Barbarian: Wikis


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"Germanic warriors" as depicted in Philipp Clüver's Germania Antiqua (1616).

Barbarian is a term for an uncivilized person, often used pejoratively, either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization either viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage. In idiomatic or figurative usage, a "barbarian" may also be an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person.[1]

The term originates in the ancient Greek civilization, meaning "anyone who is not Greek". Comparable notions are found in non-European civilizations.


Origin of the term

Routes taken by barbarian invaders, 5th century CE

The word "barbarian" comes into English from Medieval Latin barbarinus, from Latin barbaria, from Latin barbarus, from the ancient Greek word βάρβαρος (bárbaros). The word is onomatopoeic, the bar-bar representing the impression of random hubbub produced by hearing a spoken language that one cannot understand, similar to blah blah and babble in modern English. Related imitative forms are found in other Indo-European languages, such as Sanskrit बर्बर barbara-, "stammering" or "curly-haired."

Depending on its use, the term "barbarian" either described a foreign individual or tribe whose first language was not Greek or a Greek individual or tribe speaking Greek crudely.

The Greeks used the term as they encountered scores of different foreign cultures, including the Egyptians, Persians, Celts, Germans, Phoenicians, Etruscans, and Carthaginians. It, in fact, became a common term to refer to all foreigners. However in various occasions, the term was also used by Greeks, especially the Athenians, to deride other Greek tribes and states (such as Epirotes, Eleans and Aeolic-speakers) in a pejorative and politically motivated manner.[2] Of course, the term also carried a cultural dimension to its dual meaning.[3][4] The verb βαρβαρίζειν (barbarízein) in ancient Greek meant imitating the linguistic sounds non-Greeks made or making grammatical errors in Greek.

Plato (Statesman 262de) rejected the Greek–barbarian dichotomy as a logical absurdity on just such grounds: dividing the world into Greeks and non-Greeks told one nothing about the second group. In Homer's works, the term appeared only once (Iliad 2.867), in the form βάρβαροΦώνος (barbarophonos) ("of incomprehensible speech"), used of the Carians fighting for Troy during the Trojan War. In general, the concept of barbaros did not figure largely in archaic literature before the 5th century BC.[5] Still it has been suggested that "barbarophonoi" in the Iliad signifies not those who spoke a non-Greek language but simply those who spoke Greek badly.[6]

A change occurred in the connotations of the word after the Greco-Persian Wars in the first half of the 5th century BC. Here a hasty coalition of Greeks defeated the vast Achaemenid Empire. Indeed in the Greek of this period 'barbarian' is often used expressly to mean Persian.[7]

In the well-known opening sentence of his account of that war, Herodotus gives the following statements as his reason for writing:

To the end that (...) the works, great and marvellous, which have been produced some by Hellenes and some by Barbarians, may not lose their renown; and especially that the causes may be remembered for which these waged war with one another.

This clearly implies an equality: both Hellenes and barbarians are capable of producing "great and marvelous works" and both are deserving of being remembered. Nevertheless, in the wake of this victory, Greeks began to see themselves as superior militarily, politically, and culturally. A stereotype developed in which hardy Greeks live as free men in city-states where politics are a communal possession, whereas among the womanish barbarians everyone beneath the Great King is no better than his slave.

Slavery in Greece

A parallel factor was the growth of chattel slavery especially at Athens. Although enslavement of Greeks for non-payment of debt continued in most Greek states, it was banned at Athens under Solon in the early 6th century BC. Under the Athenian democracy established ca. 508 BC slavery came to be used on a scale never before seen among the Greeks. Massive concentrations of slaves were worked under especially brutal conditions in the silver mines at Laureion—a major vein of silver-bearing ore was found there in 483 BC—while the phenomenon of skilled slave craftsmen producing manufactured goods in small factories and workshops became increasingly common.

Furthermore, slaves were no longer the preserve of the rich: all but the poorest of Athenian households came to have slaves to supplement the work of their free members. Overwhelmingly, the slaves of Athens were "barbarian" in origin[citation needed], drawn especially from lands around the Black Sea such as Thrace and Taurica (Crimea), while from Asia Minor came above all Lydians, Phrygians and Carians. Aristotle (Politics 1.2-7; 3.14) even states that barbarians are slaves by nature.

