French engineers were doing some demolition work in El-Rashid, a delta town in Egypt. The year was 1799, and it was about a year after Napoleon began occupying Egypt. That area, which is known as Rosetta, was the location of an amazing find.
When demolition crews were tearing down a wall, a large black granite stone was found with parallel inscriptions in both Greek and Egyptian. There were also three scripts, Greek, Egyptian demotic, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Eventually, the stone found its way into British hands in 1801 and it is now on display in the British Museum.
The French scholar Jean-François Champollion and English scholar Thomas Young used what was written on the stone to help decipher hieroglyphics in the 19th century. It is now one of the best known archaeological artifacts in existence and is seen by millions of people every year. Many people are still curious, however, to find out what the stone says.
If you are looking for some type of interesting statement of wisdom that comes from thousands of years ago, it isn’t going to provide it. It isn’t even a recipe for some delicious biscuits! It’s simply a business document that is associated with the decree passed in 196 BCE by a council of Egyptian priests. It was after the coronation of Ptolemy V Epiphanes as king of Egypt and they were celebrating the anniversary.
The stone starts by outlining some of the accomplishments of the king, such as the gifts that he gave to the temple or granting some tax reductions.
It also spoke of a rebellion that started during the reign of Ptolemy IV Philopator, his predecessor, and how he was able to restore peace to the land.
The council of priests was thankful for what was done so they pledged a number of actions to help boost the king in the eyes of his subjects. This would include decorating his shrines and establishing festivals on the anniversary of his ascension to the throne and his birthday. They were also going to construct some statues.
In the end, the decree states that hieroglyphics should be used to inscribe their promises in stone and it should be placed in temples throughout the land of Egypt.