Visitors examining the Rosetta Stone up close in Room 4 Egyptian Sculpture Gallery

Room 4

Egyptian sculpture  

about 2686 BC–AD 396

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily 10.00–17.30 (20.30 on Fridays)

Free spotlight tour

Fridays 17.00 and 17.30, 20-minute tour

Travel back through 3,000 years of Egyptian history and come face-to-face with the Rosetta Stone and the Statue of Ramesses II.

The objects in the Egyptian sculpture gallery represent three millennia of pharaonic history. The displays have evolved with the field of Egyptology itself.

Modern Egyptology began with a French scientific expedition accompanying Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798. After the British defeated the French, they took some of their most important finds, including the Rosetta Stone and the sarcophagus of the last Egyptian pharaoh, both displayed here.

Later, the British Consul-General Henry Salt received permission from Egypt's governor, Muhammad Ali, to collect antiquities, many of which were acquired by the British Museum. He employed excavators such as Giovanni Belzoni to remove sculptures, including the colossal bust of Ramesses II. Later acquisitions came increasingly from well-documented archaeological excavations. 

Gallery facts

The civilisation of ancient Egypt arose in the fourth millennium BC and only waned in the first four centuries AD, after Egypt was annexed into the Roman empire. This makes it one of the world's most enduring civilisations.

The monuments in the Egyptian sculpture gallery were created for eternity. Placed in temples and tombs, the statues and wall images were meant as vehicles for the spirits of deities, kings and privileged officials. 

The Rosetta Stone is famous around the world for having served as the key to deciphering the ancient Egyptian language and hieroglyphic script. 

Gallery facts

The largest Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum represents one of Egypt's greatest kings: Ramesses II, 'ruler of rulers', who reigned through most of the 13th century BC.

The Egyptian sculpture gallery is also home to the sarcophagus of Nectanebo II, Egypt's last true pharaoh. His reign was cut short by a Persian invasion, and his ultimate fate remains unknown.

The Rosetta Stone

The key to the decipherment of hieroglyphs, the inscription on the Rosetta Stone is a decree passed by a council of priests. 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 the study of Egyptology was immense.

Read more in our blog, Everything you ever wanted to know about the Rosetta Stone.

Timeline of ancient Egypt

About 3100–2686 BC

Early Dynastic Period – 1st to 2nd Dynasties

Egypt becomes a unified kingdom with highly centralised administration, built on the invention of hieroglyphic writing. 

About 2686–2181 BC

Old Kingdom – from the 3rd to 6th Dynasties

A large door with with hieroglyphics written upon it.
Limestone false door of Ptahshepses.
This is the first great period of Egyptian history, when its kings – the pharaohs – are buried in monumental pyramids. 
Collection online

About 2181–2025 BC

First Intermediate Period – from the 7th to early 11th Dynasties

Five people, one small, three large, one larger depicting a scene from Egypt.
Stela of Intef.
The kingdom falls apart and power shifts from the court to provincial elites, with open conflicts erupting.
Collection online

About 2025–1795 BC

Middle Kingdom – Late 11th to 12th Dynasties

Granodiorite statue of Senusret III wearing nemes; prenomen on belt; legs and arms lost (hands still present on apron).
Statue of Senwosret III.
Egypt is reunited under a long succession of powerful kings, who bring a golden age that will long be remembered by later generations. 
Collection online

About 1795–1550 BC

Second Intermediate Period – 13th to 17th Dynasties

Large, sitting down Pharaoh sculpture hands on lap.
Statue of Sobekemsaf.
Egypt's political integrity is undermined by a rapid succession of weak rulers, who lose much of their power to the leaders of Canaanite settlers – the Hyksos.
Collection online

About 1550–1069 BC

New Kingdom – 18th to 20th Dynasties

Large stone bust, from chest up, of Pharaoh.
Statue of Ramesses II.
This is Egypt's age of empire, with pharaonic rule at its peak extending to the shores of the Euphrates and deep into modern-day Sudan. 
Collection online

About 1069–664 BC

Third Intermediate Period – 21st to 25th Dynasties

Granitic figure of a pharaoh between folded legs of a larger ram sphinx.
Ram sphinx of Taharqo.
Renewed political fragmentation allows Egypt to be invaded by its southern neighbour and former colony, the kingdom of Kush. 
Collection online

664–332 BC

Late Period – 26th to the final 31st Dynasties

Large sarcophagus with pharaoh upon it.
Sarcophagus of Ankhnesneferibra.
Egypt's independence is restored but twice cut short by Persian rule – the second invasion causing the fall of the last true pharaoh. 
Collection online

332 – AD 396

Greco-Roman Period

A large marble sculpture over a scarab
Colossal scarab beetle.
Alexander the Great's conquers Egypt and the rest of the Persian empire, heralding centuries of Greek and then Roman rule, which ultimately sees Christianity replace the native religion.
Collection online

Accessibility

  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language guide handset, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • A free self-guided or volunteer-led touch tour is available in Room 4. See touch tours on the Accessibility at the Museum page for more information. 
  • Seating is available.
  • Step-free access available.
  • View sensory map (opens in new window).

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.