The Importance Of The Rosetta Stone
The Rosetta Stone sits in a glass case between the Egyptian and Greek artifacts in the British Museum. The reason why the Rosetta Stone is so highly praised is because it holds the information to deciphering hieroglyphics. To start, the stone is a broken part of a bigger slab, it is believed that the stone could have stood about two meters high. The top of the stone was broken at an angle revealing that the black granodiorite has a slice of pink across the left corner (Khan Academy). It is unclear as to how the stone was carved, but it was originally on display in a temple “possibly near the ancient town of Sais” wrote Elizabeth Nix published by History.com. In 1799, it was unearthed by Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, who at the time was trying to dominate the East Mediterranean. This event was said to be an accident when soldiers were digging the foundation of a new fort near the town of Rashid. (Nix) After Napoleon’s defeat “the stone became the property of the British under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria (1801)” stated the British Museum Blog. Since 1802, the Rosetta Stone has been exhibited in the British Museum. During the end of World War I, the Rosetta Stone was moved to the Postal Tube Railway, 50 feet underground, for two years. The British Museum did this because of the possible threat of bombs touching down near them.
The reason why the Rosetta Stone is so significant to us today is because it was the first piece of material that showed a solution to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics. This was the first-time scholars have been able to decipher them because the inscriptions on the stone said the same thing only in different languages. These languages were Egyptian and Greek which scholars were able to read, however, on the stela it was written in three scripts: Hieroglyphic, Demotic, and the Greek alphabet. (Discovering Ancient Egypt) This was baffling to scholars because the use of hieroglyphics had vanished after the 4th century, moreover, the strange shapes and symbols had been left as a mystery as to what they represented. Deciphering the advanced writing method was the work of mainly two people, Thomas Young of England and Jean-François Champollion of France. In 1818, Thomas Young was the first to identify the “cartouche, the oval loop containing hieroglyphs, as the name of King Ptolemy, by finding the corresponding name written in Greek” (Discovering Ancient Egypt). By uncovering this, Young discovered of the hieroglyphs p, t, m, y, and s. Using this, Young was able to depict which way the hieroglyphs should be read, right to left. By piecing together a list of Egyptian symbols alongside their Greek counterparts, Champollion took over in 1821. The hieroglyphics were syllabic along with alphabetic “meaning that they depicted the meaning of the word itself” (Discovering Ancient Egypt). As his research continued, Champollion discovered that the “hieroglyphic text of the Rosetta stone was a translation from the Greek, not, as had been thought, a translation from Egyptian into Greek” (Discovering Ancient Egypt). This led into why the stone was designed and the culture behind it.
In 332 B.C., Egypt had been taken over by Greek rulers, the head of this conquest was Alexander the Great. The Greeks’ hatred of Egyptians first started when Greek rulers could not speak the native language or read the hieroglyphics, this led to the change in superior language. By 323 B.C., his armies soon began to crumble after his death. Following this, the Egyptians gained control back with the leadership of Ptolemy I Soter. Ptolemy V Epiphanes was the fifth ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty, furthermore, by his reign in 196 B.C., when was only thirteen years old, he was acknowledged for all of his accomplishments. Some of these accomplishments were “giving gifts to the temple, lowering some taxes, and ending a rebellion that had started under the previous Ptolemy” as stated by the Encyclopædia Britannica website. The priests’ decree, an official order, was to state an official message on a stela of the things Ptolemy had executed for the Egyptians which would stand next to a statue of a king in temples all over Egypt. The message had to be written in three scripts for all who came across it could read. The first script was hieroglyphic, this is the writing format for religious documents that priests would use because it was seen as ‘holy writing’ which they believed to be written by the gods. The script below this was Demotic, this was said to be the language of the native people and was intended for daily purposes which required writing. The final script on the stela was Greek, the official writing system of the government because “the rulers of Egypt at this point were Greco-Macedonian after Alexander the Great’s conquest” (The British Museum Blog). Scholars have inferred the stone to be a smaller stela which was originally part of a much bigger slab than what had been found. At the top, the stone would have been decorated using kings and gods as most Egyptians worshiped them as they were greater forces. The temple where the stela once stood may have been excavated centuries after the Rosetta Stone was created. It was said that the slab of stone could have been brought to Rashid as extracted rock from the temple. Because of the movement of the stone, fragments of the Demotic and Greek writings have been chipped away. However, without the discovery of the Rosetta stone, we would not understand anything of the ancient Egyptians, and the aspects of their three thousand years of history would continue to be unknown.