Edited by Gerald Boerner
Most of us are fascinated with the amazing discoveries of Archeology. King Tut’s unopened Tomb, the lost city of the Incas (Machu Picchu), and Homer’s great city of Troy. Among these the discovery of the Rosetta Stone takes its place. Not only did it unlock the secretes of the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, a previously untranslatable ancient language, but it provided a bright side to Napoleon’s attempt to conquer Egypt at the end 18th century.
The Rosetta stone contained the same document in Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic script, and ancient Greek. While it would take another twenty-three years to beak the meaning of the hieroglyphs, it started a new era of scientific investigation in which discoveries like the Rosetta stone were duplicated and studied concurrently by scholars about Europe via Lithographic copies and plaster casts.
The breakthrough can when a brilliant but eccentric Frenchman, Jean-François Champollion, made his breakthrough in 1822. He was able to derive an association of the various glyphs with their equivalent Greek letters. This allowed not only the understanding of the hieroglyphics on this tablet, but for those glyphs on temples and burial sites throughout Egypt. A new era of Egyptology was enabled!
“Thomas Young was one of the first to attempt decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, basing his own work on the investigations of Swedish diplomat Åkerblad, but he failed to fully decipher the script but Young was able to translate some of the stone leading the way for Champollion to begin his own investigations. In 1822, Champollion finally published the first correct translation of the hieroglyphs and the key to the grammatical system. Young and all others praised this work.” (Wikipedia)
So, let’s get on our way in exploring the history and role of the Rosetta stone… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 4095 Words ]
Quotations Related to EGYPTIAN & GREEK:
“Evil hiding among us is an ancient theme.”
— John Carpenter
“Few of the great works of ancient Greek literature are easy reading.”
— Gilbert Murray
“In many ways we are all sons and daughters of ancient Greece.”
— Nia Vardalos
“The form language used by the ancient Egyptians in their structures is minimal.”
— Harry Seidler
“The Egyptians could run to Egypt, the Syrians into Syria. The only place we could run was into the sea, and before we did that we might as well fight.”
— Golda Meir
“It would be curious to know what leads a man to become a stationer rather than a baker, when he is no longer compelled, as among the Egyptians, to succeed to his father’s craft.”
— Honore de Balzac
“Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.”
— Erma Bombeck
“Art is exalted above religion and race. Not a single solitary soul these days believes in the religions of the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Greeks… Only their art, whenever it was beautiful, stands proud and exalted, rising above all time.”
— Emil Nolde
Archeology: Bouchard discovers the Rosetta Stone in 1799…
The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian granodiorite stele inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek. Because it presents essentially the same text in all three scripts (with some minor differences between them), it provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Originally displayed within a temple, the stele was probably moved during the early Christian or medieval period and eventually used as building material in the construction of Fort Julien near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta. It was rediscovered there in 1799 by a soldier of the French expedition to Egypt. As the first ancient bilingual text recovered in modern times, the Rosetta Stone aroused widespread public interest with its potential to decipher the hitherto untranslated Ancient Egyptian language. Lithographic copies and plaster casts began circulating amongst European museums and scholars. Meanwhile, British troops defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, and the original stone came into British possession under the Capitulation of Alexandria. Transported to London, it has been on public display at the British Museum since 1802. It is the most-visited object in the British Museum.
Ever since its rediscovery, the stone has been the focus of nationalist rivalries, including its transfer from French to British possession during the Napoleonic Wars, a long-running dispute over the relative value of Young’s and Champollion’s contributions to the decipherment, and since 2003, demands for the stone’s return to Egypt.
Study of the decree was already under way as the first full translation of the Greek text appeared in 1803. It was 20 years, however, before the decipherment of the Egyptian texts was announced by Jean-François Champollion in Paris in 1822; it took longer still before scholars were able to read other Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and literature confidently. Major advances in the decoding were: recognition that the stone offered three versions of the same text (1799); that the demotic text used phonetic characters to spell foreign names (1802); that the hieroglyphic text did so as well, and had pervasive similarities to the demotic (Thomas Young, 1814); and that, in addition to being used for foreign names, phonetic characters were also used to spell native Egyptian words (Champollion, 1822–1824).
