Despite being an Egyptian artifact, and despite the fact that it was recovered and ultimately translated by the French, the Rosetta stone currently resides in the British Museum, as it has done since 1802.
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The story of the Rosetta stone is one of coruscating intellects and petty rivalries, of ancient mysteries and quite modern imperial politics. The stone dates to 196 B.C., and was recovered in 1799 by a French soldier in Rosetta, aka Rashid, a port on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Discover is a noble word — the stone was part of a wall in a fort!
The importance of the Rosetta stone can’t be overstated: It enabled the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics, a skill which had been lost for more than a thousand years. It is a stele, or commemorative slab, announcing a cult of Ptolemy V, who was to be seen as divine.
Such an announcement would have been politically necessary for the 13-year-old Ptolemy, who had already been ruler for 8 years following the death of his parents at the hand of his father’s mistress. The child-king oversaw a land plagued with enemies without and within, and the decree was an attempt on the part of priests and the king to restore stability.
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