From this period words like barbarophonos, cited above from Homer, began to be used not only of the sound of a foreign language but of foreigners speaking Greek improperly. In Greek, the notions of language and reason are easily confused in the word logos, so speaking poorly was easily conflated with being stupid, an association not of course limited to the ancient Greeks.

Further changes occurred in the connotations of barbari/barbaroi in Late Antiquity,[8] when bishops and catholikoi were appointed to sees connected to cities among the "civilized" gentes barbaricae such as in Armenia or Persia, whereas bishops were appointed to supervise entire peoples among the less settled.

Eventually the term found a hidden meaning by Christian Romans through the folk etymology of Cassiodorus. He stated the word barbarian was "made up of barba (beard) and rus (flat land); for barbarians did not live in cities, making their abodes in the fields like wild animals".[9]

The female given name "Barbara" originally meant "a barbarian woman", and as such was likely to have had a pejorative meaning — given that most such women in Graeco-Roman society were of a low social status (often being slaves). However, Saint Barbara is mentioned as being the daughter of rich and respectable Roman citizens. Evidently, by her time (about 300 AD according to Christian hagiography, though some historians put the story much later) the name no longer had any specific ethnic or pejorative connotations.

Hellenic stereotype

Out of those sources the Hellenic stereotype was elaborated: barbarians are like children, unable to speak or reason properly, cowardly, effeminate, luxurious, cruel, unable to control their appetites and desires, politically unable to govern themselves. These stereotypes were voiced with much shrillness by writers like Isocrates in the 4th century BC who called for a war of conquest against Persia as a panacea for Greek problems. Ironically, many of the former attributes were later ascribed to the Greeks, especially the Seleucid kingdom, by the Romans[citation needed].

However, the Hellenic stereotype of barbarians was not a universal feature of Hellenic culture. Xenophon, for example, wrote the Cyropaedia, a laudatory fictionalised account of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian empire, effectively a utopian text. In his Anabasis, Xenophon's accounts of the Persians and other non-Greeks he knew or encountered hardly seem to be under the sway of these stereotypes at all.

The renowned orator Demosthenes made derogatory comments in his speeches, using the word "barbarian."

Barbarian is used in its Hellenic sense by St. Paul in the New Testament (Romans 1:14) to describe non-Greeks, and to describe one who merely speaks a different language (1 Corinthians 14:11). The word is not used in these scriptures in the modern sense of "savage".

About a hundred years after Paul's time, Lucian - a native of Samosata, in the former kingdom of Commagene, which had been absorbed by the Roman Empire and made part of the province of Syria - used the term "barbarian" to describe himself. As he was a noted satirist, this could have been a deprecating self-irony. It might also have indicated that he was descended from Samosata's original Semitic population - likely to have been called "barbarians" by later Hellenistic, Greek speaking settlers, and who might have eventually taken up this appellation themselves[10][11].

The term retained its standard usage in the Greek language throughout the Middle Ages, as it was widely used by the Byzantine Greeks until the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century.

Cicero described the mountain area of inner Sardinia as "a land of barbarians", with these inbaitants also known by the manifestly pejoartive term latrones mastrucati ("thieves with a rough garment in wool"). The region is up to the present known as "Barbagia" (in Sardinian "Barbàgia" or "Barbaza"), all of which are traceable to this old "barbarian" desigantion - but no longer conscioulsly associated with it, and used naturally as the name of the region by its own inhabitants.

The Dying Gaul statue

The Dying Gaul,Capitoline Museums, Rome.

Some insight about the Hellenistic perception of and attitude to "Barbarians" can be taken from the "Dying Gaul", a statue commissioned by Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Celtic Galatians in Anatolia (the bronze original is lost, but a Roman marble copy was found in the 17th Century[12]). The statue depicts with remarkable realism a dying Gallic warrior with a typically Gallic hairstyle and moustache. He lies on his fallen shield while sword and other objects lie beside him. He appears to be fighting against death, refusing to accept his fate.

