Social class in ancient Rome

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The toga, shown here on a statue restored with the head of Nerva, was the distinctive garb of Roman male citizens. Togato, I sec dc. con testa di restauro da un ritratto di nerva, inv. 2286.JPG
The toga, shown here on a statue restored with the head of Nerva, was the distinctive garb of Roman male citizens.

Social class in ancient Rome was hierarchical, but there were multiple and overlapping social hierarchies, and an individual's relative position in one might be higher or lower than in another. [1] The status of freeborn Romans during the Republic was established by:

Social class Hierarchical social stratification

A social class is a set of subjectively defined concepts in the social sciences and political theory centered on models of social stratification in which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories, the most common being the upper, middle and lower classes.

Ancient Rome History of Rome from the 8th-century BC to the 5th-century

In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, encompassing the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire until the fall of the western empire. The civilization began as an Italic settlement in the Italian Peninsula, conventionally founded in 753 BC, that grew into the city of Rome and which subsequently gave its name to the empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilisation the empire developed. The Roman Empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants ) and covering 5.0 million square kilometres at its height in AD 117.

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

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The patricians were originally a group of ruling class families in ancient Rome. The distinction was highly significant in Roman Kingdom, and the early Republic, but its relevance waned after the Conflict of the Orders, and by the time of the late Republic and Empire, membership in the patriciate was of only nominal significance.

The plebs were, in ancient Rome, the general body of free Roman citizens who were not patricians, as determined by the census. The precise origins of the group and the term are unclear, though it may be that they began as a limited political movement in opposition to the elite (patricians) which became more widely applied.

<i>Cursus honorum</i> The sequential order of public offices held by politicians in Ancient Rome

The cursus honorum was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in both the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. It was designed for men of senatorial rank. The cursus honorum comprised a mixture of military and political administration posts. Each office had a minimum age for election. There were minimum intervals between holding successive offices and laws forbade repeating an office.

For example, men who lived in towns outside Rome (such as municipia or colonies) might hold citizenship, but lack the right to vote (see ius Latinum ); free-born Roman women were citizens, but could not vote or hold political office.

Municipium was the Latin term for a town or city. Etymologically the municipium was a social contract between municipes, the "duty holders," or citizens of the town. The duties, or munera, were a communal obligation assumed by the municipes in exchange for the privileges and protections of citizenship. Every citizen was a municeps.

Colonia (Roman) Roman outpost established in conquered territory to secure it

A Roman colonia was originally a Roman outpost established in conquered territory to secure it. Eventually, however, the term came to denote the highest status of a Roman city.

Latin Rights

Latin Rights were a set of legal rights that were originally granted to the Latins under Roman law. "Latinitas" was commonly used by Roman jurists to denote this status. With the Roman unification of Italy, many settlements and coloniae outside of Latium had Latin rights.

There were also classes of non-citizens with different legal rights, such as peregrini . Under Roman law, slaves were considered property and had no rights as such. However, some laws regulated slavery and offered slaves protections not extended to other forms of property such as animals. Slaves who had been manumitted were freedmen (liberti), and for the most part enjoyed the same legal rights and protections as free-born citizens.

Peregrinus (Roman) free provincial subject of the Roman Empire who was not a Roman citizen

Peregrinus was the term used during the early Roman empire, from 30 BC to AD 212, to denote a free provincial subject of the Empire who was not a Roman citizen. Peregrini constituted the vast majority of the Empire's inhabitants in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In AD 212, all free inhabitants of the Empire were granted citizenship by the constitutio Antoniniana, abolishing the status of peregrinus.

Roman law Legal system of Ancient Rome (c. 449 BC - AD 529)

Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, including the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of jurisprudence, from the Twelve Tables, to the Corpus Juris Civilis ordered by Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. Roman law forms the basic framework for civil law, the most widely used legal system today, and the terms are sometimes used synonymously. The historical importance of Roman law is reflected by the continued use of Latin legal terminology in many legal systems influenced by it, including common law.

