The Rosetta Stone • Found in 1799 near the town of Rosetta (Rashid in Arabic) by French Engineers during Napoleon's occupation of Egypt. After the French surrendered Alexandria to the English in 1801, the stone became English property, and has been on display in the British Museum since 1802. • The identical text is carved into the black basalt stele fragment in three scripts: (1) Hieroglyphic; (2) Demotic; and (3) Greek. The text is a decree of Egyptian priests assembled at Memphis of the goodness of 14 year-old Ptolemy V Epiphanes, who ruled from 204 to 180 BCE.
The Scripts of the Rosetta Stone • Hieroglyphics: etymologically “sacred carved letters” (Greek) the script used by priests to write religious documents. Individual characters are called hieroglyphs. When first viewed on the Rosetta Stone, some scholars believed these hieroglyphs to be nothing more than decorations! It is the most incomplete of the stone’s scripts. • Demotic: later cursive form of hieroglyph that became the standard script of everyday Egypt— it resembles Coptic script (the Coptic language, although now extinct, was the form of the ancient Egyptian language spoken during early Christian times that was replaced by Arabic followingtheestablishment ofIslamic hegemony in Egypt). • Greek: language spoken by Egyptian rulers when the stone was carved in 196 BCE. Remember that this was the era of the Ptolemies—the descendents of the Greek regent who had been given charge over Alexander’s Egyptian Empire after his death. This script was immediately readable and provided the date and origin of the carvings.
Script Comparisons • Building mainly on the work of Thomas Young and knowing both Coptic and Greek, the Frenchman Champollion assumed that the hieroglyphics contained in each cartouche (royal rings) represented the name of the king. He compared the individual hieroglyphs with the corresponding Greek (Ptolemy) and demotic and began to construct the hieroglyphic alphabet.
Champollion and the three scripts • The key is Champollion’s conclusion that Demotic and Coptic were essentially the same language, differing only in the alphabet used (Coptic is based on the Greek alphabet). He applied his knowledge of Coptic to the transliteration of the Demotic script and identified specific matching verbiage (i.e., letters and words) in all three scripts. • Thus came Champollion’s key realization (c. 1820) that hieroglyphics is not a pictorial/symbolic language in which every symbol stands for an entire word—but rather a phonetic language based on an alphabet (ISP—How specifically did he demonstrate this?). This was similar to Young’s thinking, and the debate regarding who deserves primary credit for this idea still produces scholarly debate. • In addition to Ptolemy, he recognized the name “Kliopadra” in both the Greek and Hieroglyphic texts (in the royal cartouche) and then read from the Greek to the hieroglyphic letter for letter. • Together, “Ptolemys” and “Kliopadra”gave him a twelve-letter foundation for a hieroglyphic alphabet. This alphabet consisted of 24 consonant hieroglyphic signs. Vowels were spoken but unwritten; this makes the actual pronunciation unknown although some scholarly reconstruction has taken place based on Coptic phonetics.
And so… • ·The English Alphabet could be translated into hieroglyphics. • · A new, enthusiastic era of Egyptology was ushered in that lead to fantastic discoveries (e.g., Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922). • · The hieroglyphic burial texts that envelop sarcophagi and tomb walls became readable, as was the Book of the Dead and hieroglyphic secular writings such as autobiographies and chronologies. The dates of the Pharaonic Dynasties and kingdoms (i.e., Old/Middle/New) were better established. • · Historical inscriptions on great monuments (e.g., Thutmose III defeating his enemies as depicted on the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak) are now interpretable. Most surviving records come from the New Kingdom, and many “historical” inscriptions on stela, walls, and columns were determined to be propaganda, not objective history. • · Administrative Documents can be read. These shed light on priestly duties and temple management, trials of grave robbers, medical & veterinary treatment, wills & other legal documents, and narratives of great construction and social order. • · Expedition records, wisdom & philosophic literature, stories & Egyptian legends are now accessible to us.
And finally… Hieroglyphic script fell out of use during the 4th and 5th centuries CE. Alexander conquered Egypt in 332 BCE, thus leading to an influx of Greek settlers and the gradual domination of Greek over hieroglyphic writing (which gradually became restricted to religious themes). Temples using hieroglyphics continued to be built, but it was a language that few could read and bore no resemblance to the speech of that era. The deathblow to hieroglyphics came with the Christianization of Egypt. The last dated hieroglyph is 394 CE, about 80 years after Egypt became Christian. Subsequent writing was either Greek or Coptic, and so the Dark Ages of Egyptology had begun.
Be careful about internet sources…. • http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pyramid/hieroglyph/hieroglyph5.html