The Rosetta Stone, what mysteries did it reveal about Egypt?


A rock just over 110 centimeters high, weighing more than 760 kilograms, was found by Napoleon’s army during his campaign in Egypt. Captain Pierre-François Bouchard He notified his superiors about the curious finding. It was the rosetta stone and, from July 15, 1799, the world would change radically for lovers of antiquity.

The object had several writings in the form of hieroglyphs, indecipherable for the invader’s troops. A commission of scientists also arrived with the French army, ready to take all the non-military details of the campaign, but they did not find the meaning of the rock either.

They called it Rosetta because it was the French name given to the town of Rashid, in the Nile delta.

What did the Rosetta Stone contain?

Later, scientists detailed that it was the fragment of an ancient stele, with a single text in three different languages. The upper part was made up of Egyptian hieroglyphs; in the middle, a text in demotic script, which was the simplified version of hieroglyphs at the end of the Egyptian empire; and in the lower area, a text in ancient greek

Lithograph on the discovery of the rock by Napoleon's army

But the war continued and by 1801, the English defeated the French. The surrender treaty signed in Alexandria determined, among other details, the transfer of all Egyptian antiquities looted by the French. Thus, the Rosetta Stone was taken to the British museum a year later.

However, the French had traced the stone, and those documents served a scientist to make the key discovery for Egyptology.

The discovery of Champollion, key to the study of ancient Egypt

Rosetta Stone Translator

By 1822, the Frenchman Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832) was able to translate what the stone said. This historian and linguist was fluent in Latin and Greek, in addition to knowing Coptic, the language spoken in Egypt, as he recalls The vanguard.

With a methodical work, Champollion was translating, symbol by symbol, what the message of the old stela said, based on the Greek and the Coptic. He discovered that several of these symbols represented phonemes, that could be letters or syllables: that year he published his first study on hieroglyphs, and in 1824 he presented an expanded version.

His translation was key to the study of ancient Egypt

Champollion explained that the rock contained a decree of worship to Ptolemy V, the pharaoh of the time. The message was written in 196 BC, establishing that with that decree, The Egyptian leader enjoyed in life the honors reserved for the gods.

Priests from Memphis, where Cairo is today, carved the stele and took it to the city of Rakhit, known as Rashid under Arab occupation and Rosetta under French occupation.

In the British Museum since 1802

Since then, and always based on Champollion’s discovery, Egyptologists have translated thousands, millions of messages from ancient Egypt. The French find became a beacon for the study of antiquity.

The rock remains in the British Museum, despite requests from the Egyptian authorities for its return. It is part of colonialism that, despite the passage of time, remains today.

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