Brief IdentificationEdit


Rosetta Stone in the British Museum

The object depicted in the picture to the right is the Rosetta Stone. In 196 BCE, Ptolemy V Epiphanes made the decree that is inscribed upon the stone in two languages and three scripts, which pardoned some rebels, lowered taxes, and paid tribute to the priests and army. The French military found this broken object in 1799 CE in the Egyptian town of Rosetta from which the stone was named. It was transferred to the British in 1801 CE and currently resides in the British Museum.

Technical EvaluationEdit

A council of all the priests of Egypt engraved the child-king's decree on black basalt, which could have been found in eastern Africa. Although there are parts missing, the stone measures "3 ft. 9 in. in length, 2 ft. 4.5 in. in width, and 11 inches in thickness." [See Budge 1976, 35; Andrews 1985, 19] The stone was estimated to be "from 18 to 24 inches longer" when the stone was whole [See Budge 1976, 35].

There is a bit of discrepancy about how exactly the Rosetta Stone was found. It was either lying in plain sight or it was removed from a wall that was going to be destroyed. Regardless, the credit for the discovery in 1799 goes to the French Lieutenant Bouchard and his subordinates [See Andrews 1985, 12]. With the British defeat of French troops in 1801, the stone was transferred over to the hands of General Hutchinson under the Treaty of Alexandria (1801). The stone remained in a warehouse in Alexandria until Colonel Turner brought it to Britain where it was intensely examined and copies were made. The British Museum did not acquire it until late 1802 [See Andrews 1985, 16-18].

Local Historical ContextEdit

Ptolemy V Epiphanes, a twelve year old Egyptian king, ruled for eight years before his coronation. During that time, he had greatly reduced taxes, "restored law and order in the country, and had restored all the ancient rites and privileges and revenues of the priests." [See Budge 1976, 9-10] In order to commemorate Ptolemy, a council of priests "drafted in Greek a Decree in which the good deeds of the King and the honours which they proposed to pay him were carefully enumerated." [See Budge 1976, 10] The council ordered copies of the decree, along with translations in both hieroglyphics and demotic, to be sent to every temple of the first three classes.

World-Historical SignificanceEdit

In 332, Alexander the Great reached Egypt. The Egyptians welcomed him with open arms, and absorbed Macedonian culture. This is evident as the priests first drafted the Rosetta Stone in Greek and later copies were to have translations written in hieroglyphics and demotic [See Budge 1976, 10, 212]. The stone, therefore, does not have three languages inscribed on it. It has only two languages, Greek and Egyptian, and three scripts. The Greek inscription has led to the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Thomas Young "was the first to decipher any Egyptian hieroglyph correctly." [See Budge 1976, 205] Young's method consisted of looking for a word or groups of words that occurred roughly the same amount of times in the demotic and Greek versions of the text. He successfully identified major words like Ptolemy, king, and Egypt [Andrews 1985, 25]. Young and Jean Francois Champollion, who built upon Young's work, demonstrated that hieroglyphics not only had phonetic values but also alphabetical values [See Andrews 1985, 28; Budge 1976, 230]. Champollion took over deciphering hieroglyphics after Young abandoned the project after publishing his article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, becoming known as "the Father of the Decipherment of Hieroglyph." [Andrews 1985, 29] Champollion's "knowledge of Coptic enabled him frequently to suggest values which he found substantially correct." [See Budge 1976, 224] The decoding of the Rosetta Stone has unlocked the secrets of ancient Egyptian rituals and daily living. Although hieroglyphs would have eventually been translated, this "bilingual text" allowed the process to happen sooner rather than later [See Andrews 1985, 11].


Andrews, Carol. The British Museum Book of the Rosetta Stone. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1985.

Budge, Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis. The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. New York: AMS Press, 1976.

Britannica Online, "Alexander the Great (king of Macedonia),"

Britannica Online, "basalt (rock),"

Britannica Online, "Coptic language,"

Britannica Online, "demotic script,"

Britannica Online, "hieroglyphic writing,"

Britannica Online, "Jean-Francois Champollion,"

Britannica Online, "metalwork :: Engraving,"

Britannica Online, "Ptolemy V Epiphanes,"

Britannica Online, "Rosetta,"

Britannica Online, "Rosetta Stone,"

Britannica Online, "Thomas Young,"

British Museum, "Rosetta Stone,"