Two other fragmentary copies of the same decree were discovered later, and several similar Egyptian bilingual or trilingual inscriptions are now known, including two slightly earlier Ptolemaic decrees (the Decree of Canopus in 238 BC, and the Memphis decree of Ptolemy IV, ca. 218 BC). The Rosetta Stone is therefore no longer unique, but it was the essential key to modern understanding of Ancient Egyptian literature and civilization.
Description of the Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone is listed as "a stone of black granite, bearing three inscriptions … found at Rosetta", in a contemporary catalogue of the artifacts discovered by the French expedition and surrendered to British troops in 1801. At some period after its arrival in London, the inscriptions on the stone were colored in white chalk to make them more legible, and the remaining surface was covered with a layer of carnauba wax designed to protect the Rosetta Stone from visitors’ fingers. This gave a dark color to the stone that led to its mistaken identification as black basalt. These additions were removed when the stone was cleaned in 1999, revealing the original dark grey tint of the rock, the sparkle of its crystalline structure, and a pink vein running across the top left corner. Comparisons with the Klemm collection of Egyptian rock samples showed a close resemblance to rock from a small granodiorite quarry at Gebel Tingar on the west bank of the Nile, west of Elephantine in the region of Aswan; the pink vein is typical of granodiorite from this region.
The Rosetta Stone is now 114.4 cm (45 in) high at its highest point, 72.3 cm (28.5 in) wide, and 27.9 cm (11 in) thick. It weighs approximately 760 kilograms (1,700 lb). It bears three inscriptions: the top register in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the second in the Egyptian demotic script, and the third in Ancient Greek. The front surface is polished and the inscriptions lightly incised on it; the sides of the stone are smoothed, but the back is only roughly worked, presumably because this would have not been visible when it was erected.
The Rosetta Stone is a fragment of a larger stele. No additional fragments were found in later searches of the Rosetta site. Owing to its damaged state, none of the three texts are absolutely complete. The top register composed of Egyptian hieroglyphs suffered the most damage. Only the last 14 lines of the hieroglyphic text can be seen; all of them are broken on the right side, and 12 of them on the left. The following register of demotic text has survived best: it has 32 lines, of which the first 14 are slightly damaged on the right side. The final register of Greek text contains 54 lines, of which the first 27 survive in full; the rest are increasingly fragmentary due to a diagonal break at the bottom right of the stone.
The full length of the hieroglyphic text and the total size of the original stele, of which the Rosetta Stone is a fragment, can be estimated based on comparable stelae that have survived, including other copies of the same order. The slightly earlier decree of Canopus, erected in 238 BC during the reign of Ptolemy III, is 219 cm (86 in) high and 82 cm (32 in) wide, and contains 36 lines of hieroglyphic text, 73 of demotic text, and 74 of Greek. The texts are of similar length. From such comparisons it can be estimated that an additional 14 or 15 lines of hieroglyphic inscription are missing from the top register of the Rosetta Stone, amounting to another 30 cm (12 in). In addition to the inscriptions, there would probably have been a scene depicting the king being presented to the gods, topped with a winged disk, as on the Canopus Stele. These parallels, and a hieroglyphic sign for "stela" on the stone itself suggest that it originally had a rounded top. The height of the original stele is estimated to have been about 149 cm (59 in).
