17 April 2023

What is the Rosetta stone? – Discover the characteristics of the Rosetta stone

By Donald

It is one of the most famous and enigmatic in the history of mankind. It was discovered in Egypt in 1799, when GPS technology did not yet exist. It caused fascination and became the object of study for more than two centuries, due to its value in understanding Egyptian hieroglyphic characters. In this article you will find extensive information about this stone and how it has become one of the most valuable pieces of cultural heritage.

Definition and concept of Rosetta stone

Found in the Egyptian city of Rosetta in 1799, the Rosetta stone is a black granite slab measuring about one meter long and half a meter wide, weighing about 760 kg. This slab is an Egyptian stela containing an inscription of a decree issued in Memphis in 196 BC in the name of Pharaoh Ptolemy V.

This inscription is in three different types of writing: in the upper part Egyptian hieroglyphics, in the center the Egyptian demotic script and in the lower part ancient Greek. That is why, by containing the same text, in 3 different scripts, it became the key to facilitating the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphic characters.

None of the writings in each language is complete. Hieroglyphs have only 14 lines, Demotic 32, and Ancient Greek 54 lines. This is because it was not possible to recover the complete stela, only a part of it.

In ancient Egypt, hieroglyphs were used by priestswhile the demotic script was used by the common people, and the Greek had an administrative purpose.

The text referred to a decree of the priestly council of Memphis, began with a eulogy on the achievements of the government of Ptolemy V. It spoke of the prosperity that the king had brought to Egypt, and the investments they made in the construction of temples and restoration of some ancient ones. He also made reference to the taxes, which had been reduced and the release of many prisoners.

It is mentioned about the defeat of an enemy fortress, and that In honor of this victory, statues of the king would be built., which would consist of 10 gold diadems in all the temples. Likewise, this is recognized as the god Ptolemy Epiphanes Eucharist armed by Ptah, who was an Egyptian creator god, his birthday and his coronation are also mentioned.

This stone was carved in the Hellenistic period and it is believed that originally he was in a temple, because in its writing the order of installation of the text in all the temples was also established, and that it would be located next to the statue of the king. Some time later it would be transferred to Rosetta and used as construction material.

What is the Rosetta stone used for?

It has been a fundamental piece in the compression of the Egyptian hieroglyphic script. His inscription allowed the creation of a system to decipher them, this is thanks to the fact that it is written in 3 types of writing, among these is the Greek alphabet, which was easier to read and understand.

Before its discovery, the writing and language of ancient Egypt was not understood. Because the people who knew him had vanished before the culmination of the roman empire. From the 4th century BC very few Egyptians managed to understand it, this was ceasing more and more, as a consequence of the decision of Emperor Theodosius I, who ordered to close the temples that did not belong to Christianity in the year 391 AD.

Through the Greek text it was possible to begin to decipher What does the content of the stone say?since scholars handled this script quite well, although they did not know its use in depth during the Hellenistic period.

The first attempts to carry out a successful translation presented many moments of difficulty. As the context of the language was unknown, and as it was applied in the religious and administrative fields, this became a task with many obstacles.

With the demotic text, some scientists were already working on it, trying to obtain a correct translation, since it was a writing that had not been discovered for long. Realizing that the writing they were trying to decipher was the same as that found on the stone, they managed to get an alphabet out of it which contained 29 letters.

Finally, some scientists, through conversations with a Chinese student about the form of their writing. They came to consider the possibility that the characters of each hieroglyph, were written phoneticallyjust like the Chinese language.

That is why, through suggestions, they compared those fragments that they had already managed to decipher through Greek, with the symbols that most connected with them.

A key character to understand the stone is: Jean-François Champollion, considered the father of Egyptology, was a French historian and linguist. This academic during the 19th century studied the Rosetta stone through the mail, in which copies of its contents were sent to him.

In 1822 he presented at a conference a proposal for a hieroglyphic alphabet. After years of studying the stone, Champollion managed to reach this result, for which he also made comparisons with his research on the bilingual obelisk or obelisk of Philé.

What are the characteristics of the Rosetta stone?

  • Its material is black granitea rock formed through the slow cooling of magma at depth.
  • The size of the stone is one meter long and half a meter wide.
  • The inscription on it consists of 3 types of writing: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic script, and ancient Greek.
  • The content is about a Decree issued in Memphisin the year 196 BC, in the name of Pharaoh Ptolemy V, which establishes the elimination of taxes and other activities such as his birthday and the creation of a statue in his honor for having been victorious in a battle.
  • is an object of great cultural value both for Egypt and for the history of the world. It is considered Egyptian heritage, and is the subject of some disputes by those who believe that it should be returned to Egypt.

What era is the Rosetta stone from?

It dates from the year 196 BC, it was created during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy V. This era was known as Ptolemaic Egypt, and spanned from the conquest by Alexander the Great in 322 BC to the death of the last Ptolemaic queen, Cleopatra VII, in 30 BC.

This is why the Ptolemaic dynasty was of Greek origin and establishes a Hellenistic culture on ancient Egypt.

Who built the Rosetta stone?

This was built by the ancient Egyptians, after the coronation of pharaoh Ptolemy V Epiphanes. The decree that was embodied in the stone establishes the divine cult of the new ruler and some rules regarding taxes.

The scientists affirm that it was not made in the town of ‘Rashid’ or Rosetta, where it was found, but rather came from a temple in the interior of Egyptwhich could be the royal city of Sais.

The temple in which it was located must have closed in AD 392, when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I ordered the closure of pagan templesdid not allow the existence of other beliefs that were not Christian.

Because of this, at some point the stone broke, since its original size was deduced to be larger than the fragment we know today. Later it was used as part of new constructions.

Where is the Rosetta stone found?

The stone is currently in the British Museum in London, England. It was taken in 1802, after being acquired by the government, as part of the treaty of alexandria with the French.

In 2003, there was a request from Egypt to return the stone to its original country, claiming that it is part of heritage and symbol of Egyptian identity. But the answer they got is that they were given a life-size replica, which is on display at the Rashid National Museum, in a place close to where it was first found.

Who discovered the Rosetta stone?

In 1799, a group of French soldiers led by Captain Pierre-Francois Bouchard discovered the interesting stone. They were on an expedition in the city of Rosetta, located on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt.

They were located in that area carrying out excavationswith the purpose of building a fortress, which would work during the military campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In this they found a large stone that caught their attention, which was located on an old wall about to be demolished. They noticed that it contained different types of writing, and upon understanding its importance, they proceeded to make copies and casts of its inscription.

Later, after the withdrawal of French forces from Egypt in 1801, the stone was seized by British troops and taken to the British Museum in London, where it is still found.

What is the importance of the Rosetta stone?

It is an object that represents a fundamental cultural and historical importance. It was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, which was a script that had been forgotten after the conquest of Egypt by the Romans.

It was decisive for scholars of ancient Egyptian writing. These for a long time looked for a way to translate hieroglyphs to a known language, without obtaining favorable results. Since they were difficult to understand since there was no resource to compare them to, it was a script that had long since disappeared.