Biography Jean Francois Champollion

Jean-Francois Champollion was instrumental to deciphering the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics. He was a scholar, historian, linguist, and teacher. Jean-Francois Champollion was born December 23, 1790 in Figeac, France and died March 4, 1832 in Paris. Having only lived 41 years, he accomplished much during his lifetime.

Growing Up

Jean-Francois was a very intelligent young man and driven to learn and succeed. His oldest brother, an archaeologist, educated him until he was 10. Then he enrolled in the lyceum in Grenoble. By the time he was 16, he had learned Latin, Greek, and six ancient Middle Eastern Languages. When he was 19, he was Professor of History at the Lyceum of Grenoble. He continued studying languages and knew many, including — Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldean, Chinese, Coptic, Ethiopic, Sanskrit, Pahlavi, and Persian.

Rosetta Stone

The ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphs for thousands of years, but after that form of writing died out, so did the ability to read it. Many had attempted to decipher the ancient writing, but had limited success. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 opened the door for a way to unlock the code of hieroglyphs. The Rosetta Stone was inscribed with text in three different languages — Demotic, hieroglyphics, and ancient Greek. The stone commemorated Ptolemy V’s anniversary of his reign.

Figuring Out the Code

Jean-Francois Champollion is generally credited with using the Rosetta Stone’s writing to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs. He realized the pictures represented sounds and concepts.

While he was working, he was quite driven. Champollion did not do much else, like sleeping or eating. When he finally made progress at finding the secret of the hieroglyphs, he ran in his brother’s house to exclaim his find. He then fainted and spent several days in bed recovering.

Champollion published the first translation of the Rosetta Stone hieroglyphs in 1822.

Other Note-worthy Accomplishments

He published Egyptian dictionary and grammar works, as well as other books about Egypt. Through all of his studies and work, he did manage to get married and have a family.  He married Rosine Blanc, and together they had a daughter Zoraide, in 1824. In 1826, he was appointed conservator of the Louvre Museum’s Egyptian collection. 1828 brought him on an archaeological expedition to Egypt. The College de France created the position of Chair of Egyptian Antiquities for him in 1831. He died the next year in 1832, reportedly from a stroke.