Rosette stone

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The rosette stone in the British Museum . Along the upper left edge there is a light streak caused by an ore vein .

The stone of Rosette ( French la pierre de Rosette ) or the stone of Rosetta , also Rosetta stone for short ( English Rosetta Stone ), Arabic حجر رشيد, DMG Ḥaǧar Rašīd , is the fragment of a stone stele (tablet) with a priest decree , which is carved in three blocks of script ( hieroglyphs , demotic , ancient Greek ) with the same meaning. The trilingual inscription from 196 BC BC honors the Egyptian king Ptolemy V and praises him as a benefactor . The stone tablet, named after the place where it was found near the Mediterranean shore, or the body of text, called Inscriptio Rosettana in Latin, contributed significantly to the decoding of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, a picture script. The stone has been in the British Museum in London since 1802 and is still a major attraction in collections from across the British Empire.

State of the stone and the inscription

Possible appearance of the complete stele

The stone is a fragment of what was originally a higher stele made of dark gray granodiorite . The part obtained is 112.3 cm high, 75.7 cm wide and 28.4 cm deep and weighs 762 kg. Later investigations at the site of Fort St. Julien, a fortification near the town of Rašīd (in French Rosette) in the Nile Delta on the Nile branch named after the place east of Alexandria , no further fragments of this stone tablet were found. The original location and size of the entire stele remained unknown.

Due to the damage, none of the three texts has been completely preserved:

  • About two thirds of the upper text (hieroglyphs) are missing, only the last 14 lines are incomplete. All 14 lines are damaged on the right margin and an additional 12 lines on the left side.
  • The middle area ( demotic writing ) is best preserved. The upper 14 of the 32 lines are slightly damaged on the right margin.
  • A corner piece is missing from the lower text (Greek) on the right. Therefore only 27 of the 54 lines are completely legible.

Immediately after the discovery in 1799, French researchers in Egypt made numerous copies of the inscriptions. They colored the dark gray stone with, among other things, printer's ink and thus received mirror-inverted prints on paper. As a result, the stone surface was covered with new dark layers of paint. When the now black stone was opened to the public in the British Museum at the beginning of the 19th century, the surface was sealed with carnauba wax to protect it from the hands of curious visitors. Countless contacts resulted in additional deposits. In 1981, white paint was finally applied to the characters to make them more legible.

When preparing a major exhibition in 1999, it was decided to restore the stone and remove all protective and paint layers. Since then, the original dark gray color can be seen again. A small square area was temporarily left unrestored in the lower left corner with the darkened wax and white filling. At the exhibition in 1999, the stone stood upright again for the first time since ancient times; previously it had been presented lying down. In 2004 the lower left corner was also restored to its original state. The stone was then placed behind glass at its current location in the museum. In order to enable "glass-free" viewing - and to meet the visitor's need to feel the inscriptions - a replica of the stone was placed openly in the immediate vicinity.


Monument to the Rosetta Stone near the site, Rashid

During Napoleon's Egyptian expedition , the stone was found on July 15, 1799 by a French officer named Pierre François Xavier Bouchard near Rašīd (Rosette) in the Nile Delta . There are two versions of the circumstances under which Bouchard found the stone: One says that his horse tripped over the Rosette stone because it was half sticking out of the ground. According to the second version, Bouchard found the stone when an old wall of the fortress there was demolished.

General Jacques-François Menou initially took him to his home in Alexandria . The stone was examined in detail by scientists who accompanied Napoleon on his campaign. After the defeat of the French, however, they had to hand it over to the British along with other antiquities in 1801. The following year it was first exhibited in the British Museum in London, where it is still today. Therefore, the English name is probably the most common name form today.

Translation of the Egyptian script

The stone contains the same relatively long text three times, and the Greek version is easy to read. That is why the stone - like other trilinguals later  - offered a key to deciphering the Egyptian scriptures.