The statue serves both as a reminder of the Celts' defeat, thus demonstrating the might of the people who defeated them, and a memorial to their bravery as worthy adversaries. The message conveyed by the sculpture, as H. W. Janson comments, is that "they knew how to die, barbarians that they were."[13]

Arabic context

The Berbers of North Africa were among the many peoples called "Barbarian" by the Romans; in their case, the name remained in use, having been adopted by the Arabs (see Berber (Etymology) and is still in use as the name for the non-Arabs in North Africa (though not by themselves). The geographical term Barbary or Barbary Coast, and the name of the Barbary pirates based on that coast (and who were not necessarily Berbers) were also derived from it.

The term has also been used to refer to people from Barbary, a region encompassing most of North Africa. The name of the region, Barbary, comes from the Arabic word Barbar, possibly from the Latin word barbaricum, meaning "land of the barbarians".

Non-European civilizations

"Barbarians" according to Chinese cosmology

Historically, the term barbarian has seen widespread use. Many peoples have dismissed alien cultures and even rival civilizations as barbarians because they were recognizably strange. The Greeks admired Scythians and Eastern Gauls as heroic individuals— even in the case of Anacharsis as philosophers—but considered their culture to be barbaric. The Romans indiscriminately regarded the various Germanic tribes, the settled Gauls, and the raiding Huns as barbarians.

The Romans adapted the term to refer to anything non-Greco-Roman. The Persians saw the Greeks and later Romans and Arabs as inferior people with inferior and less civilized cultures and referred to them as "Soosk" or barbarians.[citation needed]

The nomadic steppe peoples north of the Black Sea, including the Pechenegs and the Kipchaks, were called barbarians by Byzantines.[14]

The Indians referred to all alien cultures in ancient times as 'Mlechcha' [15] or Barbarians. In the ancient texts, Mlechchas are people who are barbaric and who have given up the Vedic beliefs [16][17]. Among the tribes termed Mlechcha were Sakas, Hunas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas, Bahlikas and Rishikas[16].

The Chinese (Han Chinese) of the Chinese Empire sometimes (depends on the dynasty, geographic location, and timeline) regarded the Xiongnu, Tatars, Turks, Mongols, Jurchens, Manchus, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and Europeans as "barbaric". The Chinese used different terms for "barbarians" from different directions of the compass. Those in the east were called Dongyi (東夷), those in the west were called Xirong (西戎), those in the south were called Nanman (南蠻), and those in the north were called Beidi (北狄). However, despite the conventional translation of such terms (especially 夷) as "barbarian", in fact it is possible to translate them simply as 'outsider' or 'stranger', with far less offensive cultural connotations.

The picturesquely coarse and primitive Doitsu-bashi ("German bridge") in Ōasahiko-jinja, Naruto, Tokushima, Japan.

The Japanese adopted the Chinese usage. When Europeans came to Japan, they were called nanban (南蛮), literally Barbarians from the South, because the Portuguese ships appeared to sail from the South. The Dutch, who arrived later, were also called either nanban or kōmō (紅毛), literally meaning "Red Hair."

In Mesoamerica the Aztec civilization used the word "Chichimeca" to denominate a group of nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes that lived in the outskirts of the Triple Alliance's Empire, in the North of Modern Mexico, which were seen for the Aztec people as primitive and uncivilized. One of the meanings attributed to the word "Chichimeca" is "dog people".

The Incas used the term "puruma auca" for all peoples living outside the rule of their empire (see Promaucaes).

Early Modern period

Italians in the Renaissance often called anyone who lived outside of their country a barbarian. As far as the nomadic Goths went, they originally worshipped the same pantheon as did the Germanic/Norse barbarians, but because of their wanderings and their propensity for adopting the standards, beliefs, and practices of whatever culture within which they located, were the first barbarians to adopt Christianity as a faith (actually long before the Romans did).

