ancient Romans, Trope Codifiers of Badass Army and conqueror of all the separate empires of his successors, plainly admitted they could only make him pay for his victories, and that they would have won the war only by getting lucky and killing him while he defeated them again.
  • Noble Savage: Though some would only agree with one half of the description or the other.
  • Only The Chosen May Ride: Bucephalus was a stallion of excellent breeding, being sold for a rather exorbitant price despite being considered largely untamable. A young Alexander was able to tame and ride him, but no one else ever could.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: He came from Macedonia, a part of Greece that was considered wild and uncivilised and filled with boorish barely-Greeks by the city-slickers in the south. The Macedonians prized feasting, hunting, and fighting, to the extent that the greatest honour for a Macedonian was to hunt lions alongside the king, and considered it a necessary rite of passage for a man to kill a boar with only a spear. And Alexander was their king.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Alexander's Indian campaign resulted in the conquest of only a small part of India, at the price of great losses and leaving the surviving soldiers so exhausted that they refused to advance any further. And as soon as Alexander's main army moved west, Indians started to revolt against Macedonians, who were forced to retreat from some part of India (including the Indus River Delta) even before Alexander's death.
  • Risking The King: Nearly got himself killed at the battle of Granicus.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: He was the King of Macedonia, and would-be Emperor of Persia, and came more and more to lean on this trope. That, along with his various violations of traditional custom (see What a Drag, among other things) were some of the a major reasons why he became so unpopular in the Greek city-states that had allied with Macedonia. The Greeks considered Alexander merely to be the "first among equals" and were increasingly leery of his pretensions to tyranny.
  • Short-Lived Big Impact: The man died at just 32, having spent almost half his life conquering everything in sight. His fragmented Empire existed for a further 300 years, and the Roman Empire would draw heavily from his example in art and in the Imperial cult. To say nothing of the impact he's had on the modern era.
  • Straight for the Commander: This was a frequent strategy. He would hold his personal forces and bodyguards in reserve until an opening appeared wherein he could go straight in and kill the enemy general. He used this quite effectively against the Persians, scaring Emperor Darius III into fleeing the field.
  • Succession Crisis: The events of over 40 years following Alexander's death. Only after the death of King Seleucus I in 281 BC the relatively long-lasting division of the Alexander's empire between Antigonids ruling in Macedonia, Seleucids ruling in Asia and Ptolemies ruling in Egypt crystalized.
  • Take Over the World: After finishing the conquest of Persia he wanted to conquer India as well. At the time of his death he was planning the conquest of Arabian Peninsula, Carthage and Western Europe, including The Roman Republic.
    • Was apparently planning the conquest. All of this comes from one document after he died that was released by someone of suspect honesty to begin with.
    • Although this is the man who took Afghanistan for no real reason after all, he didn't even really want it.
    • A good example of his plans is here: "If it were not my purpose to combine barbarian things with things Hellenic, to traverse and civilize every continent, to search out the uttermost parts of land and sea, to push the bounds of Macedonia to the farthest Ocean, and to disseminate and shower the blessings of the Hellenic justice and peace over every nation, I should not be content to sit quietly in the luxury of idle power, but I should emulate the frugality of Diogenes." As quoted in "On the Fortune of Alexander" by Plutarch, 332 a-b.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Reading about him certainly starts to feel that way.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: When he found the man that had killed Darius, Bessus, he tied the man's limbs to four trees his men were bending over, and then let the trees rip Bessus apart.
  • Tragic Bromance: Alexander and Hephaestion: see Heroic BSOD for context.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: As he got older, more paranoid, more alcoholic, and more and more convinced that he was a demigod with an ego to match, he killed off many of the figures responsible for some of his successes, like Parmenio, his former literal-left-hand-man, whose holding of the line at Gaugamela was one of the key factors in his victory, or Cleitus the Black, an old soldier to whom Alexander owed his life.
    • Mary Renault explains (citing her sources, as always) that Alex had discovered a plot against his life. Parmenion's son Philotas, a trusted general, was warned about the plot several times and didn't report it, as he didn't take it seriously. Philotas was executed for treason, and the killing of Parmenion was more than likely to avoid a blood feud.
  • Values Dissonance: Starting a war for no clear reason other than to show what a Badass you are, is not generally considered gentlemanly behavior today.
    • It was frowned upon back in ancient times as well, so it's fortunate for Alexander that he was not, in fact, fighting to prove his badassitude. The stated purpose of the invasion of Persia was to avenge the Persian invasion of Greece - the destruction of Greek temples in particular - over a hundred years earlier. Not that this is any better to a modern audience.
    • His unstated reason for conquest (that wasn't pure propaganda given to the Greek city-states) was that his treasury was almost empty, and he needed booty to make sure that his troops got their due (keeping them loyal) and his father's enormous debts were paid. This actually became a point of contention as he was preparing for invasion, both training his troops and racing against the clock to make sure the Macedonian empire didn't go bankrupt.
    • He as much as said several times that he was motivated to a large degree by desire to prove himself a Badass and a considerable number of his actions are hard to interpret by any other motive.
    • Also, everything else aside; the Persian and Greco-Macedonian Empires were already at war as the result of his father Philip's initial operations in Asia Minor. Badass or not, empty treasury or not he effectively inherited the major war of his life and would've had to fight just to make peace.
  • Victory Is Boring: Allegedly, "When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer."
    • That would be a Beam Me Up, Scotty! moment on the part of John Milton (and Hans Gruber) right there. The actual quote, from Plutarch, has Alexander weeping because "There are so many worlds and I have not yet conquered even one." Which is kinda the exact opposite. And makes more sense, as Alexander was well aware that he had not conquered the whole world (he had to end his Indian campaign because his men refused to go further).
  • Warrior Prince: Got a headstart in conquering at the Battle of Chaeronea, defeating the Thebans alongside his father at the age of eighteen.
  • What a Drag: After Macedonians captured Gaza in 332 BC Alexander had Persian commander Batis tied to a chariot and then dragged him around the city with it. He claimed that he wanted to follow the example of Achilles who did the same thing to Hector's body... except that unlike Achilles, Alexander apparently did this to a victim who was still alive, and apparently missed the memo that it was considered by all, including, eventually, Achilles himself, to be a real dick move.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Alex, you destroyed the Persian capital of Persepolis. Have a designated driver next time or something.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Athenian and Theban hosts at the Battle of Chaeronea. Small cities desperately clinging to what freedom they had left, they sent forth an old fashioned hoplite army of militia to fight the Macedonian military machine in a Last Stand. This was the last time the old Greek style farmer warriors took up their shields in a classic phalanx battle. From then on Greek warlords would use elaborate combined arms mercenary forces that included phalanxes but weren't dominated by them. After the battle, Alexander is said to have looked at the corpses of the Sacred Band, and given them a special tribute
    • To those unfamiliar, the Sacred Band of Thebes was an army comprised solely of gay Greek Battle Couples; the logic was that no man would want to look like a coward in front of his lover or leave his lover to die. The relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion mirrored them, in a way.
  • Young Conqueror: The possible Trope Maker, at least in the Western world.

