The Key to Ancient Egypt; The Enigmatic Rosetta Stone

Had the Rosetta stone not been discovered on July 15th, 1799, we would probably still have a hard time reading what ancient Egyptians wrote done on countless monuments, thousands of years ago.

The Rosetta stone is a fragment of an ancient Egyptian stela of granodiorite inscribed with a decree published in Memphis in the year 196 BC in the name of Pharaoh Ptolemy V.

The decree appears in three different scriptures: the upper text was written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle part was etched in demotic script and the lower part in ancient Greek.

The text written on the Rosetta Stone. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Due to the fact that the contents of the Rosetta stone present essentially the same content in the three different inscriptions, with minor differences between them, this stone was the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics and the ancient civilization itself.

Simply put, the Rosetta Stone is an ancient Wikipedia page that helped scholars understand the written language of ancient Egypt.

Because of the fact that the Rosetta stone was essentially the first plurilingual text discovered in modern times, the Rosetta Stone aroused public interest in its potential to decipher the hitherto unintelligible Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, and as a result its lithographic and plaster copies began to circulate among museums and European scholars, it kickstarted a historic revolution, and the copy of the Rosetta stone was a must-have tool for anyone studying ancient Egypt.

The first complete translation of the ancient Greek text appeared in 1803, but it was not until 1822 when Jean-François Champollion announced in Paris the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphic texts, long before linguists were able to accurately read other inscriptions and texts of ancient Egypt.

A Broken stele, a fragment of history

The Rosetta stone is only a part of a much larger stele that has been lost to history.

Because there are several fragments missing, none of the texts etched on the Rosetta stone are complete.

The most damaged part of the stele is the superior, written in hieroglyph, of which only fourteen lines are visible, all of which are interrupted on its right side and twelve of them have been found to be incomplete on the left side.

The script written in demotic was found to be in a much better state, since it has thirty-two lines, fourteen of which are slightly damaged on the right side.

The lower text in Greek has fifty-four lines, twenty-seven of them complete and the rest gradually damaged by the diagonal break in the lower right corner of the stela.

The Rosetta Stone. Image by Elsabeth Skene. Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND

So a quick resume about the Rosetta stone:

It was discovered in 1799 by French soldiers who were rebuilding a fort in Egypt. The text etched on the stele was created in 196 BC.

The stone was discovered near a small village in the Delta Called Rosetta, hence its name.

The stone conveys a message written by ancient Egyptian Priests in honor of the Pharaoh, describing all of the things the ruler had done that are good for the priests and people of Egypt.

The Translation of the Rosetta Stone

Taken from the The Nile, Notes for Travellers in Egypt, by E. A. Wallis Budge, 9th Edition, London, Thos. Cook and Son, [1905], pp. 199-211, this si the translation of the Rosetta stone:

  1. 199


  1. On the twenty-fourth day of the month GORPIAIOS, which correspondeth to the twenty-fourth day of the fourth month of the season PERTof the inhabitants of TA-MERT (EGYPT), in the twenty-third year of the reign of HORUS-RA the CHILD, who hath risen as King upon the throne of his father, the lord of the shrines of NEKHEBET and UATCHET,the mighty one of two-fold strength, the stablisher of the Two Lands, the beautifier of
  2. Egypt, whose heart is perfect (or benevolent) towards the gods, the HORUS of Gold, who maketh perfect the life of the hamentetbeings, the lord of the thirty-year festivals like PTAḤ, the sovereign prince like RĀ, the King of the South and North,Neterui-merui-ȧtui-ȧuā-setep-en-Pta-usr-ka-Rāānkh-sekhem-Ȧmen, the Son of the Sun Ptolemy, the ever-living,

the beloved of Pta, the god who maketh himself manifest.

  1. the son of PTOLEMYand ARSINOË, the Father-loving gods; when PTOLEMY, the son of PYRRHIDES, was priest of ALEXANDER, and of the Saviour-Gods, and of the Brother-loving Gods, and of the Beneficent Gods,
  2. and of the Father-loving Gods, and of the God who maketh himself manifest; when DEMETRIA, the daughter of Telemachus, was bearer of the
  3. prize of victory of BERENICE, the Beneficent Goddess; and when ARSINOË, the daughter of CADMUS, was the Basket Bearer of ARSINOË, the Brother-loving Goddess;
  4. when IRENE, the daughter of PTOLEMY, was the Priestess of ARSINOË, the Father-loving Goddess; on this day the superintendents of the temples, and the servants of the god, and those who are over the secret things of the god, and the libationers [who] go into the most holy place to array the gods in then apparel,
  5. and the scribes of the holy writings, and the sages of the Double House of Life, and the other libationers [who] had come from the sanctuaries of the South and the North to MEMPHIS, on the day of the festival, whereon
  6. His Majesty, the King of the South and North PTOLEMY, the ever-living, the beloved of Pta, the god who maketh himself manifest, the lord of beauties, received the sovereignty from his father,

entered into the SEḤETCH-CHAMBER, wherein they were wont to assemble, in MAKHA-TAUI , and behold they declared thus:—

  1. “Inasmuch as the King who is beloved by the gods, the King of the South and North Neterui-merui-ȧtui-ȧua-en-Pta-setep-en-usr-kaRā ānkh-sekhem-Ȧmen,the Son of the Sun Ptolemy, the ever-living, beloved of Pta, the Gods who have made themselves manifest, the lord of beauties, hath given things of all kinds in very large quantities unto the lands of Horus and unto all
  2. “those who dwell in them, and unto each and every one who holdeth any dignity whatsoever in them, now behold, he is like unto a God, being the son of a God [and] he was given by a Goddess, for he is the counterpart of Horus, the son of Isis [and] the son of Osiris, the avenger of his father Osiris—and behold, His Majesty.

The above is only a part of the text, the original, translated text can be found at sacred-texts-com.

The Rosetta Stone (Fragment) measures about 44 inches tall and 30 inches wide. The artifact is guarded in the British Museum in London, where it’s been since 1802.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock

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