Rosetta Stone
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Greek Translation

The Rosetta Stone



Photo of Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone led to the modern understanding of hieroglyphs. Made in Egypt around 200BC, it is a stone tablet engraved with writing which celebrates the crowning of King Ptolemy V. It is a solid piece of black Basalt and is 3ft high by 27.5in wide by 12in deep. Quite heavy.

The interesting thing about the Rosetta Stone is that the writing is repeated three times in different alphabets:

Hieroglyphic (top of stone)- used by ancient Egyptians

Demotic (center of stone)- used by Arabs including modern Egyptians

Greek (base of stone)- used by, erm, Greeks, and other eastern Europeans

The Rosetta Stone was the key used to decrypt two Egyptian writing systems: hieroglyphs (used for official texts) and demotic (used for everyday communication).





The stone contains 14 lines of hieroglyphs, 32 lines of demotic and 54 lines of Greek.

The 14 lines of hieroglyphs are only partial, and correspond to the last 28 lines of Greek, which are also damaged.

The first 14 lines of demotic are damaged at the beginnings.

The last 26 lines of Greek are damaged at the ends

The stone was re-discovered in 1799AD at Rosetta near Rashid, about 125 miles north of Cairo on the Mediterranean coast. At that time, the meaning of hieroglyphs had been forgotten. Nobody could translate any of the hieroglyphs found whilst raiding/exploring ancient Egyptian archeology.

 However, the Rosetta Stone changed all that. Because people of the 19th century could understand the Demotic and Greek parts of the engraving,  Jean-Francois Champollion worked out which words were represented by which hieroglyphs in 1821AD.

Much of Champollion's work was based on that of Englishman Thomas Young who had already deciphered names of people and places. Words like these, called Proper Nouns, are bordered by hieroglyphic name rings, similar in shape to modern army name tags.(***) (***)

Hieroglyphic name ring for King Ptolemy V

The text on the Rosetta stone reports a decree passed in 196 BC by a council of Priests, assembled in Memphis Egypt, in honor of the first anniversary of the coronation
of pharaoh Ptolemy V

Here is an extract from the writing on the Rosetta Stone:

    ...whereas king PTOLEMY THE EVER-LIVING, THE BELOVED OF PTAH, THE GOD EPIPHANIES EUCHARISTO, the son of King Ptolemy and Queen Arsinoe, the Gods Philopatores, has been a benefactor both to the temples and to those who dwell in them, as well as those who are his subjects, being a god sprung from a god and goddess (like Horus the son of lsis 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 levied in Egypt some he has wholly remitted and others has lightened, in order that the people and the others might be in prosperity during his reign: and whereas he has remitted the debts to the crown being many in number which they in Egypt and in the rest of the kingdom owed: and whereas those who were in prison and those who were under accusation for a long time, he has freed of the charges against them; and whereas he has directed that the gods shall continue to enjoy the revenues of the temples and the yearly allowances given to them, both of corn and money, likewise also the revenues assigned to the gods from vine land and from gardens and other properties which belonged to the gods in his father's time...


Champollion was born in December 1790 and could speak Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean and Syrian by the age of 14. By 19, Champollion was a History lecturer at Grenoble University. He had to make his translations from a copy of the Rosetta Stone, since the stone itself had been stolen/seized by the English during the Napoleonic war. Champollion visited Egypt only once- to put his new understanding of hieroglyphs to the test. He returned to France to found the Egyptology Museum at the Louvre in Paris (where you can still see many tablets and statues today). Champollion died in 1832 aged only 42.

The Rosetta Stone now rests in the British Museum in London.