Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone in the British MuseumThe Rosetta Stone is a dark grey-pinkish granite stone (often incorrectly identified as basalt) with writing on it in two languages, Egyptian and Greek, using three scripts, Hieroglyphic, Demotic Egyptian and Koine Greek. Because Greek was well known, the stone was the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs (a system of writing used by the Ancient Egyptians, using a combination of logographic, syllabic, and alphabetic elements).

Ptolemy V assumed the crown at the age of five after a rather turbulent time in Egyptian history. The young ruler was faced with the daunting task of reclaiming lands lost to various invaders and reunifying his country's populace. As an attempt to reestablish legitimacy for the ruler and create a royal cult, Ptolemy's priests issued a series of decrees. The decrees were inscribed on stones and erected throughout Egypt. The Rosetta stone is a copy of the decree issued in the city of Memphis.

The same Ptolemaic decree of 196 BC is written on the stone in the three scripts. The Greek part of the Rosetta Stone begins: Basileuontos tou neou kai paralabontos tén basileian para tou patros... (The new king, having received the kingship from his father...) It is a decree from Ptolemy V, describing various taxes he repealed (one measured in ardebs (Greek artabai) per aroura), and instructing that statues be erected in temples and that the decree be published in the writing of the words of gods (hieroglyphs), the writing of the people (demotic), and the Wynen (Greek; the word is cognate with Ionian) language.

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