Memphis Decree and its Context
The stele was erected after the coronation of King Ptolemy V, and was inscribed with a decree that established the divine cult of the new ruler. The decree was issued by a congress of priests who gathered at Memphis. The date is given as "4 Xandicus" in the Macedonian calendar and "18 Meshir" in the Egyptian calendar, which corresponds to March 27, 196 BC. The year is stated as the ninth year of Ptolemy V’s reign (equated with 197/196 BC), and it is confirmed by naming four priests who officiated in that same year: Aëtus son of Aëtus was priest of the divine cults of Alexander the Great and the five Ptolemies down to Ptolemy V himself; his three colleagues, named in turn in the inscription, led the worship of Berenice Euergetis (wife of Ptolemy III), Arsinoe Philadelpha (wife and sister of Ptolemy II) and Arsinoe Philopator, mother of Ptolemy V. However, a second date is also given in the Greek and hieroglyphic texts, corresponding to 27 November 197 BC, the official anniversary of Ptolemy’s coronation. The inscription in demotic conflicts with this, listing consecutive days in March for the decree and the anniversary; although it is uncertain why such discrepancies exist, it is clear that the decree was issued in 196 BC and that it was designed to re-establish the rule of the Ptolemaic kings over Egypt. …
There exists no one definitive English translation of the decree because of the minor differences between the three original texts and because modern understanding of the ancient languages continues to develop. An up-to-date translation by R. S. Simpson, based on the demotic text, appears on the British Museum website. It can be compared with Edwyn R. Bevan’s full translation in The House of Ptolemy (1927), based on the Greek text with footnote comments on variations between this and the two Egyptian texts. Bevan’s version, abridged, begins thus:
In the reign of the young one—who has received the royalty from his father—lord of crowns, glorious, who has established Egypt, and is pious towards the gods, superior to his foes, who has restored the civilized life of men, lord of the Thirty Years’ Feasts, even as Hephaistos the Great; a king, like the Sun, the great king of the upper and lower regions; offspring of the Gods Philopatores, one whom Hephaistos has approved, to whom the Sun has given the victory, the living image of Zeus, son of the Sun, Ptolemy living-for‑ever beloved of Ptah; in the ninth year, when Aëtus, son of Aëtus, was priest of Alexander …;
The chief priests and prophets and those that enter the inner shrine for the robing of the gods, and the feather-bearers and the sacred scribes, and all the other priests … being assembled in the temple in Memphis on this day, declared:
Since king Ptolemy, the everliving, the beloved of Ptah, the God Epiphanes Eucharistos, the son of king Ptolemy and queen Arsinoe, Gods Philopatores, has much benefited both the temples and those that dwell in them, as well as all those that are his subjects, being a god sprung from a god and goddess (like Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, who avenged his father Osiris), and being benevolently disposed towards the gods, has dedicated to the temples revenues in money and corn, and has undertaken much outlay to bring Egypt into prosperity, and to establish the temples, and has been generous with all his own means, and of the revenues and taxes which he receives from Egypt some has wholly remitted and others has lightened, in order that the people and all the rest might be in prosperity during his reign …;
It seemed good to the priests of all the temples in the land to increase greatly the existing honours of king Ptolemy, the everliving, the beloved of Ptah … And a feast shall be kept for king Ptolemy, the everliving, the beloved of Ptah, the God Epiphanes Eucharistos, yearly in all the temples of the land from the first of Thoth for five days; in which they shall wear garlands, and perform sacrifices, and the other usual honours; and the priests shall be called priests of the God Epiphanes Eucharistos in addition to the names of the other gods whom they serve; and his priesthood shall be entered upon all formal documents and private individuals shall also be allowed to keep the feast and set up the aforementioned shrine, and have it in their houses, performing the customary honours at the feasts, both monthly and yearly, in order that it may be known to all that the men of Egypt magnify and honour the God Epiphanes Eucharistos the king, according to the law.
The stele almost certainly did not originate in the town of Rashid (Rosetta) where it was found, but more likely came from a temple site farther inland, possibly the royal town of Sais. The temple it originally came from was probably closed around AD 392 when Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius I ordered the closing of all non-Christian temples of worship. At some point the original stele broke, its largest piece becoming what we now know as the Rosetta Stone. Ancient Egyptian temples were later used as quarries for new construction, and the Rosetta Stone probably was re-used in this manner. Later it was incorporated in the foundations of a fortress constructed by the Mameluke Sultan Qaitbay (ca. 1416/18–1496) to defend the Bolbitine branch of the Nile at Rashid. There it would lie for at least another three centuries until its rediscovery.