Slavery in ancient Rome

Slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the economy. Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions. Accountants and physicians were often slaves. Slaves of Greek origin in particular might be highly educated. Unskilled slaves, or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were brutal and their lives did not last very long.

Roman society was patriarchal in the purest sense; the male head of household ( paterfamilias ) held special legal powers and privileges that gave him jurisdiction (patria potestas) over all the members of his familia a more encompassing term than its modern derivative "family" that included adult sons, his wife (but only in Rome's earlier history, when marriage cum manu was practiced), married daughters (in the Classical period of Roman history), various dependent relatives, and slaves. The patron-client relationship (clientela), with the word patronus deriving from pater (“father”), was another way in which Roman society was organized into hierarchical groups, though clientela also functioned as a system of overlapping social networks. A patron could be the client of a socially superior or more powerful patron; a client could have multiple patrons. [2]

Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

Marriage in ancient Rome

Marriage in ancient Rome was a strictly monogamous institution: a Roman citizen by law could have only one spouse at a time. The practice of monogamy distinguished the Greeks and Romans from other ancient civilizations, in which elite males typically had multiple wives. Greco-Roman monogamy may have arisen from the egalitarianism of the democratic and republican political systems of the city-states. It is one aspect of ancient Roman culture that was embraced by early Christianity, which in turn perpetuated it as an ideal in later Western culture.

Patronage (clientela) was the distinctive relationship in ancient Roman society between the patronus and their cliens. The relationship was hierarchical, but obligations were mutual. The patronus was the protector, sponsor, and benefactor of the client; the technical term for this protection was patrocinium. Although typically the client was of inferior social class, a patron and client might even hold the same social rank, but the former would possess greater wealth, power, or prestige that enabled them to help or do favors for the client. From the emperor at the top to the local municipal person at the bottom, the bonds between these groups found formal expression in legal definition of patrons' responsibilities to clients.

Patricians and plebeians

The Patrician Torlonia bust believed to be of Cato the Elder. 1st century BC Marco Porcio Caton Major.jpg
The Patrician Torlonia bust believed to be of Cato the Elder. 1st century BC
Roman portraiture fresco of a young man with a papyrus scroll, from Herculaneum, 1st century CE Busto maschile.JPG
Roman portraiture fresco of a young man with a papyrus scroll, from Herculaneum, 1st century CE

In the Roman Kingdom and the early Roman Republic the most important division in Roman society was between the patricians and the plebeians. The patricians were a small elite whose ancestry was traced to the first Senate established by Romulus, [3] who monopolised political power. The plebeians comprised the majority of Roman citizens (see below). Adult males who were not Roman citizens, whether free or slave, fall outside this division. Women and children were also not citizens, but took the social status of their father or husband, which granted them various rights and protections not available to the women and children of men of lower rank.

Roman Kingdom Romes political structure 753-509 BCE

The Roman Kingdom, also referred to as the Roman monarchy, or the regal period of ancient Rome, was the earliest period of Roman history, when the city and its territory were ruled by kings.

Roman Senate A political institution in ancient Rome

The Roman Senate was a political institution in ancient Rome. It was one of the most enduring institutions in Roman history, being established in the first days of the city of Rome,. It survived the overthrow of the kings in 509 BC, the fall of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC, the division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, and the barbarian rule of Rome in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries.

Romulus one of the twin brothers of Romes foundation myth

Romulus was the legendary founder and first king of Rome. Various traditions attribute the establishment of many of Rome's oldest legal, political, religious, and social institutions to Romulus and his contemporaries. Although many of these traditions incorporate elements of folklore, and it is not clear to what extent a historical figure underlies the mythical Romulus, the events and institutions ascribed to him were central to the myths surrounding Rome's origins and cultural traditions.

