Geek Trivia

The Rosetta Stone Is Inscribed With A Decree Regarding?

Tax Exempt Status
A Declaration Of War
Trade Laws
Harvest Yields
Which Band Got Together Because the Members Were Running From a Gun Fight?

Answer: Tax Exempt Status

The Rosetta Stone is best known for its role in helping scholars decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. Nearly every school child learns, at some point, about how the stone’s parallel inscriptions in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Greek script, were critical in unlocking the long cryptic hieroglyphic language.

What is rarely taught is the content of the inscription (the Memphis decrees) itself. The Rosetta Stone is a fragment of a large stone stele (some were made of wood)–a type of massive slab or pillar erected for official purposes like marking boundaries, to publish laws and decrees (government notices), delineate land ownership, and for funerary or commemorative purposes. The decree on the Rosetta Stone is interesting in that it was issued not by the current ruler, King Ptolemy V, as you would expect, but by the very powerful priesthood who supported his rise to power. The Rosetta Stone is an example of what is known as a “donation stele” and the decree on it proclaims the divine rulership of King Ptolemy V (as endorsed by the priesthood), details the tax exempt status of the resident priesthood, and concludes with the instruction that a copy was to be placed in every temple (inscribed in all three languages).

The Rosetta Stone was not the only stele bearing the same decree, it was copied far and wide throughout other temples in the empire. In fact, although the Rosetta Stone is the most famous of the steles, other more intact stones were discovered–the Nubayrah Stele and a Philae Obelisk–that have more complete hieroglyphic inscriptions than the Rosetta Stone and greatly helped in further refining our knowledge of hieroglyphics.

Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert.