Rosetta Stone found 1799
On this day in 1799, during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, a French soldier discovers a black basalt slab inscribed with ancient writing near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles north of Alexandria. The irregularly shaped stone contained fragments of passages written in three different scripts: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics and Egyptian demotic. The ancient Greek on the Rosetta Stone told archaeologists that it was inscribed by priests honoring the king of Egypt, Ptolemy V, in the second century B.C. More startlingly, the Greek passage announced that the three scripts were all of identical meaning. The artifact thus held the key to solving the riddle of hieroglyphics, a written language that had been “dead” for nearly 2,000 years.
When Napoleon, an emperor known for his enlightened view of education, art and culture, invaded Egypt in 1798, he took along a group of scholars and told them to seize all important cultural artifacts for France. Pierre Bouchard, one of Napoleon’s soldiers, was aware of this order when he found the basalt stone, which was almost four feet long and two-and-a-half feet wide, at a fort near Rosetta. When the British defeated Napoleon in 1801, they took possession of the Rosetta Stone.
Several scholars, including Englishman Thomas Young made progress with the initial hieroglyphics analysis of the Rosetta Stone. French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), who had taught himself ancient languages, ultimately cracked the code and deciphered the hieroglyphics using his knowledge of Greek as a guide. Hieroglyphics used pictures to represent objects, sounds and groups of sounds. Once the Rosetta Stone inscriptions were translated, the language and culture of ancient Egypt was suddenly open to scientists as never before.
The Rosetta Stone has been housed at the British Museum in London since 1802, except for a brief period during World War I. At that time, museum officials moved it to a separate underground location, along with other irreplaceable items from the museum’s collection, to protect it from the threat of bombs.
(More Events on This Day in History)
- 1779 Massachusetts begins ill-fated Penobscot expedition
- 1942 George Washington Carver begins experimental project with Henry Ford
- 1863 Morgan’s raiders defeated at Buffington Island
- 1956 United States withdraws offer of aid for Aswan Dam
- 1991 Mike Tyson rapes a Miss Black America contestant
- 1979 Oil tankers collide in Caribbean Sea
- 1553 Lady Jane Grey deposed
- 1848 Seneca Falls Convention begins
- 1989 Sitcom actress murdered; death prompts anti-stalking legislation
- 1898 Emile Zola flees France
- 2009 “Angela’s Ashes” author Frank McCourt dies
- 2003 Thousands of fans join the Miami funeral procession of Celia Cruz
- 1879 Doc Holliday kills for the first time
- 1884 President Arthur proclaims power to impose quarantine on immigrants
- 1992 Nick Faldo wins third British Open
- 1964 President Khanh calls for expanding the war
- 1972 Peace talks resume
World War I
- 1919 Cenotaph is unveiled in London
World War II
- 1943 America bombs Rome