The distinction between patricians and plebeians in Ancient Rome was based purely on birth. Although modern writers often portray patricians as rich and powerful families who managed to secure power over the less-fortunate plebeian families, plebeians and patricians among the senatorial class were equally wealthy. As civil rights for plebeians increased during the middle and late Roman Republic, many plebeian families had attained wealth and power while some traditionally patrician families had fallen into poverty and obscurity. The first Roman Emperor, Augustus, was of plebeian origin, as were many of his successors. By the Late Empire, few members of the Senate were from the original patrician families, most of which had died out. Rome continued to have a hierarchical class system, but it was now dominated by economic differences, rather than the hereditary distinction between Patricians and Plebeians.

Originally, all public offices were open only to patricians, and the classes could not intermarry. Plebeians and Patricians were always at odds due to the fact that Plebeians wanted to increase their power. [4] A series of social struggles (see Conflict of the Orders) saw the plebs secede from the city on three occasions, the last in 297 BC, until their demands were met. They won the right to stand for office, the abolition of the intermarriage law, and the creation of office of tribune of the plebs. This office, founded in 494 BC as a result of a plebeian secession, was the main legal bulwark against the powers of the patrician class, and only plebeians were eligible. The tribunes originally had the power to protect any plebeian from a patrician magistrate. Later revolts forced the Senate to grant the tribunes additional powers, such as the right to veto legislation. A tribune’s person was sacrosanct, and he was obliged to keep an open house at all times while in office. Some patricians, notably Clodius Pulcher in the late 60s BC, petitioned to be assigned plebeian status, in order to accumulate the political influence among the people that the office of tribune afforded. The conflict between the classes came to a climax in 287 BC when patricians and plebeians were declared equal under the law.

Following these changes the distinction between patrician and plebeian status became less important, and by the Late Republic the only patrician prerogatives were certain priesthoods. Over time, some patrician families declined, some plebeian families rose in status, and the composition of the ruling class changed. A plebeian who was the first of his line to become consul was known as a novus homo (“new man”), and he and his descendants became “noble” ( nobiles ). Notable examples of novi homines are the seven-time consul Marius, and Cicero, whose rise was unusual in that it was driven by his oratorical and intellectual abilities rather than, as with Marius, military success. During the Empire, patricius became a title of nobility bestowed by emperors. [5] [6]

Property-based classes

The census divided citizens into six complex classes based on property. The richest were the senatorial class, who during the Late Republic had to be worth at least 400,000  sestertii , the same as the equites; when Augustus reformed the senate during the first years of the Principate, he raised the property requirement to 1,000,000 sestertii. [7] The wealth of the senatorial class was based on ownership of large agricultural estates ( latifundium ), and by custom members did not engage in commercial activity.

Below the senatores in rank, but above others were the equites (“equestrians” or “knights”), with 400,000 sestertii, who could engage in commerce and formed an influential business class. Certain political and quasi-political positions were filled by equites, including tax farming and, under the Principate, leadership of the Praetorian Guard. Below the equites were three more classes of property-owning citizens; and lastly the proletarii , whose property was valued below 11,000  asses . [8]

Analysis of Roman Centuriate Organisation 509-241 BC * [9]
ClassCensus property rating

money (property)

Electoral
assembly
votes per
person
Military Equipment

(self-supplied)

Patricians (historical aristocracy)
Senatores 400,000  sestertii (1,000,000 As)
Equites**400,000 sestertiiHorse, ...
Plebeians (commoners)
First ( triarii )100,000  As (100  iugera)2Helm, round shield, cuirass, greaves, sword, and spear.
Second ( principes )75,000 As (75 iugera)1Helm, round shield, greaves, sword and spear.
Third ( hastati )50,000 As (50 iugera)1Helm, oblong shield, sword and spear.
Fourth ( leves )25,000 As (25 iugera)1Oblong shield, spear or sword, javelin
Fifth11,000 As (11 iugera)
12,500 As (12 iugera)
1Slings ( accensi ) or javelins ( velites )
Proles (landless poor)
Proletarii below 11,000  assēs Fleets (oarsmen)
* This was the system of the Centuriate Assembly and was the practice of the Servian constitution. Information arranged by Tim Cornell based on the works of Livy, Polybius, and Dionysius of Hallicarnasus.
For a contrasting version of the same or similar data, see the table in the Equites article.
** The equites class was available for both plebeians and patricians, and favored by ambitious young men in both groups.
At the period this was valid 1 Denarius was worth about 10 As; Luuk de Ligt puts the value of an iugerium at 1,000 As or 100 denarii as a recommended baseline because values fluctuate a lot and because of many factors. [10]

