In 1799, French soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte's army, which had invaded Egypt, were digging fortifications in the delta town of Rosetta when they discovered a slab of black basalt. On it was an inscription of a decree passed by a council of Egyptian preists in 196 BC, expressed in two languages, Greek and Egyptian. These were written in three scripts: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphic, and demotic (a late form of the Egyptian language). The hieroglyphic script (which had until then not been understood) was fully deciphered (following work done by Thomas Young), by Jean Francois Champollion, a brilliant French scholar who published his discoveries in 1822.

Champollion's wide knowledge of ancient languages included both Coptic, a late form of Egyptian, and Greek, and from these he was able to identify the hieroglyphic characters of the name "PTOLMYS," or Ptolemy, which was written in a circle. He then compared these hieroglyphic characters with another inscription, which had some of the same signs, mainly P, L, and O. He read this as "KLIOPADRA" (Cleopatra), and this now gave him 12 characters. From this small number, he gradually built up a sign list from other royal names and titles, recognized by their surrounding inscriptions. Although there was still much to be worked out, his pioneering work in unlocking the hieroglyphic script was an extraordinary feat.

The Greek Section of the Rosetta Stone

1. In the reign of the young one who has succeeded his father in the kingship, lord of diadems, most glorious, who has established Egypt and is pious

2. Towards the gods, triumphant over his enemies, who has restored the civilised life of men, lord of the Thirty Years Festivals, even as Hephaistos the Great, a king like the Sun,

3. Great king of the Upper and Lower countries, offspring of the Gods Philopatores, one of whom Hephaistos has approved, to whom the Sun has given victory, the living image of Zeus, son of the Sun, Ptolemy

4. Living for ever, beloved of Ptah, in the ninth year, when Aetos son of Aetos was priest of Alexander, and the Gods Soteres, and the Gods Adelphoi, and the Gods Euergetai, and the Gods Philopatores and

5. The God Epiphanes Eucharistos; Pyrrha daughter of Philinos being Athlophoros of Berenike Euergetis; Areia daughter of Diogenes being Kanephoros of Arsinoe Philadelphos; Irene

6. Daughter of Ptolemy being Priestess of Arsinoe Philopator; the fourth of the month of Xandikos, according to the Egyptians the 18th Mekhir. DECREE. There being assembled the Chief Priests and Prophets and those who enter the inner shrine for the robing of the

7. Gods, and the Fan-bearers and the Sacred Scribes and all the other priests from the temples throughout the land who have come to meet the king at Memphis, for the feast of the assumption

8. By Ptolemy, the ever-living, the beloved of Ptah, the God Epiphanes Eucharistos, the kingship in which he succeeded his father, they being assembled in the temple in Memphis this day declared:

9. Whereas king Ptolemy, the ever-living, the beloved of Ptah, the god Epiphanes Eucharistos, the son of King Ptolemy and Queen Arsinoe, the Gods Philopatores, has been a benefactor both to the temples and

10. To those who dwell in them, as well as all those who are his subjects, being a god sprung from a god and goddess (like Horus the son of Isis and Osiris, who avenged his father Osiris)8 (and) being benevolently disposed towards

11. The gods, has dedicated to the temples revenues in money and corn and has undertaken much outlay to bring Egypt into prosperity, and to establish the temples,

12. And has been generous with all his own means; and of the revenues and taxes levied in Egypt some he has wholly remitted and others he has lightened, in order that the people and all the others might be

13. In prosperity during his reign; and whereas he has remitted the debts to the crown being many in number which they in Egypt and in the rest of the kingdom owed; and whereas those who were

14. In prison and those who were under accusation for a long time, he has freed of the charges against them; and whereas he has directed that the gods shall continue to enjoy the revenues of the temples and the yearly allowances given to them, both of

15. Corn and money, likewise also the revenue assigned to the gods from vine land and from gardens and the other properties which belonged to the gods in his father’s time;

16. And whereas he directed also, with regard to the priests, that they should pay no more as the tax for admission to the priesthood than what was appointed them throughout his father’s reign and until the first year of his own reign; and has relieved the members of the

17. Priestly orders from the yearly journey to Alexandria; and whereas he has directed that impressment for the navy shall no longer be employed; and of the tax in byssus cloth paid by the temples to the crown he

18. Has remitted two-thirds; and whatever things were neglected in former times he has restored to their proper condition, having a care how the traditional duties shall be fittingly paid to the gods;

19. And likewise has apportioned justice to all, like Hermes the great and great; and has ordained that those who return of the warrior class, and of others who were unfavourably

20. Disposed in the days of the disturbances, should, on their return be allowed to occupy their old possessions; and whereas he provided that cavalry and infantry forces and ships should be sent out against those who invaded

21. Egypt by sea and by land, laying out great sums in money and corn in order that the temples and all those who are in the land might be in safety; and having

22. Gone to Lycopolis in the Busirite nome, which had been occupied and fortified against a siege with an abundant store of weapons, and all other supplies (seeing that disaffection was now of long

23. Standing among the impious men gathered into it, who had perpetrated much damage to the temples and to all the inhabitants of Egypt), and having

