Rosetta Stone


Rosetta Stone

Was this stone the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt?

This black basalt stone slab was found in 1798 by French soldiers in the rubble of a wall near the Egyptian town of Rosetta. The writing on it appeared very ancient, at the top of the stone were hieroglyphs reading right to left. In the middle there was shorthand demotic script, and at the bottom was Greek reading left to right. The soldiers realized that it might be an important discovery and they brought it to their authorities. Napoleon Bonaparte became immediately interested in the stone and he had ink impressions made and sent to scholars in Europe. No one understood the meaning of the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone until French scholar Jean Francois Champollion. He spent a good portion of his life studying the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt and the Rosetta Stone. He finally solved the mystery in 1822 when he deciphered the text by matching the name of Ptolemy in the Greek with a hieroglyph found on an ancient Egyptian ring with a stamp which bore the name of Ptolemy. He did the same with the royal name Cleopatra which was from a cartouche of Cleopatra found on an obelisk from Philae. Champollion determined the phonetic values of the inscriptions and of the signs.

Ezekiel 20:5 - And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I [am] the LORD your God;

"And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." - Exodus 32:3,4 

The discovery of the Rosetta Stone is important in the study of Biblical Archaeology, it ushered in the era of modern Egyptology and opened our eyes to 3000 years of peculiar pictures inscribed on Egyptian  temples, statues, and monuments, and a wealth of information verifying and never contradicting the Scriptures.

Also see: Amazing Facts about the Discovery of the Rosetta Stone

British Museum Excerpt

The Rosetta Stone

Height: 114.400 cm (max.)
Width: 72.300 cm
Thickness: 27.900 cm
Excavated by Pierre François Xavier Bouchard
Gift of George III
EA 24
Room 4: Egyptian sculpture


From Fort St Julien, el-Rashid (Rosetta), Egypt
Ptolemaic Period, 196 BC

Valuable key to the decipherment of hieroglyphs

The inscription on the Rosetta Stone is a decree passed by a council of priests, one of a series that affirm the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation.

In previous years the family of the Ptolemies had lost control of certain parts of the country. It had taken their armies some time to put down opposition in the Delta, and parts of southern Upper Egypt, particularly Thebes, were not yet back under the government's control.

Before the Ptolemaic era (that is before about 332 BC), decrees in hieroglyphs such as this were usually set up by the king. It shows how much things had changed from Pharaonic times that the priests, the only people who had kept the knowledge of writing hieroglyphs, were now issuing such decrees. The list of good deeds done by the king for the temples hints at the way in which the support of the priests was ensured.

The decree is inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The importance of this to Egyptology is immense. Soon after the end of the fourth century AD, when hieroglyphs had gone out of use, the knowledge of how to read and write them disappeared. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some 1400 years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them. Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. The French scholar Jean-François Champollion then realized that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language and laid the foundations of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian language and culture.

Soldiers in Napoleon's army discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799 while digging the foundations of an addition to a fort near the town of el-Rashid (Rosetta). On Napoleon's defeat, the stone became the property of the English under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria (1801) along with other antiquities that the French had found.

The Rosetta Stone has been exhibited in the British Museum since 1802, with only one break. Towards the end of the First World War, in 1917, when the Museum was concerned about heavy bombing in London, they moved it to safety along with other, portable, 'important' objects. The Rosetta Stone spent the next two years in a station on the Postal Tube Railway fifty feet below the ground at Holborn.

British Museum Photo of the Rosetta Stone
British Museum Photo


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