Citizenship

The Orator, c. 100 BC, an Etrusco-Roman bronze sculpture depicting Aule Metele (Latin: Aulus Metellus), an Etruscan man wearing a Roman toga while engaged in rhetoric; the statue features an inscription in the Etruscan alphabet L'Arringatore.jpg
The Orator , c. 100 BC, an Etrusco-Roman bronze sculpture depicting Aule Metele (Latin: Aulus Metellus), an Etruscan man wearing a Roman toga while engaged in rhetoric; the statue features an inscription in the Etruscan alphabet

Women

Free-born women in ancient Rome were citizens (cives), but could not vote or hold political office. [11] The form of Roman marriage called conubium, for instance, requires that both spouses be citizens; like men from towns granted civitas sine suffragio , women eligible for legal marriage were citizens without suffrage. The legal status of a mother as a citizen affected her son's citizenship. [12] The phrase ex duobus civibus Romanis natos (“children born of two Roman citizens”) indicates that a Roman woman was regarded as having citizen status, in specific contrast to a peregrina .Women are objects.

Latin Right

The Latin Right was a form of citizenship with limited rights. It was conferred originally on the allied towns of Latium in the Republican era, and gradually extended to communities throughout the Empire. Latin citizens had rights, but not the vote, although their leading magistrates could become full citizens.

Peregrini

Free-born foreign subjects were known as peregrini , and special laws existed to govern their conduct and disputes. These distinctions continued until 212 AD, when Caracalla extended full Roman citizenship to all free-born men in the empire.

Slaves

Slaves (servi) were not citizens, and lacked even the legal standing accorded free-born foreigners. For the most part, slaves descended from debtors and from prisoners of war, especially women and children captured during sieges and other military campaigns in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Carthage. In the later years of the Republic and into the Empire, more slaves came from newly conquered areas of Gaul, Britain, North Africa, and Asia Minor. Many slaves were created as the result of Rome's conquest of Greece, but Greek culture was considered in some respects superior to that of Rome: hence Horace's famous remark Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit ("Captured Greece took her savage conqueror captive"). The Roman playwright Terence is thought to have been brought to Rome as a slave. Thus slavery was regarded as a circumstance of birth, misfortune, or war; it was defined in terms of legal status, or rather the lack thereof, and was neither limited to or defined by ethnicity or race, nor regarded as an inescapably permanent condition.

Slaves who lacked skills or education performed agricultural or other forms of manual labor. Those who were violent or disobedient, or who for whatever reason were considered a danger to society, might be sentenced to labor in the mines, where they suffered under inhumane conditions. Slaves subjected to harsh labor conditions also had few if any opportunities to obtain their freedom but died.

Since slaves were legally property, they could be disposed of by their owners at any time. All children born to female slaves were slaves. Some slave owners, as for instance Tacitus,[ citation needed ] freed slaves whom they believed to be their natural children. Slaves who had the education or skills to earn a living were often manumitted upon the death of their owner as a condition of his will. Slaves who conducted business for their masters were also permitted to earn and save money for themselves, and some might be able to buy their own freedom.