24. Encamped against it, he surrounded it with mounds and trenches and elaborate fortifications; when the Nile made a great rise in the eighth year (of his reign), which usually floods the

25. Plains, he prevented it, by damming at many points the outlets of the channels (spending upon this no small amount of money), and setting cavalry and infantry to guard

26. Them, in a short time he took the town by storm and destroyed all the impious men in it, even as Hermes and Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, formerly subdued the rebels in the same

27. District; and as to those who had led the rebels in the time of his father and who had disturbed the land and done wrong to the temples, he came to Memphis to avenge

28. His father and his own kingship, and punished them all as they deserved, at the time that he came there to perform the proper ceremonies for the assumption of the crown; and whereas he remitted what

29. Was due to the crown in the temples up to his eighth year, being no small amount of corn and money; so also the fines for the byssus

30. Cloth not delivered to the crown, and of those delivered, the several fees for their verification, for the same period; and he also freed the temples of (the tax of) the artabe for every aroura of sacred land and likewise

31. The jar of wine for each aroura of vine land; and whereas he bestowed many gifts upon Apis and Mnevis and upon the other sacred animals in Egypt, because he was much more considerate than the kings before him of all that belonged to

32. The gods; and for their burials he gave what was suitable lavishly and splendidly, and what was regularly paid to their special shrines, with sacrifices and festivals and other customary observances;

33. And he maintained the honours of the temples and of Egypt according to the laws; and he adorned the temple of Apis with rich work, spending upon it gold and silver

34. And precious stones, no small amount; and whereas he has founded temples and shrines and altars, and has repaired those requiring it, having the spirit of a beneficent god in matters pertaining to

35. Religion; and whereas after enquiry he has been renewing the most honourable of the temples during his reign, as is becoming,; in requital of which things the gods have given him health, victory and power, and all other good things,

36. And he and his children shall retain the kingship for all time. WITH PROPITIOUS FORTUNE: It was resolved by the priests of all the temples in the land to increase greatly the existing honours of

37. King PTOLEMY, THE EVER-LIVING, THE BELOVED OF PTAH, THE GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS, likewise those of his parents the Gods Philopatores, and of his ancestors, the Gods Euergetai and

38. The Gods Adelphoi and the Gods Soteres and to set up in the most prominent place of every temple an image of the EVER-LIVING King PTOLEMY, THE BELOVED OF PTAH, THE GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS,

39. An image which shall be called that of ‘PTOLEMY, the defender of Egypt’, beside which shall stand the principal god of the temple, handing him the weapon of victory, all of which shall be manufactured (in the Egyptian)

40. fashion; and that the priests shall pay homage to the images three times a day, and put upon them the sacred garments, and perform the other usual honours such as given to the other gods in the Egyptian

41. festivals; and to establish for King PTOLEMY, THE GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS, sprung of King Ptolemy and Queen Arsinoe, the Gods Philopatores, a statue and golden shrine in each of the

42. Temples, and to set it up in the inner chamber with the other shrines; and in the great festivals in which the shrines are carried in procession the shrine of the GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS shall be carried in procession with them.

43. And in order that it may be easily distinguishable now and for all time, there shall be set upon the shrine the ten gold diadems of the king, to which shall be added a uraeus but instead of

44. The uraeus-shaped diadems which are upon the other shrines, in the centre of them shall be the crown called Pschent which he put on when he went into the temple at Memphis

45. To perform therein the ceremonies for assuming the kingship; and there shall be placed on the square surface round about the diadems, beside the aforementioned crown, golden symbols (eight in number signifying)

46. That it is (the shrine) of the king who makes manifest the Upper and Lower countries. And since it is the 30th of Mesore on which the birthday of the king is celebrated, and likewise (the 17th of Paophi)

47. On which he succeeded his father in the kingship, they have held these days in honour as name-days in the temples, since they are sources of great blessings for all; it was further decreed that a festival shall be kept in the temples throughout Egypt

48. On these days in every month, on which there shall be sacrifices and libations and all the ceremonies customary at the other festivals (and the offerings shall be given to the priests who)

49. Serve in the temples. And a festival shall be kept for King PTOLEMY, THE EVERLIVING, THE BELOVED OF PTAH, THE GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS, yearly in the temples throughout the

50. Land from the 1st of Thoth for five days, in which they shall wear garlands and perform sacrifices and libations and the other usual honours, and the priests (in each temple) shall be called

51. Priests of the GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS in addition to the names of the other gods whom they serve; and his priesthood shall be entered upon all formal documents (and engraved upon the rings which they wear);

52. And private individuals shall also be allowed to keep the festival and set up the aforementioned shrine and have it in their homes, performing the aforementioned celebrations

53. Yearly, in order that it may be known to all that the men of Egypt magnify and honour the GOD EPIPHANES EUCHARISTOS the king, according to the law. This decree shall be inscribed on a stela of

54. Hard stone in sacred (that is hieroglyphic) and native (that is demotic) and Greek characters and set up in each of the first, second, and third rank temples beside the image of the ever living king.

Ro-set"ta stone` (?).

A stone found at Rosetta, in Egypt, bearing a trilingual inscription, by aid of which, with other inscriptions, a key was obtained to the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. Brande & C.


© Webster 1913

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