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The Rosetta Stone

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Rosetta Stone
  • Description

    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).

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 196BC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 112.3 centimetres (max)
    • Width: 75.7 centimetres
    • Thickness: 28.4 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Language

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Comment

        The 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.
      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

  • Curator's comments

    Compass text:

    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


  • Bibliography

    • Parkinson 1999 bibliographic details
    • Adams 1925 bibliographic details
    • Bevan 1927 bibliographic details
    • Ganeri 1993 bibliographic details
    • Devauchelle 1990 bibliographic details
    • Hale et al. 1858 bibliographic details
    • Zivie- Coche 1990 bibliographic details
    • Quirke and Andrews 1988 bibliographic details
    • Diringer 1962 bibliographic details
    • Dewachter 1990 bibliographic details
    • Middleton and Klemm 2003 bibliographic details
    • Inscription 1065, pt IV (Greek text) bibliographic details
    • James 1988 f. 6 bibliographic details
    • Quirke & Spencer 1992 fig. 101 bibliographic details
    • Gillespie and Dewachter 1987 notes bibliographic details
    • Porter and Moss 1934 p. 1 bibliographic details
    • Putnam and Davies 1994 p. 11, pl. 1 bibliographic details
    • Thompson 2012 p. 119, p. 121, p. 146 bibliographic details
    • Lunsingh Scheurleer 1992 p. 127, fig. 91 bibliographic details
    • Orgogozo 1990 p. 174, p. 198 bibliographic details
    • Florida State University Gallery and Museum 1989 p. 19 bibliographic details
    • Mandelaras 1986 p. 208 bibliographic details
    • Földes-Papp 1987 p. 208 bibliographic details
    • Fowden 1986 p. 21 bibliographic details
    • Shaw & Nicholson 1995 p. 244 bibliographic details
    • British Museum 1996 p. 27 bibliographic details
    • MacGregor 2010 p. 33 bibliographic details
    • Hart 1990 p. 35 bibliographic details
    • Aston et al. 2000 p. 37 bibliographic details
    • James and Davies 1983 p. 4, no. 1 bibliographic details
    • Bibliothèque Nationale de France 1990 p. 42, pp. 75- 77, pp. 100- 104, pp. 110- 117 bibliographic details
    • Autun 1988 p. 44 bibliographic details
    • Devauchelle 1986 p. 45 ff bibliographic details
    • Wilson 1989 p. 67, p. 70 bibliographic details
    • 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 bibliographic details
    • Serino 1988 p. 8 bibliographic details
    • Mitchell 1988 p. 87 bibliographic details
    • Putnam 1990 p. 88 bibliographic details
    • van Haarlem and Scheurleer 1986 p. 9 bibliographic details
    • Pernigotti 1988 p. 9, pp. 14- 15 bibliographic details
    • Musée de l'Ephèbe 1998 p.194 [3.1] bibliographic details
    • Musée Champollion 1999 p.28 bibliographic details
    • Putnam 1995 p.28 [22] bibliographic details
    • Papeloux 1961 pl. 49 bibliographic details
    • Horn 1989 pp. 1- 8 bibliographic details
    • McNeill and Sedlar 1969 pp. 103- 113 bibliographic details
    • Spiegelberg 1917 pp. 117- 118 bibliographic details
    • Hayward 1978 pp. 120- 121 bibliographic details
    • Fazzini and Bianchi 1989 pp. 16-17, fig. 3 bibliographic details
    • Coulmas 1989 pp. 214- 215, p. 223, nn. 7- 8 bibliographic details
    • Schlott 1989 pp. 250- 251, fig. 121 bibliographic details
    • 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 bibliographic details
    • Strudwick 2006 pp. 298- 299 bibliographic details
    • Claiborne 1974 pp. 38- 40 bibliographic details
    • De Sauley 1845 pp. 400- 409, pp. 412- 415, p. 417 bibliographic details
    • Kessler 1989 pp. 52- 55, p. 236 bibliographic details
    • Spector 1987 pp. 95- 100 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G4/CSE

  • Exhibition history

    Copy in King's Library.


    2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'

  • Condition

    fair (incomplete)

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Ancient Egypt & Sudan

  • BM/Big number


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • BS.24 (Birch Slip Number)
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(53 lines).

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(53 lines).

Image description



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Object reference number: YCA62958

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