Two other inscriptions of the Memphis decrees have been found since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone: the Nubayrah Stele and an inscription found at the Temple of Philae. Unlike the Rosetta Stone, their hieroglyphic inscriptions were relatively intact, and though the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone had been deciphered long before the discovery of the other copies of the decree, subsequent Egyptologists including Wallis Budge used these other inscriptions to further refine the actual hieroglyphs that must have been used in the lost portions of the hieroglyphic register on the Rosetta Stone.
Rediscovery of the Rosetta Stone
On Napoleon’s 1798 campaign in Egypt, the expeditionary army was accompanied by the Commission des Sciences et des Arts, a corps of 167 technical experts (savants). On July 15, 1799, as French soldiers under the command of Colonel d’Hautpoul were strengthening the defences of Fort Julien, a couple of miles north-east of the Egyptian port city of Rashid, Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard spotted a slab with inscriptions on one side that the soldiers had uncovered. He and d’Hautpoul saw at once that it might be important and informed general Jacques-François Menou, who happened to be at Rosetta. The find was announced to Napoleon’s newly founded scientific association in Cairo, the Institut d’Égypte, in a report by Commission member Michel Ange Lancret noting that it contained three inscriptions, the first in hieroglyphs and the third in Greek, and rightly suggesting that the three inscriptions would be versions of the same text. Lancret’s report, dated July 19, 1799, was read to a meeting of the Institute soon after July 25. Bouchard, meanwhile, transported the stone to Cairo for examination by scholars. Napoleon himself inspected what had already begun to be called la Pierre de Rosette, the Rosetta Stone, shortly before his return to France in August 1799.
The discovery was reported in Courrier de l’Égypte, the official newspaper of the French expedition, in September: the anonymous reporter expressed a hope that the stone might one day be the key to deciphering hieroglyphs. In 1800, three of the Commission’s technical experts devised ways to make copies of the texts on the stone. One of these, the printer and gifted linguist Jean-Joseph Marcel, is credited as the first to recognize that the middle text, originally guessed to be Syriac, was, in fact, written in the Egyptian demotic script, rarely used for stone inscriptions and, therefore, seldom seen by scholars at that time. It was the artist and inventor Nicolas-Jacques Conté who found a way to use the stone itself as a printing block; a slightly different method for reproducing the inscriptions was adopted by Antoine Galland. The prints that resulted were taken to Paris by General Charles Dugua. Scholars in Europe were now able to see the inscriptions and attempt to read them.
After Napoleon’s departure, French troops held off British and Ottoman attacks for a further 18 months. In March 1801, the British landed at Aboukir Bay. General Jacques-François Menou, who had been one of the first to see the stone in 1799, was now in command of the French expedition. His troops, including the Commission, marched north towards the Mediterranean coast to meet the enemy, transporting the stone along with other antiquities of all kinds. Defeated in battle, Menou and the remnant of his army retreated to Alexandria where they were surrounded and besieged, the stone now inside the city. He admitted defeat and surrendered on August 30.
From French to British Possession
After the surrender, a dispute arose over the fate of French archaeological and scientific discoveries in Egypt, including a group of artifacts, biological specimens, notes, plans and drawings collected by the members of the commission. Menou refused to hand them over, claiming that they belonged to the Institute. British General John Hely-Hutchinson refused to relieve the city until Menou gave in. Scholars Edward Daniel Clarke and William Richard Hamilton, newly arrived from England, agreed to examine the collections in Alexandria and claimed to have found many artefacts that the French had not revealed. In a letter home, Clarke said that "we found much more in their possession than was represented or imagined".