Depictions, Allusions, And Others:

Anime & Manga
  • The identity of Rider in Fate/Zero is Alexander (albeit using the Persian translation of his name, Iskander). He's a Boisterous Bruiser who looks like this, has a very odd view on various things, especially the wearing of pants, and is thinking about conquering the world again. He also is among the strongest Servants that are around, his Ionioi Hetairoi being of the highest Noble Phantasm-Rank. It drags the target into a Reality Marble where they will have to face the Heroic Spirits of Alexander's former guards and companions (even his horse became a Heroic Spirit!), who, having bonded with him in life, remain loyal to him even after death. There is also a sequence that elaborates on his reasons for conquering the world, how he desired to reach the end of the world and leave his footprints in the sand, and how he swept away anything that stood in his way and managed to convince many people to support and share his dream. Oh, and also, nearly everything the guy does is Crazy Awesome. May we say Historical Hero Upgrade?
    • The fact that the book managed to make a self-proclaimed tyrant, who believes that it's not worth ruling unless you do whatever you want, sympathetic in his dreams and actions means yes, yes you can...
  • Mazinger Z: During a passionate speech, Dr. Hell declared that he would achieve that Alexander was unable to do (conquering the world).
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters miniseries, Alexander is the antagonist, and is also reincarnated as Alex Brisbane.
  • Reign The Conqueror (a.k.a. Alexander Senki) was a very... loose... retelling of the story of Alexander's conquests, with character designs by Peter Chung of Ĉon Flux fame.
  • Alexander is an important character in Historie (the protagonist is Eumenes who worked as his secretary at a young age).
  • Alexander's life is retold in Alexandros by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, better known as the original character designer for the Gundam franchise. (Thus, Alexander looks rather like Amuro Ray.)

