The Rosetta Stone is a fragment of a giant granite stele with a public proclamation from Pharaoh Ptolemy VI issued in 196 BCE. The stone displays the same decree in hieroglyphics (top), Demotic (center), and Greek.
Photograph by Hans Hillewaert, courtesy Wikimedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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  • On July 19, 1799, the Rosetta Stone was discovered in Rashid (sometimes called Rosetta), Egypt. The Rosetta Stone is a large, black, granite-like slab (called a stele) meant to be erected in a public space. The Rosetta Stone, dated 196 BCE, outlines new rituals surrounding the worship of Pharaoh Ptolemy V.

    The Rosetta Stone is inscribed in two languages: Egyptian and Greek, and three texts: hieroglyphic, Demotic, and Greek. Scholars were fluent in ancient Greek and Demotic, the writing system used by Egyptian scribes of the period. The translation of hieroglyphics, however, remained a mystery. The Rosetta Stone allowed linguists to decipher hieroglyphics by comparing hieroglyphic symbols with a known text. Understanding hieroglyphics opened up almost all ancient Egyptian language and literature to Egyptologists and historians.

    The Rosetta Stone was deciphered largely by Thomas Young of England, and Jean-Francois Champollion of France.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    decipher Verb

    to figure out or interpret.

    demotic Noun

    (700 BCE - 400 CE) informal written language of ancient Egypt.

    Egyptologist Noun

    person who studies the culture and history of ancient Egypt.

    erect Verb

    to build or raise.

    fluent Adjective

    able to speak, write, and understand a language.

    granite Noun

    type of hard, igneous rock.

    hieroglyphics Plural Noun

    written language using images to represent words.

    inscribe Verb

    to mark or engrave a surface.

    linguist Noun

    person who studies language.

    pharaoh Noun

    ruler of ancient Egypt.

    ritual Noun

    series of customs or procedures for a ceremony, often religious.

    Rosetta Stone Noun

    (196 BCE) large black stone carved with a decree about the coronation of Pharaoh Ptolemy V. The decree is carved in three languages: Greek, demotic, and hieroglyphic.

    scribe Noun

    sharp tool used to make maps using the scribing method.

    symbol Noun

    something used to represent something else.

    worship Noun

    honor, adoration, or glorification, usually to a religious god.