Over time, legislation was passed to protect the lives and health of slaves. Although many prostitutes were slaves, for instance, the bill of sale for some slaves stipulated that they could not be used for commercial prostitution. [13]

Freed men

Freed men (liberti) were freed slaves, whose free-born children were full citizens. The status of liberti developed throughout the Republic as their number increased. Livy states[ citation needed ] that freedmen in the Early Republic mainly joined the lower classes of the plebeians. Juvenal, writing during the Empire when financial Freedmen were often highly educated and made up the bulk of the civil service during the early Empire. The Augustan poet Horace was himself the child of a freedman from Venusia in southern Italy. Many became enormously wealthy as the result of bribes, fraud, or other forms of corruption, or were given large estates by the Emperor they served.[ citation needed ] Other freedmen engaged in commerce, amassing vast fortunes often only rivalled by those of the wealthiest nobiles. Many of the Satires of Juvenal contain angry denouncements of the pretensions of wealthy freedmen, some 'with the chalk of the slave market still on their heel'. Juvenal saw these successful men as nouveaux riches who were far too ready to show off their (often ill-gotten) wealth. Another famous caricature is seen in the absurdly extravagant character of Trimalchio in Satyricon. The majority of freedmen, however, joined the plebeian classes, and often worked as farmers or tradesmen.

Related Research Articles

Tribune elected Roman officials

Tribune was the title of various elected officials in ancient Rome. The two most important were the tribunes of the plebs and the military tribunes. For most of Roman history, a college of ten tribunes of the plebs acted as a check on the authority of the senate and the annual magistrates, holding the power of ius intercessionis to intervene on behalf of the plebeians, and veto unfavourable legislation. There were also military tribunes, who commanded portions of the Roman army, subordinate to higher magistrates, such as the consuls and praetors, promagistrates, and their legates. Various officers within the Roman army were also known as tribunes. The title was also used for several other positions and classes in the course of Roman history.

Toga draped mantle worn in Ancient Greece and Rome

The toga, a distinctive garment of ancient Rome, was a roughly semicircular cloth, between 12 and 20 feet in length, draped over the shoulders and around the body. It was usually woven from white wool, and was worn over a tunic. In Roman historical tradition, it is said to have been the favoured dress of Romulus, Rome's founder; it was also thought to have been worn by both sexes, and by the citizen-military. As Roman women gradually adopted the stola, the toga was recognised as formal wear for Roman citizen men. Women engaged in prostitution might have provided the main exception to this rule.

Twelve Tables Roman statute forming the law

The Law of the Twelve Tables was the legislation that stood at the foundation of Roman law. The Tables consolidated earlier traditions into an enduring set of laws.

Women in ancient Rome

Freeborn women in ancient Rome were citizens (cives), but could not vote or hold political office. Because of their limited public role, women are named less frequently than men by Roman historians. But while Roman women held no direct political power, those from wealthy or powerful families could and did exert influence through private negotiations. Exceptional women who left an undeniable mark on history range from Lucretia and Claudia Quinta, whose stories took on mythic significance; fierce Republican-era women such as Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, and Fulvia, who commanded an army and issued coins bearing her image; women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, most prominently Livia, who contributed to the formation of Imperial mores; and the empress Helena, a driving force in promoting Christianity.

In ancient Rome, a gens, plural gentes, was a family consisting of all those individuals who shared the same nomen and claimed descent from a common ancestor. A branch of a gens was called a stirps. The gens was an important social structure at Rome and throughout Italy during the period of the Roman Republic. Much of an individual's social standing depended on the gens to which he belonged. Certain gentes were considered patrician, others plebeian, while some had both patrician and plebeian branches. The importance of membership in a gens declined considerably in imperial times.

The equites constituted the second of the property-based classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the senatorial class. A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques.

Roman citizenship

Citizenship in ancient Rome was a privileged political and legal status afforded to free individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance.