Spanish sea captain Francisco de Cuellar who sailed with the Spanish Armada in 1588 used the term 'savage' to describe the Irish people.[18]

Modern academia

A defeated Sarmatian barbarian serves as an atlas on a 16th century villa in Milan. Sculpted by Antonio Abbondio for Leone Leoni

A famous quote from anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss says: "The barbarian is the one who believes in barbary",[19] a meaning like his metaphor in Race et histoire ("Race and history", UNESCO, 1952), that two cultures are like two different trains crossing each other: each one believes it has chosen the good direction. A broader analysis reveals that neither party 'chooses' their direction, but that their 'brutish' behaviors have formed out of necessity, being entirely dependent on and hooked to their surrounding geography and circumstances of birth.

The term "barbarian" is commonly used by medieval historians as a nonpejorative neutral descriptor of the catalog of peoples that the Roman Empire encountered whom they considered "foreigners", such as the Goths, Gepids, Huns, Picts, Sarmatians, etc.[20] Although some terms in academia do go out of style, such as "Dark Ages", the term Barbarian is in full common currency among all mainstream medieval scholars and is not out of style or outdated, though a disclaimer is often felt to be needed, as when Ralph W. Mathisen[21] prefaces a discussion of barbarian bishops in Late Antiquity, "It should also be noted that the word "barbarian" will be used here as a convenient, nonpejorative term to refer to all the non-Latin and non-Greek speaking exterae gentes[22] who dwelt around, and even eventually settled within, the Roman Empire during late antiquity".

The significance of barbarus in Late Antiquity has been specifically explored on several occasions.[23]

Examples of this modern usage can also be seen in the Dictionary of the Middle Ages, the largest and most respected encyclopedia about the Middle Ages in the English language, which has an article titled "Barbarians, the Invasions" and uses the term barbarian throughout its 13 volumes. A 2006 book by Yale historian Walter Goffart is called Barbarian Tides and uses barbarian throughout to refer to the larger pantheon of tribes that the Roman Empire encountered. Walter Pohl, a leading pan-European expert on ethnicity and Late Antiquity, published a 1997 book titled Kingdoms of the Empire: The Integration of Barbarians in Late Antiquity. The Encyclopædia Britannica and other general audience encyclopedias use the term barbarian throughout within the context of late antiquity.

Modern popular culture

The modern sympathetic admiration for such fantasy barbarians as Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian is a direct descendant of the Enlightenment idealization of the "noble savage"[citation needed] first used by John Dryden in The Conquest of Granada (1672); Gaile McGregor describes the Conan character, for example, as "power incarnate, divorced from any responsibility except the responsibility to win."[24]

In fantasy novels and role-playing games, barbarians or berserkers are often represented as lone warriors, very different from the vibrant cultures on which they are based. Several characteristics are commonly shared:

  • Physical prowess and fighting skill combined with a fierce temper and a tolerance for pain
  • An appetite for, and the ability to attract, the opposite gender thanks to animal magnetism
  • Meat eating (this fits several social norms. Nomadic peoples and military men often ate more meat because they were not in one place long enough to farm and harvest.)
  • An appetite for alcohol and an unusual stamina to stave off its effects
  • A blending of Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and nomadic Turco-Mongol cultures

See also


  1. ^ Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1972, pg. 149, Simon & Schuster Publishing
  2. ^ The term barbaros, "A Greek-English Lexicon" (Liddell & Scott), at Perseus
  3. ^ Foreigners and Barbarians (adapted from Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks), The American Forum for Global Education, 2000.

    "The status of being a foreigner, as the Greeks understood the term does not permit any easy definition. Primarily it signified such peoples as the Persians and Egyptians, whose languages were unintelligible to the Greeks, but it could also be used of Greeks who spoke in a different dialect and with a different accent...Prejudice toward Greeks on the part of Greeks was not limited to those who lived on the fringes of the Greek world. The Boeotians, inhabitants of central Greece, whose credentials were impeccable, were routinely mocked for their stupidity and gluttony. Ethnicity is a fluid concept even at the best of times. When it suited their purposes, the Greeks also divided themselves into Ionians and Dorians. The distinction was emphasized at the time of the Peloponnesian War, when the Ionian Athenians fought against the Dorian Spartans. The Spartan general Brasidas even taxed the Athenians with cowardice on account of their Ionian lineage. In other periods of history the Ionian-Dorian divide carried much less weight."