  • The idol of Ozymandias from Watchmen. He named himself after Ramses II because of Alexander (Alexander admired the pharaohs too, so taking on a pharaoh's name would by extension make him more like Alexander).
  • Alexander's Brain in a Jar (unwillingly) serves as military advisor to Dracula in Requiem Vampire Knight.

  • Numerous examples of early Real Person Fic — especially the medieval Alexander Romance stories. Alex explores the ocean depths in a diving bell and talks to mermaids. His sister turns herself into one when she hears he has died.

  • In The Man Who Would be King, the nation they are conquering has a treasure that belonged to Alexander.
  • Oliver Stone's Alexander.
  • The 1956 epic film Alexander the Great starring Richard Burton as Alex and Fredric March as Philip.

  • Mary Renault's Alexander trilogy: Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy and Funeral Games. She did an intense amount of research, which she wrote up in the nonfiction book The Nature of Alexander. Her writings were among the materials utilized by Oliver Stone in the creation of his Alexander film.
  • The historical novel Thais of Athens has Alexander as a recurring character and the eponymous heroine's occasional lover.
  • Appears in backstory in Dirge for Prester John where he helped save Pentexore from Gog and Magog.
  • In Eternity, the second book of The Way Series, Patricia ended up on parallel world where the one major difference was that Alexander survived his illness and lived to an old age.
  • His most bizarre "appearance" might be Gore Vidal's Julian, where Phony Psychic Maximus convinces Julian The Apostate that he's in tune with the supernatural. One day, he excitedly tells Julian that he spoken to the Cybele, The Great Mother, and that she wants him to conquer Persia. His victory is assured by the gods, and she'll even send Alexander's spirit down to guide him. Julian swallows it hook, line, and sinker, even writing in his diary that he can hear Alexander's voice whisper "advance, to the farthest edge of the world!"

Live-Action TV

  • A song made by Iron Maiden.
  • The song "Iskander D'hul Karnon" by Nile, which deals with his presentation according to some Muslim beliefs.

Professional Wrestling
  • Born James Wehba, General Skandor Akbar took his name from the Arabic for "Alexander The Great."
  • Better known as Big Dick Dudley, the late Alex Rizzo originally called himself "Alexander The Great."

Tabletop Games
  • In Traveller Rim of Fire there was a Terran commander in the Intersteller Wars whose hero was Alexander the Great. As the Intersteller Wars era does sometimes look like the relations between the Greeks and the Persians, it kind of makes sense.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, Lord Commander Solar Macharius is heavily inspired in Alexander the Great. His conquests (1000 wolds in seven years) came to an end at the edge of the galaxy. Macharius prepared to move onwards but his armies, never beaten by the enemy, wavered and crumbled at the prospect of exploring the psychic darkness at the galaxy's edge. Also like Alexander his conquests splintered among the seven generals he had, though the Imperium quickly brought them all back into the fold.

Video Games

  • In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great by Michael Wood. Wood traveled to all the places Alexander went, guided by locals with their own stories of Alexander to tell. He often literally walked exactly where Alexander had walked and occasionally risked his own life.
  • The Battles of the World interactive CD is narrated in part by Alexander the Great, who introduces himself as, "in all honesty, the greatest general who ever lived".

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alternative title(s): Alexander The Great
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