When Hutchinson claimed all materials were property of the British Crown, a French scholar, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, said to Clarke and Hamilton that they would rather burn all their discoveries—referring ominously to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria—than turn them over. Clarke and Hamilton pleaded the French scholars’ case and Hutchinson finally agreed that items such as natural history specimens would be the scholars’ private property. Menou quickly claimed the stone, too, as his private property; had this been accepted, he would have been able to take it to France. Equally aware of the stone’s unique value, General Hutchinson rejected Menou’s claim. Eventually an agreement was reached, and the transfer of the objects was incorporated into the Capitulation of Alexandria signed by representatives of the British, French and Ottoman forces. … [MORE]
Reading the Rosetta Stone
Jean-François Champollion (23 December 1790 – 4 March 1832) was a French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist, decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Champollion published the first translation of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs in 1822, showing that the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs.
Prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and its eventual decipherment, there had been no understanding of the Ancient Egyptian language and script since shortly before the fall of the Roman Empire. The usage of the hieroglyphic script had become increasingly specialized even in the later Pharaonic period; by the 4th century AD, few Egyptians were capable of reading hieroglyphs. Monumental use of hieroglyphs ceased after the closing of all non-Christian temples in the year 391 by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I; the last known inscription, found at Philae and known as The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, is dated to 24 August 396 AD.
Hieroglyphs retained their pictorial appearance and classical authors emphasised this aspect, in sharp contrast to the Greek and Roman alphabets. For example, in the 5th century the priest Horapollo wrote Hieroglyphica, an explanation of almost 200 glyphs. Believed to be authoritative yet in many ways misleading, this and other works were a lasting impediment to the understanding of Egyptian writing. Later attempts at deciphering hieroglyphs were made by Arab historians in medieval Egypt during the 9th and 10th centuries. Dhul-Nun al-Misri and Ibn Wahshiyya were the first historians to study this ancient script, by relating them to the contemporary Coptic language used by Coptic priests in their time. The study of hieroglyphs continued with fruitless attempts at decipherment by European scholars, notably Johannes Goropius Becanus in the 16th century, Athanasius Kircher in the 17th and Georg Zoëga in the 18th. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 would provide critical missing information, gradually revealed by a succession of scholars, that eventually allowed Jean-François Champollion to determine the nature of this mysterious script.
Please take time to further explore more about Rosetta Stone, Egyptian
Hieroglyphs, Ancient Greek, Pierre-François Bouchard, Jean-François
Champollion, French expedition to Egypt, and Napoleon by accessing the
Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body
of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes
and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…
Other Events on this Day:
French Capt. Pierre-François Bouchard discovers the Rosetta Stone, a stone tablet whose three scripts hold the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Nile River delta during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign. The Rosetta Stone will be successfully translated by Jean-François Champollion in 1822.
The Confederate Ironclad Arkansas pounds its way through a fleet of Union warships blockading Vicksburg on the Mississippi River.
Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest athletes in U.S. history, shatters the world record in the decathlon at the Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.
August Bacon of Georgia becomes the first senator elected by popular vote (before the Seventeenth Amendment, senators were elected by state legislators).
Pacific Aero Products, later renamed The Boeing Company, is founded in Seattle by William Boeing.
Robert Wadlow, the so-called Giant of Illinois, dies at age 22 in Manistee, Mich. At over 8 ft. 11 in., Wadlow is the tallest man known to have lived.
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot to death outside his mansion in Miami Beach by Andrew Cunanan. Versace was 50.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Rosetta Stone…
Wikipedia: Egyptian Hieroglyphs…
Wikipedia: Ancient Greek…
Wikipedia: Pierre-François Bouchard…
Wikipedia: Jean-François Champollion…
The British Museum: Champollion’s Hieroglyphic Hand…
Brainy Quote: (ANCIENT) EGYPTIAN Quotes…
Brainy Quote: (ANCIENT) GREEK Quotes…
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