  4. ^ Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. Athens: Its Rise and Fall. Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1419108085, pp. 9-10.

    "Whether the Pelasgi were anciently a foreign or Grecian tribe, has been a subject of constant and celebrated discussion. Herodotus, speaking of some settlements held to be Pelaigic, and existing in his time, terms their language 'barbarous;' but Mueller, nor with argument insufficient, considers that the expression of the historian would apply only to a peculiar dialect; and the hypothesis is sustained by another passage in Herodotus, in which he applies to certain Ionian dialects the same term as that with which he stigmatizes the language of the Pelasgic settlements. In corroboration of Mueller's opinion, we may also observe, that the 'barbarous-tongued' is an epithet applied by Homer to the Carians, and is rightly construed by the ancient critics as denoting a dialect mingled and unpolished, certainly not foreign. Nor when the Agamemnon of Sophocles upbraids Teucer with 'his barbarous tongue,' would any scholar suppose that Teucer is upbraided with not speaking Greek; he is upbraided with speaking Greek inelegantly and rudely. It is clear that they who continued with the least adulteration a language in its earliest form, would seem to utter a strange and unfamiliar jargon to ears accustomed to its more modern construction."

  5. ^ Hall, Jonathan. Hellenicity, p. 111, ISBN 0226313298. "There is at the elite level at least no hint during the archaic period of this sharp dichotomy between Greek and Barbarian or the derogatory and the stereotypical representation of the latter that emerged so clearly from the fifth century."
  6. ^ Hall, Jonathan. Hellenicity, p. 111, ISBN 0226313298. "Given the relative familiarity of the Karians to the Greeks, it has been suggested that barbarophonoi in the Iliad signifies not those who spoke a non-Greek language but simply those who spoke Greek badly."
  7. ^ Tsetskhladze, Gocha R. Ancient Greeks West and East, 1999, p. 60, ISBN 9004102302. "a barbarian from a distinguished nation which given the political circumstances of the time might well mean a Persian."
  8. ^ See in particular Ralph W. Mathison, Roman Aristocrats in Barbarian Gaul: Strategies for Survival in an Age of Transition (Austin) 1993, pp. 1-6, 39-49; Gerhart B. Ladner, "On Roman attitudes towards barbarians in late antiquity" Viator 77 (1976), pp. 1-25.
  9. ^ Arno Borst. Medieval Worlds: Barbarians, Heretics and Artists in the Middle Ages. London: Polity, 1991, p. 3.
  10. ^ Harmon, A. M. "Lucian of Samosata: Introduction and Manuscripts." in Lucian, Works. Loeb Classical Library (1913)
  11. ^ Keith Sidwell, introduction to Lucian: Chattering Courtesans and Other Sardonic Sketches (Penguin Classics, 2005) p.xii
  12. ^ Wolfgang Helbig, Führer durch die öffenlicher Sammlungen Klassischer altertümer in Rom (Tubingen 1963-71) vol. II, pp 240-42.
  13. ^ H. W. Janson, "History of Art: A survey of the major visual arts from the dawn of history to the present day", p. 141. H. N. Abrams, 1977. ISBN 0133892964
  14. ^ The Pechenegs, Steven Lowe and Dmitriy V. Ryaboy
  15. ^ Mudrarakshasha by Kashinath Trimbak Telang introduction p12 [1]
  16. ^ a b National geographer, 1977, p 60, Allahabad Geographical Society - History.
  17. ^ Manusamriti, X/43-44; A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages‎, 1875, p 5,Robert Caldwell; Early Chauhān dynasties:, 1959, p 243, Dasharatha Sharma - History; The Aryans, a Modern Myth‎, 1993, p 211,Parameśa Caudhurī - History.
  18. ^ Captain Cuellar's Adventures in Connacht and Ulster
  19. ^ Le barbare, c'est d'abord celui qui croit à la barbarie.
  20. ^ Barbarian Tides (2006), by Walter Goffart, Page 3
  21. ^ Ralph W. Mathisen "Barbarian Bishops and the Churches "in Barbaricis Gentibus" During Late Antiquity" Speculum 72.3 (July 1997), p. 665.
  22. ^ Mathisen notes that Eusebius, in his Life of Constantine described the emperor as bishop "of those outside" (exterae gentes).
  23. ^ For examples, by Ralph W. Mathison, Roman Aristocrats in Barbarian Gaul: Strategies for Survival in an Age of Transition (Austin, Texas) 1993, and Gerhart B. Ladner, "On Roman attitudews towards barbarians in Late Antiquity" Viator 7 (1996:1-25).
  24. ^ Gaile McGregor, The Noble Savage in the New World Garden: Notes Toward a Syntactics of Place, Univ. Toronto Press, 1988, 357 pp., ISBN 087972417X

