|5a--Jean François Champollion
|Hieroglyphics was a system of writing used in ancient Egypt, which, in its final version, required about 500 signs to write.
It combined pictograms, ideographs, and phonograms that could be written alone, but more often used in conjunction with
drawings or pictures that were not conventionalized or simplified. The Egyptians used three different styles or types of
writing: hieroglyphics, a monumental or incised writing style, often painted or chiseled on stone; hieratic script, a
cursive style derived from hieroglyphics that attempted to imitate with the pen the more formal writing style; and demotic
script, a short-hand version of hieratic used in everyday life. Although all three styles were in evidence throughout Egypt,
by the 18th century their meaning had been lost and no one could read the ancient Egyptian scripts. In 1799, a Lieut.
Boussard, who was in Egypt with Napoleon’s army, discovered a 1,676 lb. black granodiorite stele with writing on it. He
found it in Rosetta, in the delta region of Egypt, and thus its name. As it turned out, the Rosetta Stone was made in 196
B.C.E. and carries a decree from Ptolemy V that describes the repeal of various taxes and gives instructions about erecting
statues in temples. The same text is repeated in three different scripts, hieroglyphics, demotic, and classical Greek, only
the last of which could still be read. Using the Greek text, however, deductions could be made concerning the two
unknown scripts, demotic and hieroglyphics. Using this method, Thomas Young deciphered the hieratic script by 1814, but
it wasn’t until 1822 that the key to the decipherment of hieroglyphics was developed by Jean-François Champollion (1790-
1832). Since the work of Champollion, about 3,000 different hieroglyphs have been deciphered and recognized. Only about
500 were used commonly in ancient Egypt, however, just as we don’t use all 600,000 words available to us in the English
language. Today, the Rosetta Stone is on public display in the British Museum, where it has been since 1802.
Please CLICK on an image for an ENLARGED version.
As part of its “History of Writing”
series, Venda issued this stamp as
part of a four-value set on 11 May
1983. It depicts a sample of Egyptian
hieroglyphics, ca. 1300 B.C.E. (Venda,
To commemorate International Literacy
Year, Japan issued this 62-yen value on 7
September 1990 using the Rosetta Stone
as a motif; the stamp depicts the character
“Ji” in the shape of the Rosetta Stone
(Japan, Scott #2063).
On 22 January 2004, Egypt issued a
series of stamps titled the
“Treasures of Egypt.” Included among
the “treasures” is the Rosetta Stone
(Egypt, Scott #1879b).
The sesquicentennial of the deciphering of
hieroglyphics by Champollion was
commemorated by Egypt on 16 October
1972 with an air mail stamp. It depicts
Champollion and the Rosetta Stone, with a
background of hieroglyphs enclosed in
cartouches, the oval-shaped loops that
encircle a group of hieroglyphs. As part of
his decipherment, Champollion determined
that these were phonetic transcriptions of
the names of pharaohs (Egypt, Scott
France commemorated the
sesquicentennial of Champollion’s
decipherment of hieroglyphics on 14
October 1972 with this 90-centimes
stamp depicting Champollion and a
key inscription from the Rosetta
Stone (France, Scott #1354).
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of
Champollion’s birth, on 4 September 1990,
Monaco issued this 5-franc stamp with
Champollion’s portrait surrounded by
images evocative of ancient Egypt (Monaco,