The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian stone (granitoid) stele inscribed with a decree issued on behalf of the boy-king Ptolemy V.  His decree was issued at Memphis on March 27, 196 BC.  The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text is ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle section Demotic script, and the lower section in ancient Greek.  The same content is recorded in all three scripts only with minor differences.  Using the known language texts as a foundation, this stele became the key to modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics in the early 19th century.  Widespread western interest in all things Egyptian was sparked by the subsequent ability to now translate the ancient Egyptian language.

The stele would have originally been displayed within a temple, likely at Sais, but eventually found secondary use as building material in a much later construction at nearby Rosetta (Rashid) in the Nile Delta.  It was rediscovered by a French soldier in 1799.  After British troops defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, the stele was transported to London and has been on public display at the British Museum since 1802.

The message, itself, on the stele really wasn't that important.  It records the decision of the Egyptian priests to establish a royal cult in return for Ptolemy's concessions to the Egyptian temples.

The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum


Closer view of the text on the Rosetta Stone.
Click on photo for enlarged view of entire stone.


Ptolemy V - Image of ruler whose decree is on the Rosetta Stone