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BARBARIAN (Gr. 06pf3apos), the name among the early Greeks for all foreigners. The word is probably onomatopoetic, designed to represent the uncouth babbling of which languages other than their own appeared to the Greeks to consist. Even the Romans were included in the term. The word soon assumed an evil meaning, becoming associated with the vices and savage natures of which they believed their enemies to be possessed. The Romans adopted the word for all peoples other than those under Graeco-Roman influence and domination. It has long become synonymous with a general lack of civilization.

<< Saint Barbara

Ermolao Barbaro >>


Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to barbarian article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:





From Latin barbarus (foreigner, savage) from Ancient Greek βάρβαρος (barbaros), foreign, strange) onomatopoeic (mimicking foreign languages, akin to 'blah blah').



barbarian (not comparable)


not comparable

none (absolute)

  1. Relating to people, countries or customs perceived as uncivilized or inferior.






barbarian (plural barbarians)

  1. An uncivilized or uncultured person, originally compared to the hellenistic Greco-Roman civilisation; often associated with fighting or other such shows of strength.
  2. A derogatory term for someone from a developing country or backward culture.
  3. A warrior, clad in fur or leather, associated with Sword and Sorcery stories.


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

Related terms

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

a Greek word used in the New Testament (Rom. 1:14) to denote one of another nation. In Col. 3:11, the word more definitely designates those nations of the Roman empire that did not speak Greek. In 1 Cor. 14:11, it simply refers to one speaking a different language. The inhabitants of Malta are so called (Acts 28:1,2, 4). They were originally a Carthaginian colony. This word nowhere in Scripture bears the meaning it does in modern times.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

what mentions this? (please help by turning references to this page into wiki links)


Up to date as of February 01, 2010
(Redirected to Barbarian (Diablo) article)

From Wikia Gaming, your source for walkthroughs, games, guides, and more!

The Barbarian, a member of any of several tribes on the fringes of civilization, rebuffs the influence of those he sees as soft and weak. Ceaseless clan warfare and the constant struggle to survive in the hostile wilderness are evident in the Barbarian's sturdy and powerful frame. Though perhaps lacking the sophistication of his civilized contemporaries, the Barbarian has an acute awareness of his surroundings. Because of his shamanistic belief in the animal powers with whom he identifies, the Barbarian is sometimes associated with stories of lycanthropy. In fact, he believes that he can improve his superb battle tactics by calling upon the totemic animal spirits to infuse him with supernormal strengths and abilities.

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Simple English

The Dying Gaul

In Ancient Greece, the name βάρβαρος, bárbaros, was given to all those who did not speak the Greek language. Later, the term Barbarian came to mean 'Anyone who is not Greek'. Later again, it meant 'anyone who is outside the Roman Empire.

In modern use, the word is used to refer to an uncivilized or uncultured person.

It is used for a member of a nation or ethnic group which is seen as having a lower level of civilization, or for an individual person which is seen as a brutal, cruel and insensitive or whose behaviour is unacceptable in the civilized society of the speaker. When used for a person the word is always pejorative, when used for a nation not always.

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