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THE ROSETTA STONE
By E. A. Wallis Budge
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1989 Dover Publications, Inc.
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I.—THE DISCOVERY OF THE ROSETTA STONE
The famous, irregularly-shaped slab of black basalt in the British Museum (Southern Egyptian Gallery, No. 24), which is now universally known as the "Rosetta Stone," was discovered at a spot which lies a few miles to the north of the little town of Rashîd which Europeans generally call "Rosetta." Rashîd stands on the left bank of an arm of the Nile, which in ancient days was called the "Bolbitinic arm," in the Western Delta, about 5 miles from the mouth of the river, and some 30 miles from Alexandria, which lies to the west. The name Rashîd is that by which the town is known to the Arab geographers (e.g. Yâkût, ii, p. 781), and it is probably of Arab origin, for "RASHÎT," the name given to the town by the Copts is, as Amelineau thought (Géographie, p. 405), undoubtedly a mere transcription of Rashîd. Whether the Bolbitinic arm of the Nile was artificial or not matters little; it is tolerably certain that a seaport town of considerable importance has always stood on the site of Rashîd, and that its inhabitants have always thrived on its sea-borne trade. The Egyptian inscriptions tell us nothing about the history of the towns which must have stood successively on the site, and the early Coptic writers are silent about them.
In the second half of the IXth century the Arabs realized the importance of the place as the site for a seaport, and they founded Rashîd. Though after the conquest of Egypt by 'Amr Ibn Al-'Âsi in 641 the Arab general treated the Alexandrians with great consideration, the prosperity of Alexandria declined rapidly, and much of her trade passed into the hands of the merchants in the other seaports of the Delta. In 969, the Khalîfah Mu'izz founded the city of Al-Kâhira, or Cairo. Alexandria ceased to be a great trading centre, and most of her maritime commerce found its way to the newly founded Arab towns of Rashîd and to Damietta, in the Eastern Delta. The trade of Rashîd grew rapidly, her merchants became wealthy, and the outskirts of the town became filled with large houses, many of which stood in gardens and plantations filled with vines and fruit-bearing trees. Several mosques were built, and many learned men founded their homes at Rashîd, and wrote voluminous works on the Kur'ân and Muhammadan traditions. The prosperity of the town was abruptly arrested by the discovery of the new route to INDIA round the Cape of Good Hope, by Vasco da Gama in 1497, and by the Portuguese victories in the Red Sea. But the trade of the port was very considerable during the XVIth, XVIIth, and XVIIIth centuries. The deathblow to the prosperity of the town was given by Muhammad 'Alî, who in 1819 began to dig the Mahmudîyah Canal, which connected Cairo with Alexandria, and so caused the diversion of the trade of Rashîd to Alexandria.
At the present time the inhabitants of Rashîd are about 15,000 in number, and are chiefly Muslims and Greeks. In some of the larger houses the visitor will see ancient stone columns and slabs built into the walls, and in the Mosque of Sakhlûn there are many more pillars. These were never hewn by the Arabs, and an examination of them shows that they were brought to their present places from some Egyptian or Egypto-Ptolemaïc buildings in or near one of the ancient towns that stood on the site. It is well known from classical sources that the branch of the river which flows by the town was called the "Bolbitinic arm "of the Nile, and we may therefore assume that these pillars came from buildings in the town of Bolbitine, which is mentioned by Hecataeus and Diodorus as having stood on the river. Of the town of Bolbitine nothing is known, and we can only speculate as to the causes which led to the disappearance of a populous and apparently well-to-do town. The inscribed remains of Egyptian buildings found in the neigh-bourhood suggest that the town called Bolbitine by the Greeks was a flourishing market-centre under the Pharaohs of the XXVIth Dynasty, and its downfall may well have been brought about by the founding of Alexandria, some 35 miles distant. And again, the silting up of the arm of the Nile may have made it impossible for sea-going ships to reach the town. From the phrase [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which is quoted by Stephanus of Byzantium (Vth century), it would seem that the chariots made there were famous throughout the East. A town of the size and importance of Bolbitine must have had at least one temple, and it is very possible, as Champollion thought (L'Égypte sous les Pharaons, vol. ii, p. 241), that the Rosetta Stone stood in the great temple of that town.
