The Rosetta Stone
- The Rosetta Stone
Part of grey and pink granodiorite stela bearing priestly decree concerning Ptolemy V in three blocks of text: Hieroglyphic (14 lines), Demotic (32 lines) and Greek (54 lines).
- Excavated/Findspot: Fort Saint Julien
- (Africa,Egypt,Lower Egypt,Nile Delta,El-Rashid,Fort Saint Julien)
- Length: 112.3 centimetres (max)
- Width: 75.7 centimetres
- Thickness: 28.4 centimetres
Inscription CommentThe inscription is a decree passed by a council of priests, one of a series that affirm the royal cult of the 13 year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation.
The Rosetta Stone
From Fort St Julien, el-Rashid (Rosetta), Egypt
Ptolemaic Period, 196 BC
The inscription on the Rosetta Stone is a decree passed by a council of priests, one of a series that affirm the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation.
In previous years the family of the Ptolemies had lost control of certain parts of the country. It had taken their armies some time to put down opposition in the Delta, and parts of southern Upper Egypt, particularly Thebes, were not yet back under the government's control.
Before the Ptolemaic era (that is before about 332 BC), decrees in hieroglyphs such as this were usually set up by the king. It shows how much things had changed from Pharaonic times that the priests, the only people who had kept the knowledge of writing hieroglyphs, were now issuing such decrees. The list of good deeds done by the king for the temples hints at the way in which the support of the priests was ensured.
The decree is inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The importance of this to Egyptology is immense. Soon after the end of the fourth century AD, when hieroglyphs had gone out of use, the knowledge of how to read and write them disappeared. In the early years of the nineteenth century, some 1400 years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them. Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. The French scholar Jean-François Champollion then realized that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language and laid the foundations of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian language and culture.
Soldiers in Napoleon's army discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799 while digging the foundations of an addition to a fort near the town of el-Rashid (Rosetta). On Napoleon's defeat, the stone became the property of the English under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria (1801) along with other antiquities that the French had found.
The Rosetta Stone has been exhibited in the British Museum since 1802, with only one break. Towards the end of the First World War, in 1917, when the Museum was concerned about heavy bombing in London, they moved it to safety along with other, portable, 'important' objects. The Rosetta Stone spent the next two years in a station on the Postal Tube Railway fifty feet below the ground at Holborn.
BM OP 60, p.73,83
- Parkinson 1999
- Adams 1925
- Bevan 1927
- Ganeri 1993
- Devauchelle 1990
- Hale et al. 1858
- Zivie- Coche 1990
- Quirke and Andrews 1988
- Diringer 1962
- Dewachter 1990
- Middleton and Klemm 2003
- Inscription 1065, pt IV (Greek text)
- James 1988 f. 6
- Quirke & Spencer 1992 fig. 101
- Gillespie and Dewachter 1987 notes
- Porter and Moss 1934 p. 1
- Putnam and Davies 1994 p. 11, pl. 1
- Thompson 2012 p. 119, p. 121, p. 146
- Lunsingh Scheurleer 1992 p. 127, fig. 91
- Orgogozo 1990 p. 174, p. 198
- Florida State University Gallery and Museum 1989 p. 19
- Mandelaras 1986 p. 208
- Földes-Papp 1987 p. 208
- Fowden 1986 p. 21
- Shaw & Nicholson 1995 p. 244
- British Museum 1996 p. 27
- MacGregor 2010 p. 33
- Hart 1990 p. 35
- Aston et al. 2000 p. 37
- James and Davies 1983 p. 4, no. 1
- Bibliothèque Nationale de France 1990 p. 42, pp. 75- 77, pp. 100- 104, pp. 110- 117
- Autun 1988 p. 44
- Devauchelle 1986 p. 45 ff
- Wilson 1989 p. 67, p. 70
- Donadoni 1990 p. 74, p. 93, p. 103, p. 111, pp. 112- 114, p. 131, p. 134, p. 142, p. 160, p. 175, p. 232
- Serino 1988 p. 8
- Mitchell 1988 p. 87
- Putnam 1990 p. 88
- van Haarlem and Scheurleer 1986 p. 9
- Pernigotti 1988 p. 9, pp. 14- 15
- Musée de l'Ephèbe 1998 p.194 [3.1]
- Musée Champollion 1999 p.28
- Putnam 1995 p.28 
- Papeloux 1961 pl. 49
- Horn 1989 pp. 1- 8
- McNeill and Sedlar 1969 pp. 103- 113
- Spiegelberg 1917 pp. 117- 118
- Hayward 1978 pp. 120- 121
- Fazzini and Bianchi 1989 pp. 16-17, fig. 3
- Coulmas 1989 pp. 214- 215, p. 223, nn. 7- 8
- Schlott 1989 pp. 250- 251, fig. 121
- Lacouture 1988 pp. 29- 30, p. 33, p. 111, pp. 121- 122, p. 154, p. 157, p. 161, p. 180, p. 229, pp. 231- 232, pp. 2
- Strudwick 2006 pp. 298- 299
- Claiborne 1974 pp. 38- 40
- De Sauley 1845 pp. 400- 409, pp. 412- 415, p. 417
- Kessler 1989 pp. 52- 55, p. 236
- Spector 1987 pp. 95- 100
Copy in King's Library.
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
Ancient Egypt & Sudan
- BS.24 (Birch Slip Number)
If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Object reference number: YCA62958
British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.
The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.