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Hieroglyphs, Demotic, Greek, Coptic
Ancient Egypt Unit
Two men are trying to figure out two problems. One is a priest living in the year 196 B.C.E. He is trying to honor the new young leader by carving a message in stone in such a way so that everyone who reads it can understand it. This is harder than it seems because the people of the time wrote in three very different languages, depending on if they were leaders, holy men, or just normal people. In 1822, another man is trying to figure out another problem. Over the years, many items have been found inside pyramids, and they are covered in pictures that no one can understand. Let's watch as the first man solves both of their problems when he and the other priests carve three different kinds of writing into what will come to be known as . . . the Rosetta Stone.
So how does the priest get the words that honor the new leader to be read by everyone? If he wants most of the people of his time to understand the message, the choice is easy. Demotic was the language that was written by the common people of Egypt. These were the people who were not leaders or in the church, but just held normal jobs and went about their lives. We do not really have different languages like this today because everyone in our country sees more or less the same things in books and on TV. A couple thousand years ago, though, things were very different.
Back then, many rulers spoke a different language than the common people in Egypt. Some leaders may have traveled from Rome and may have thought their higher language separated them from the rest, made them more important . . . or that's how they saw it, anyway. Greek was the language read and written by the Roman rulers of Egypt. What would it be like if you could not understand anything your mayor wrote and she could not understand anything you wrote? Not that the words either of you used were too hard, but that she just wrote in a whole different language? Maybe things are not so different today . . . If a boy texted "Sup, brah?" to his mayor, she might not know what he meant . . .
As if this divide between the leaders and the people was not big enough, there was a third language. Coptic was the language used to write holy things in ancient Egypt. Many many books were written in Coptic. So three different ways of writing . . . one message to get out to everyone. What would you do? The answer is easy, right? Carve the same message in three different ways into the stones. It was this very smart move that kept a whole language from being lost. This brings us to the man in France in 1822. He's staring at the pictures found inside pyramids and scratching his head. Over many many years, because of wars, forgetting, and plain old time ticking forward, people forgot the meaning of these pictures. This left us with a lot of works with no way of understanding them. Hieroglyphs is one of the written languages of the ancient Egyptians, and was written with pictures of things that stood for words. When we first found hieroglyphics, we thought they were just pictures. But each picture had so much detail and was written in neat rows that looked like writing, that people spent many years trying to figure out if they were saying something. Did a picture of a bird mean a bird? Did a picture of a snake mean a snake? Well, no. They were not pictures. Each picture stood for a different letter in the ancient Egyptians' alphabet. We would have never known that if the priests had not written part of their message in these pictures at the top of the stone and in two other kinds of writing too.
Two men have two problems. A priest in 196 B.C.E. wants everyone to understand what he's writing to his leader. A man in 1822 wants to figure out what the pictures inside the pyramids mean. The priest fixes the other man's problem by carving the Rosetta stone, a rock that used three different languages -- Demotic, Greek, and Coptic -- so everyone in his time could understand his message. By comparing the hieroglyphics to this stone, it unlocked the meaning of those pictures that we thought did not have any meaning. The Rosetta Stone brought a big part of history into the light.References:Ancient Egypt. "The Rosetta Stone" ancientegypt.co.uk, 2011. British Museum. "Rosetta Stone" britishmuseum.org, 2009. Khan Academy. "Ptolomaic: Rosetta Stone" Khan Academy, 2011.