the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum in London
the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum in London
Click picture to enlarge (really large)


Rosetta Stone

Image Above

The Rosetta Stone has the following dimensions:

Height: 112.3 cm / 44.2 in
Width: 75.7 cm / 29.8 in
Thickness: 28.4 cm / 11.1 in

Rosetta is a town in Egypt.
In Arabic, the town's name is el-Rashid or Rasheed.

Here is Rosetta on a map:

Map Location of Rosetta, Egypt in 1798
Map Location of Rosetta, Egypt in 1798
Click to enlarge

What's So Special About the Rosetta Stone?

The Rosetta Stone carries an inscription that is written three times in different languages and scripts. This stone helped decipher the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script.

It is the only surviving fragment of a larger stone slab (stela) recording a decree on March 27, 196 BC, written by grateful Egyptian priests at Memphis.

Ptolemy V Epiphanes was the king of Egypt at the time. This decree was written in the 9th year of his reign.

View Ptolemy V Epiphanes' entry in the List of Egyptian Rulers.


The Writing on the Rosetta Stone

At the top section, the decree was written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, the traditional or hieratic script of Egyptian monuments, already 3000 years old.

In the middle, the same decree was written in Egyptian demotic, the everyday script of literate Egyptians, and a simplification of the traditional form.

At the bottom, the decree once more but in Greek, the language used by the administration.

(See picture at the top.)


What Does the Inscription Say?

In a nutshell, it tells us that the Egyptians should be very glad because their king is a great ruler, and how they are to honor him.

In detail, it says that Ptolemy V. Epiphanes...

[...] consecrated revenues of silver and corn to the temples, that he suppressed certain taxes and reduced others, that he granted certain privileges to the priests and soldiers, and that when, in the eighth year of his reign, the Nile rose to a great height and flooded all the plains, he undertook, at great expense, the task of damming it in and directing the overflow of its waters into proper channels, to the great gain and benefit of the agricultural classes.

In addition to the remissions of taxes which he made to the people, he gave handsome gifts to the temples, and subscribed to the various ceremonies which were carried on in them.

In return for these gracious acts the priesthood assembled at Memphis decreed that a statue of the king should be set up in a conspicuous place in every temple of Egypt, and that each should be inscribed with the name and titles of "Ptolemy, the saviour of Egypt."

Royal apparel was to be placed on each statue, and ceremonies were to be performed before each three times a day.

It was also decreed that a gilded wooden shrine, containing a gilded wooden statue of the king, should be placed in each temple, and that these were to be carried out with the shrines of the other kings in the great panegyrics.

It was also decreed that ten golden crowns of a peculiar design should be made and laid upon the royal shrine; that the birthday and coronation day of the king should be celebrated each year with great pomp and show; that the first five days of the month of Thoth should each year be set apart for the performance of a festival in honour of the king; and finally that a copy of this decree, engraved upon a tablet of hard stone in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek characters, should be set up in each of the temples of the first, second and third orders, near the statue of the ever-living Ptolemy.

The Rosetta Stone: Key to the Decipherment of the Ancient Egyptian Writing System
by E.A. Wallis Budge, 1893

Go here for a
full translation of the demotic text on the Rosetta Stone presented by the British Museum.


The Discovery of the Rosetta Stone

In 1799, and just three miles north of the town of Rosetta, at Fort St. Julien, one of  Napoleon's officers accidentally and literally stumbled upon the stone. The officer's name was Pierre François Xavier Bouchard.

What was Napoleon's expedition doing in Egypt in the first place?

Here is more about  Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign.


French archaeologist and expert on all things Egyptian Jean-François Champollion knew what to do with the engravings and managed to decipher the Rosetta Stone, and consequently Egyptian hieroglyphics. The year? 1822.

See more under Ancient Egyptians.


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