This week in history: The Rosetta Stone

Photo courtesy of Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia Commons.

On this day in 1822, Jean-Francois Champollion announced that he had deciphered the Rosetta Stone, 23 years after its discovery. The Rosetta Stone records a 196 BC decree from the reign of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes of Egypt, and it’s written in 3 different languages. That made it the key to translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as the Egyptian demotic script. The bottom language was Ancient Greek, which was well-known in the 1800’s, and the demotic and hieroglyphic scripts were inscribed above. So Campollion used the ancient Greek version of the decree to translate the other two, giving historians the key to reading hieroglyphs and demotic script on temple walls, ancient manuscripts, and everywhere else. Much of what we know about the ancient Egyptians—including those from far before 196 BC—comes to us thanks to Campollion’s work.

This Week in 30 BC: Augustus in Egypt

Caesar Augustus, f.k.a. Octavian
Caesar Augustus, f.k.a. Octavian

During this week in 30 BC, Roman strongman Octavian completed his invasion of Egypt. He ordered the execution of Marcus Antyllus, eldest son of his defeated rival, Marc Anthony, who’d committed suicide. He also executed Caesarion, teenage son of his great uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar. Caesarion’s mother was Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and lover of both Caesar and Antony, who’d also committed suicide a few weeks before. The boy held the Egyptian throne for only a few weeks after the death of his mother, and he wielded no power. But he was the last ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty and the ancient country’s last Pharaoh. His death ended 3,000 years of Egyptian monarchy.

Octavian went on to establish a new form of government for the Roman world, which he ruled as Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first emperor.


© 2019 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

The Unbelievable Duration of Egyptian Civilization

Imagine the Roman emperors still ruled today—and kept ruling until the year 3000 C.E. Imagine an American president still presides in the year 4800—governing roughly the same part of North America as today and operating under American traditions and laws, including the U.S. Constitution. In other words, imagine a government and society lasting three thousand years, with only the occasional interruption. That’s how long the Pharaohs reigned over ancient Egypt. Continue reading “The Unbelievable Duration of Egyptian Civilization”