Jean-François Champollion

Place des Écritures in Figeac

In 1822, Jean-François Champollion succeeded in deciphering the demotic script and deciphering the hieratic script and hieroglyphs using the stone and other sources . However, he was unable to work on the original, only on a copy of the stone. In memory of this, the sculptor Joseph Kosuth created a greatly enlarged replica of the Rosette stone on the Place des Écritures ("Square of the Scriptures") in Figeac , the French town of Champollion .

After his discovery was published, other hieroglyphs could be deciphered relatively quickly. This made it possible for archaeologists to decipher many more Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions. The Rosetta Stone was one of the triggers of modern Egyptology .

Other researchers

Experts consider the rosette stone

Champollion was not the only one who studied the Rosetta Stone. Some researchers had previously laid the foundations for Champollion's work:

  • Using the Rosette stone, Silvestre de Sacy tried to interpret the demotic text by graphically comparing it with the Greek part.
  • The Swede Johan David Åkerblad managed to read the demotic names in 1802, thus continuing Sacy's work.
  • Thomas Young studied the Rosette Stone for a year. Until the end of his life, he claimed to have deciphered the hieroglyphs and at the same time rejected the results of Champollion's research. In the demotic and hieroglyphic part, he deciphered royal names and terms that appeared several times in the text. However, he did not succeed in understanding the complex grammar of the ancient Egyptian script.


The Rosette stone:
hieroglyphics (14 lines) above,
demotic (32 lines) in the middle,
ancient Greek (54 lines) below. Black and white as before the restoration in 1999, but also with a stronger contrast.
Copy of the rosette stone in the King's Library in the British Museum. This was the color of the stone before the restoration in 1999.

The text was written in such a way that three sections of the population could read it: for the priests in Egyptian as God's words in hieroglyphics (14 lines preserved), for the officials in Egyptian in demotic letters (32 lines) and for the Greek rulers over Egypt in ancient Greek in Greek capital letters (54 lines).

The translation of the content always follows the hieroglyphic template whenever possible. There are sometimes slight deviations from the Greek inscription, as certain formulations in the hieroglyphic text have been avoided. For example, the hieroglyphic text has no title " Pharaoh ", but only the usual title "King of Upper and Lower Egypt ". Missing text passages in the hieroglyphic version have been supplemented with the translations of the other versions that have been preserved.

Dating and introduction

" 1 In 9 am 4. Xanthikos , which is be the month of the Egyptians 18. Peret II (23 March 196 v. Chr.) , The youth who as King of Upper and Lower Egypt on the seat of his father appeared . He is the living image of Amun and the son of Re ; chosen by Ptah . 2 As Aetos , son of Aetos, priests of Alexander , Ptolemy I and Berenike I , Ptolemy II and Arsinoë II , Ptolemy III. and Berenike II and the brilliant benevolent god Ptolemy V ; as 3 Pyrra , daughter of Philinios , who bore the victory gift of Berenike I and Areia , daughter of Diogenes, 4 the carrier of the basket of Arsinoë I and Irene, daughter of Ptolemy, priestess of Arsinoë I, the father-lover, on this day the decree was given to which the Lesonis priests and the other priests who came from the temples of Egypt for Feast 5 came to Memphis . It is the feast of the day when Ptolemy V received the office of prince from his father's hand. All these priests announced the decree. "

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.
The king as benefactor and tax breaks

5 Since Ptolemy V, the brilliant, benevolent God, son of King Ptolemy IV. 6 and Queen Arsinoë III. Having always done much good for the temples of Egypt and his heart kind to the gods, he gave much silver and grain for the temples. He is a god, the son of a god and a goddess. He is like Horus , the son of Isis and Osiris . 7 He did much to restore calm in Egypt and to consolidate the temples. He made presents to the whole army. He has reduced or waived the taxes and duties that were still due. 8 He also saved the remaining amounts due to the king from the Egyptian people. He acquitted the locked up people and those who had been sued for a long time. "

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.
Discounts for priesthood and warriors