Plebeian Council The principal assembly of the ancient Roman Republic

The Concilium Plebis was the principal assembly of the ancient Roman Republic. It functioned as a legislative assembly, through which the plebeians (commoners) could pass laws, elect magistrates, and try judicial cases. The Plebeian Council was originally organized on the basis of the Curia. Thus, it was originally a "Plebeian Curiate Assembly". The Plebeian Council usually met in the well of the comitium and could only be convoked by the Tribune of the Plebs. The assembly elected the Tribunes of the Plebs and the plebeian aediles, and only the plebeians were allowed to vote.

Lex Aelia Sentia was a law established in ancient Rome in 4 AD. It was one of the laws that the Roman assemblies had to pass. This law, has made limitations on manumissions. Manumission, or the freeing of a slave, became increasingly important by the early empire. Augustus sought to enact a series of restrictions on the practice. This law stated that for a manumission to be valid a master had to be at least twenty years old and a slave at least thirty. These limitations on manumissions were made when the number of manumissions were so large, that they even questioned the social system of the time.

Roman tribe

A tribus, or tribe, was a division of the Roman people, constituting the voting units of a legislative assembly of the Roman Republic. The word is probably derived from tribuere, to divide or distribute; the traditional derivation from tres, three, is doubtful.

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A freedman or freedwoman is a former slave who has been released from slavery, usually by legal means. Historically, slaves were freed either by manumission or emancipation. A fugitive slave is one who escaped slavery by fleeing.

Roman assemblies Assemblies actve in the time of Roman rule

The Roman Assemblies were institutions in ancient Rome. They functioned as the machinery of the Roman legislative branch, and thus passed all legislation. Since the assemblies operated on the basis of direct democracy, ordinary citizens, and not elected representatives, would cast all ballots. The assemblies were subject to strong checks on their power by the executive branch and by the Roman Senate. Laws were passed by Curia, Tribes, and Centuries.

Social class in Italy began early on in Ancient Rome, and this article comprises more or less how it is today.

Family in ancient Rome

The Ancient Roman family was a complex social structure based mainly on the nuclear family, but could also include various combinations of other members, such as extended family members, household slaves, and freed slaves. Ancient Romans had different names to describe their concept of family, including "familia" to describe the nuclear family and "domus" which would have included all the inhabitants of the household. The types of interactions between the different members of the family were dictated by the perceived social roles each member played. An Ancient Roman family's structure was constantly changing as a result of the low life expectancy and through marriage, divorce, and adoption.

References

  1. Koenraad Verboven. (2007). The Associative Empire. Athenaeum95, p. 861.
  2. Carlin A. Barton. (1993). The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster, pp. 176–177. Princeton University Press.
  3. Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 1:8
  4. McKay, John P. (2013). Study guide for a History of World Societies, Volume A: To 1500, 51. Content Technologies.
  5. "patricians." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 16 January 2011.
  6. "plebeians." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 16 January 2011.
  7. Peter Garnsey & Richard Saller. (1987) The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture, pp. 112f. Berkeley: University of California.
  8. Joseph Wells, A Short History of Rome to the Death of Augustus (Plymouth: William Brendan and Sons, 1896), p. 16.
  9. Based on Livy 1.43; Dionysius of Halicarnassus IV, 16-18. First referenced by Cornell, T.J. (1995). The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from Bronze Age to the Punic Wars 1000-264 BCE, 179.
  10. Ligt, Luuk /de; Northwood, S. J. (2008-01-01). People, Land, and Politics: Demographic Developments and the Transformation of Roman Italy 300 BC-AD 14. BRILL. ISBN   9004171185.
  11. Bruce W. Frier & Thomas A.J. McGinn. (2004). A Casebook on Roman Family Law, pp. 31–32, 457, et passim. Oxford University Press: American Philological Association.
  12. See Frier and McGinn, passim, and A.N. Sherwin-White. (1979). Roman Citizenship, pp. 211 & 268. Oxford University Press.online (on male citizenship as it relates to marrying citizen women) et passim.
  13. McGinn, Thomas A.J. (1998). Prostitution, Sexuality and the Law in Ancient Rome, p. 293. Oxford University Press.