Cultural Key

Ancient Egypt declined and disappeared nearly two thousand years ago. In AD 391 when Roman Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I closed pagan temples throughout the Roman Empire the last vestiges of that culture ceased to exist. It wasn’t until 1798 when French military leader Napoleon invaded Egypt that the ancient culture awoke from its long slumber. In 1799 Napoleon’s Lieutenant Pierre Bouchard discovered a slab of stone nearby to Rosetta. It was inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis in 196 BC on behalf of Ptolemy V. The fragment of stone was carved with the same text written in two languages, Egyptian and Greek. It also used three writing systems, hieroglyphic, demotic and the Greek alphabet. Here was the essential key that allowed the French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist Jean-François Champollion (1790 –1832) to unlock the ancient hieroglyphic code. It took until 1822 after which scholars could undertake interpreting three thousand years of Ancient Egyptian history.

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