July 19: The Rosetta Stone is discovered in Egypt in 1799
On this date—July 19, 1799—the Rosetta Stone was discovered in Egypt by French soldiers. Named “Rosetta” because it was discovered in the town of Rosetta (Rashid) in the Delta, the stone contained writing in two languages (Egyptian and Greek) using three scripts (hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek) and was seen as the key to understanding modern Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The stone was written in different scripts because at the time it was written, roughly 196 BC, all three were used in Egypt. The first, hieroglyphic, was used for important or religious documents, while demotic was the common script of Egypt. Greek, the third script, was the language of Egypt’s rulers at the time. The text on the Rosetta Stone was written by priests to honor the Egyptian pharaoh, and was a list of all the good things the pharaoh had done for the priests and people of Egypt. It was thus written in all three scripts so that everyone—namely priests, government officials, and rulers—would be able to understand it.
While other copies of the same decree and similar bilingual and trilingual inscriptions have since been discovered, the Rosetta Stone is still famous for being an essential text of study for our knowledge of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and culture. And if you've ever used the foreign language aid books of the same name, you can be thankful that learning Spanish or Italian is much easier than deciphering two different languages in three different scripts!