8 As for the silver and the grain, which is given annually as priestly salary 9 to their temples, this income is preserved by the order of Ptolemy V. He has also ordered that the purification priests should not pay higher priestly fees than they did in his father's day. He has people 10 released into the temple offices of the annual trip to the home of Alexander. Also, no skippers should be dug up. Two thirds of the delivery of royal linen to the Pharaoh's house was waived. 11 He made sure that what was customary for the gods was properly taken care of. He gave the order for the warriors who wanted to come home and those who went other ways in the meantime, that they should return to their 12 places; their possessions remain with them. 17 In addition, until the ninth year of reign he forgave the temples the residual debts, which made up a considerable sum of silver and grain; The same procedure was initiated for differential amounts and delivery services that had not yet been provided by the temples. In addition, he has waived the priests' wheat tax; 18 also the wine levy from the property of the vineyards. "

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.
Protection of the country and defeat of the rebels of Lykopolis (Shekan)

12 He made the foot soldiers, cavalry and ships go out against the enemies of Egypt when they wanted to wage war against Egypt. He spent a lot of silver and grain on it. He moved against the city of Shekan , 13 which was fortified by rebels with systems and possessed large amounts of equipment and weapons. He included this city and the rebels who had left path 14 of the divine commandments and dammed the rivers for this place. Crowds of foot soldiers and the cavalry besieged Shekan. In the eighth year of his reign was the Nile flood much higher 15 and flooded the much deeper-lying land. He took the place by force and defeated the enemy. He won like Re and Harsiese , who long ago had also won in these places. 16 The overpowering of the rebels could be accomplished with the help of the gods of Memphis on the day of the coronation; they (the rebels) were executed on the wood. "

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.
Care for sacred animals and the cult of gods

18 He did more for the Apis and Mnevis bulls and the other sacred animals than his predecessors. He took part in the 19 events in their temples and festivals as well as in the burnt offerings before the gods. He established the rites by law. He gave a lot of gold, silver, grain and other things. 20 He had temples, shrines, altars and other things restored, for he has a beneficent divine heart. He asked about the right rites in order to renew them in due form. In return he received from the gods victory, power, strength, healing 21 and health. His office as Pharaoh for him and his children should last forever. "

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.
Priestly resolution in honor of the king and his ancestors

21 Regarding the good event: It occurred to the priests to honor Ptolemy V, the brilliant, benevolent God, 22 together with the gods who in fatherly love caused him to come into being. The same should also be given to the benevolent gods who gave rise to his parents, together with the god-brothers who gave birth to them. One should create a portable image of Ptolemy V in every temple and name the image 23 Ptolemy the Savior of Egypt. He should be seen with the respective local god handing over the sword of victory to Ptolemy V. It should be done in the Egyptian way and be clearly visible in every temple. And the priests are to serve the images three times a day. 24 Let them do what is lawfully given to the other gods at festivals and processions on the days mentioned. In every temple, Ptolemy V's holy eye of God should also be set up together with the golden shrine, 25 so that he can live with the other gods in the most holy place .

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.
Description of the shrine to be made for Ptolemy V.

" 25 To the shrine for today and make it more recognizable, you should put ten golden royal crowns on the shrine, each with a uraeus as for golden crowns 26 is lawful. In the middle of the crowns there is said to be a double crown, since with it the King of Upper and Lower Egypt appeared at the ceremonies in Memphis when he legitimately took over the office of King of Upper and Lower Egypt. Also, one should (as heraldic plants) one on the upper side 27 papyrus and bulrush set. Below on the eastern side a uraeus snake with a basket on a papyrus; that means: The king of Upper and Lower Egypt made both countries light up. "

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.
Festivals in honor of the king

27 Formerly the 30th Schemu IV , 28 the birthday of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, was set as the festival of apparitions in the temples. The birth of the king is the beginning of all good. Good things also include the day on which the ceremonies of assuming the highest office were made for him, the 17th Achet II (November 22nd 197 BC) . That is why the 17th and 30th days of every month should be festival days in all temples. 29 burn offerings and libations are to be offered on these two monthly feasts . During the first five days of the first month of Achet, a festival and a procession for Ptolemy V are to take place in all temples, during which wreaths are carried and 30 burn offerings and libations are made. The priests in the individual temples of Egypt should from now on be called priests of the brilliant, benevolent God and this name should be written on all documents and engraved on their rings. "