The exact circumstances under which the Stone was discovered are not known, and there is some doubt as to the name of its discoverer. There is no doubt that it was found in August, 1799, whilst the French, who had occupied Rosetta in 1798, were engaged in repairing or adding to the fortifications which lay to the north of the town. One account says that the discoverer was a French Officer of Engineers called Boussard, who may perhaps be identified with the distinguished French General Baron A. J. Boussard, who played a prominent part in Napoleon's Expedition to Egypt, and who died in 1812. Another account says that it was found by one Bouchard, who discovered the Stone by striking it accidentally with his pick; if this be so, Bouchard was probably one of the soldiers who were working at the reconstruction of Fort St. Julien under the direction of General Boussard. It has been stated that Bouchard found the Stone lying loose on the ground, but it is also said that when he struck it with his pick it was built into an ancient wall, the demolition of which had been decided upon. In either case it seems tolerably certain that the Stone had been removed from the temple in which it had been set up, and used in building the wall which the French were demolishing. When this was done it is impossible to say, but the fortifications of Rosetta were old and in a ruined state when the French came there, and it is probable that they formed part of a famous system of defence works which the Khalîfah Al-Ashraf Kânsûh Al-Ghûrî constructed at Alexandria and Rashîd between 1501 and 1516. The late Dr. Birch said, "The Stone appears to have been placed in a temple dedicated to Tum or Tomos, the setting Sun, originally erected in the reign of Nectanebo" (i.e. during the first half of the IVth century B.C.), but I cannot find out what his authority for the statement was. On the other hand, Mr. HARRIS, formerly H.B.M.'s Consul at Alexandria, repeating a tradition current in his day, said that the Stone had originally stood in a temple built by Necho, the Pharaoh Necho of the Bible (XXVIth Dynasty).
II.—REMOVAL OF THE ROSETTA STONE TO CAIRO
Soon after its discovery the Rosetta Stone was taken to Cairo and placed in the Institut National, where a considerable number of large and important antiquities had been collected by the savants whom Napoleon had taken to Egypt with him, and by native agents throughout the country. As soon as the savants returned from Upper Egypt to Cairo they examined the Stone, and quickly realized its importance. Napoleon the Great, who was among the first who saw it, regarded it with the keenest interest, and "in order to satisfy the curiosity of the literati in every country, gave orders to have the inscription engraved immediately" (Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lxxi, 1801, p. 1194). Two expert lithographers "Citoyens Marcel et Galland" were summoned from Paris in haste, and they made copies of the texts on the Stone by inking it with printer's ink and rolling sheets of paper over it. Not content with this, "Citoyen Raffineau" was ordered by Napoleon to make a sulphur cast of the Stone for the use of Professor Ameilhon of Paris, whom Napoleon ordered to translate the Greek text. In the autumn of 1801, General Dugua, "l'un des guerriers qui, dans la mémorable expédition d'Egypte, ont si glorieusement servi sous les Héros de la France"; returned to Paris and took with him two copies of the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone made by "Citoyens Marcel et Galland," and presented them to the Institut National of Paris.
III.—SURRENDER OF THE ROSETTA STONE TO THE BRITISH
Meanwhile the British forces had gained many victories over the French in Egypt, and after the capitulation of Alexandria, all the antiquities which the French had collected in Cairo and Alexandria, and had packed up ready for transport to Paris, were surrendered to them. Under Article XVI of the Treaty of Capitulation, General Hutchinson took possession of them, and despatched them to England at the end of the year 1801. The famous Stone, which even at the time was generally known as the Rosetta Stone, was among them, and it arrived in England in February, 1802; and, as a result of the description of it published in Paris by "Citoyen Du Theil," created a great sensation. The copies of the inscriptions which General Dugua had taken to Paris were committed to the care of "Citoyen Du Theil," who read the Greek text at once, and forthwith declared that the Stone was a "monument of the gratitude of some priests of Alexandria, or some neighbouring place, towards Ptolemy Epiphanes." He went on to say that the first and second texts on the Stone contained repetitions of the contents of the Greek, and that, as the last line but one of the Greek text ordered that a copy of the decree of the priests was to be inscribed upon a hard stone stele "in sacred letters, and in letters of the country, and in Greek letters," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the first text on the Stone must be written in Hieroglyphs, and the second in Enchorial characters. These statements at once drew the attention of learned men throughout the world to the Stone, for it was clear that by means of the Greek text it would probably be possible to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs and also the enchorial script of Egypt.
