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The Rosetta Stone

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


DW | Ancient Egypt

1.6 - The Rosetta Stone


The Rosetta Stone was discovered by a French military expedition in 1799 in the Egyptian town of Rosetta (now known as Rashid) during Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt. The stone, measuring about 44 inches (112 cm) in height, 30 inches (76 cm) in width, and 11 inches (28 cm) in thickness, was unearthed during the construction of Fort Julien.

The Decipherment of Hieroglyphs

The Rosetta Stone was the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs. It contained three scripts and two languages: Greek and Egyptian.

Thomas Young, an English physician, correctly concluded that an alphabet, not an ideogram, was at work in the carved images. Jean-François Champollion, a French scholar, dedicated himself to unraveling the mystery of hieroglyphs.


Using the Rosetta Stone as a starting point, Champollion compared the hieroglyphic and Greek texts, focusing on recurring patterns and shared symbols. Through his meticulous efforts, he successfully deciphered the hieroglyphic script in 1822, thus unlocking a wealth of knowledge about ancient Egypt.

The decipherment of hieroglyphs allowed scholars to access a vast amount of information regarding ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, rituals, and mythology. Texts on temple walls, funerary inscriptions, and papyrus documents could finally be read, shedding light on the daily life, governance, and cultural practices of the ancient Egyptians.

The Decree of Memphis

The Rosetta Stone was originally known as the Decree of Memphis, a decree of Ptolemy V, dated to Year 9 of his reign, in 196 B.C. It offers details about the king's achievements, his relationship with the priests, and the cult of the pharaoh.


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