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.
Reproduction of the golden shrine and final declaration

31 If the people of Egypt would like to have the golden shrine of Ptolemy V appear at their places of residence every year in the processions described, they will have the opportunity to make a copy of Ptolemy V's gold shrine. Because it should become known: The people of Egypt honor the brilliant, benevolent God (Ptolemy V), 32 as it is lawful. The decree and the orders should be written on a stele of hard stone in the scriptures of the Words of God, in letters and in Greek. The stele should be set up in the first, second and third temples next to the image of Ptolemy V. "

- Excerpts from the priest's decree in honor of Ptolemy V.

Motives for the decree

Ptolemy V (210-180 BC, Pharaoh 205-180 BC) only achieved the support of the priesthood through concessions and extended privileges to the Lesonis caste. In addition, Ptolemy V intervened decisively in his ninth year of reign in the tax and financial economy and waived the payments from the temple that had been outstanding until then. At the same time, he reduced the fees to the royal family. In addition, the priests were assured of their old property and the annual trip to the house of Alexandria was no longer an obligation.

The priesthood was aware of their preference, which at the same time represented a clear weakening of the Egyptian state power. Because of this situation, eulogies of praise for Ptolemy V dominate the statements in the decree as compensation for the concessions. However, the prominent achievements of the Pharaoh symbolized the obligatory duties of a king, which had to be performed anyway.

The text of the inscription is not a copy of the original document, since detailed lists and mentions of the temples concerned are missing. It is therefore only a brief excerpt that lists clichéd honors that are to be paid to the Pharaoh. Unique and unique in Egyptian history is the clarity with which the legal transactions imposed on the priesthood are listed. The decline of the Ptolemaic economy can be clearly observed.

Related topics



Web links

Commons : Stein von Rosette  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Stein von Rosette  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. The British Museum: The Rosette Stone (English) ; accessed on April 26, 2020.
  2. Has become an example Presented as object 33 in the BBC's " History of the World in 100 Objects " series by museum director Neil MacGregor in May 2010. Rosetta Stone, broadcast page, BBC - Radio 4, accessed Feb. 28, 2019.
  3. ^ The British Museum: The Rosetta Stone - Object details (English); as a name is given according to the inscription Ptolemy V Epiphanes and the donation by King George III. as an acquisition. The excavator was Pierre Francois Xavier Bouchard; This is followed by a detailed list of literature based on the current status; accessed on May 15, 2014.
  4. ^ Richard B. Parkinson, Whitfield Diffie, M. Fischer, RS Simpson: Cracking codes. The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment. University of California Press, Berkeley 1999, ISBN 978-0-520-22306-6 . (Google Books: Brief Description and Table of Contents , accessed May 16, 2014)
  5. ^ A b History uncovered in conserving the Rosetta Stone (source of the text: Trustees of the British Museum).
  6. ^ British Museum shines new light on the Rosetta Stone of pharaohs and gods, July 4, 2004.
  7. Michael Schaper: The Empire of the Pharaohs (= Geo Epoche. Issue No. 3). Gruner & Jahr, Hamburg 2000, p. 90 f.
  8. Otto Kaiser a. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, Old Series, p. 238 f.
  9. Otto Kaiser a. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, old series, p. 240.
  10. a b Otto Kaiser u. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, Old Series, p. 241 f.
  11. Otto Kaiser a. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, Old Series, p. 243.
  12. Otto Kaiser a. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, Old Series, p. 243 f.
  13. Otto Kaiser a. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, Old Series, p. 244 f.
  14. Otto Kaiser a. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, Old Series, p. 245 f.
  15. Otto Kaiser a. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, Old Series, p. 246.
  16. a b c Otto Kaiser u. a .: TUAT - Volume 1, Old Series, pp. 236-238.