IV.—HOW THE ROSETTA STONE CAME TO LONDON
The story of the transport of the Stone to England was told by Major-General H. Taylor in a letter addressed by him to Nicholas Carlisle, Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries, London, and printed in Archaeologia, vol. XVI, London, 1812, pp. 212 ff. This letter reads :—
"The Rosetta Stone having excited much attention in the learned world, and in this Society in particular, I request to offer them, through you, some account of the manner it came into the possession of the British Army, and by what means it was brought to this country, presuming it may not be unacceptable to them.
"By the sixteenth article of the Capitulation of Alexandria, the siege of which terminated the labours of the British Army in Egypt, all the curiosities, natural and artificial, collected by the French Institute and others, were to be delivered up to the captors. This was refused on the part of the French General to be fulfilled, by saying they were all private property. Many letters passed; at length, on consideration that the care in preserving the insects and animals had made the property in some degree private, it was relinquished by Lord Hutchinson; but the artificial, which consisted of antiquities and Arabian manuscripts, among the former of which was the Rosetta Stone, was insisted upon by the noble General with his usual zeal for science. Upon which I had several conferences with the French General Menou, who at length gave way, saying that the Rosetta Stone was his private property, but, as he was forced, he must comply as well as the other proprietors. I accordingly received from the Under-Secretary of the Institute, Le Pére, the Secretary Fourier being ill, a paper, containing a list of the antiquities, with the names of the claimants of each piece of Sculpture; the Stone is there described as black granite, with three inscriptions, belonging to General Menou.
"From the French sçavans I learnt, that the Rosetta Stone was found among the ruins of Fort St. Julien, when repaired by the French and put in a state of defence; it stands near the mouth of the Nile, on the Rosetta branch, where are, in all probability, the pieces broken off. I was also informed, that there was a stone similar at Menouf, obliterated, or nearly so, by the earthen jugs being placed on it, as it stood near the water; and that there was a fragment of one, used and placed in the walls of the French fortifications of Alexandria. This Stone was carefully brought to General Menou's house in Alexandria, covered with soft cotton cloth and a double matting when I first saw it. The General had selected this precious relic of antiquity for himself. When it was understood by the French Army that we were to possess the antiquities, the covering of the Stone was torn off, and it was thrown upon its face, and the excellent wooden cases of the rest were broken off; for they had taken infinite pains in the first instance to secure and preserve from any injury all the antiquities. I made several remonstrances, but the chief difficulty I had was on account of this Stone, and the great sarcophagus, which at one time was positively refused to be given up by the Capitan Pasha, who had obtained it by having possession of the ship it had been put on board of by the French. I procured, however, a centry on the beach from Mon. Le Roy, prefect maritime, who, as well as the General, behaved with great civility; the reverse I experienced from some others.
"When I mentioned the manner the Stone had been treated to Lord Hutchinson, he gave me a detachment of artillerymen, and an artillery-engine, called from its powers a devil-cart, with which that evening I went to General Menou's house, and carried off the Stone, without any injury, but with some difficulty, from the narrow streets to my house, amid the sarcasm of numbers of French officers and men; being ably assisted by an intelligent sergeant of artillery, who commanded the party, all of whom enjoyed great satisfaction in their employment; they were the first British soldiers who entered Alexandria. During the time the Stone remained in my house some gentlemen attached to the corps of sçavants requested to have a cast, which I readily granted, provided the Stone should receive no injury; which cast they took to Paris, leaving the Stone well cleared from the printing-ink which it had been covered with to take off several copies to send to France, when it was first discovered.
"Having seen the other remains of Egyptian sculpture sent on board the Admiral by Sir Richard Bickerton's ship, the Madras, who kindly gave every possible assistance, I embarked with the Rosetta Stone, determining to share its fate, on board the Egyptienne frigate, taken in the harbours of Alexandria, and arrived at Portsmouth in February, 1802. When the ship came round to Deptford, it [i.e. the Stone] was put in a boat and landed at the Custom House; and Lord Buckinghamshire, the then Secretary of State, acceded to my request, and permitted it to remain some time at the apartments of the Society of Antiquaries, previous to its deposit in the British Museum, where I trust it will long remain, a most valuable relic of antiquity, the feeble but only yet discovered link of the Egyptian to the known languages, a proud trophy of the arms of Britain (I could almost say spolia opima), not plundered from defenceless inhabitants, but honourably acquired by the fortune of war.
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