r/history Feb 02 '23

Battle site of 'Great Revolt' recorded on Rosetta Stone unearthed in Egypt Article



u/AugustWolf22 Feb 02 '23

Thought this was quite an interesting article and knew that it'd be a good idea to share it here. Whilst I'd judge that the title of the Article's use of the Rosetta stone is a clickbait gimmick, to get eyeballs and clicks, the article itself is still decent and interesting, so worth a read. I didn't the previously know that there was a major revolt during the Ptolomaic dynasty.


u/zhivago6 Feb 03 '23

The Great Thebaid Revolt is one of the most important events in history and one of the least known. Native Egyptians named a Pharoah and fought to take the nation from the Greeks, seizing half the country in over 2 decades of war. There are temples with inscriptions naming the new liberator of Egypt. During the revolt the Ptolomaic pharoahs borrowed more and more money from the rising power of Rome who defeated Carthage during this time. The Selucids and Macedonia seized the Levant and Cypress from the Ptolomeys, but Rome warned both kingdoms not to move into Egypt itself or they would risk war with Rome.

All the assistance that Egypt got from Rome cemented a relationship that barely existed before and the Romans sent ambassadors and possibly advisors to Egypt for the first time. The revolt also fundamentally changed key aspects of Egyptian government and culture. Prior to the Great Thebaid Revolt taxes were collected by the priests in temples, but because many temples sided with the Native Egyptians, the Ptolomeys completely changed the method of collecting taxes. This in turn dramatically reduced the influence and power of temples and subsequently the Ancient Egyptian religion.

The defeated warriors were often executed, their entire families sold into slavery, and their property seized. Many temples also lost their land allotments and without the taxes many could not be funded and shut down. Eventually Egypt would be the main driver of economic growth for the entire Roman Empire and that all started because of the revolt.


u/FallenFamilyTree Feb 03 '23 edited Feb 03 '23

Fascinating! Just the level of detail, and analysis/commentary I wish Wikipedia had more often. Just a shame I can't find a Wikipedia for this event (maybe someone should make one!).

To fill in a few details, it sounds like Egypt was effectively a Greek state post-Alexander the Great, run by the Ptolemaic Pharaoh's. The native Egyptians in Thebaid ("Upper Egypt", ironically now in the south of modern Egypt) rose up in rebellion, against their Greek rulers and managed to take control of most of the Egyptian state under their own Pharaoh. Thanks in part to the backing of the Roman Republic, the Ptolemaic Pharaoh's survived the revolt - I'm assuming as much as it is called a revolt and not a revolution. What was the opposition Pharaoh called and do we have more details about what happened?

Edit: I did some research and I'm presuming the "Egyptian Revolt (206BC - 185BC)" was led by Hornwennefer (and subsequently Ankhwennerfer) against the Pharaoh Ptolemy V.


u/zhivago6 Feb 03 '23

The entire story is amazing. It really begins with the Battle of Rafa between the Selucids and Ptolomeys. The Selucids brought Indian elephants to battle and the Egyptians brought African elephants. The African elephants were freaked out but the Egyptians won anyway. Part of the reason they won is because for the first time since the Greeks ruled Egypt they allowed native Egyptians into the army. One theory is that these native Egyptians realized that killing Greeks wasn't that hard and this may have led to the revolt.

After several years of war, Horwennefer and part of his army was besieged for months in a fortress, I think he was banking on a high Nile to bring relief of the siege, but eventually his army surrendered or the fort was stormed and he was executed. The Greek Pharoahs thought this was the end of it but his son had his own coronation and kept the war going even longer.

The son, Anhkwennefer, fought for a long time and at one point the rebels took cities in the Delta, or Northern Egypt. The Greeks suspected the Nubians of aiding Anhkwennefer and the rebels but I don't think that was ever confirmed. In the end the Greek Pharoah offered an amnesty if the remainig fighters surrendered, and when they did he had them tortured and executed, Anhkwennefer too.

Another important aspect of this conflict is the control of the Ptolomiac government. The Ptolomeys had lots of court intrigues. When the Greek Pharoah that was in charge when the revolt began died with only a single heir, his close advisors murdered the mother and other advisors so they could control the child Pharoah. This is the time when the Macedonian King and Selucid King attacked and siezed parts of the Egyptian Kingdom. There was even more drama when a Greek general used a public appearance by the child Pharoah to publicly accuse the killer advisors of killing the Pharoah's mother. He got a crowd worked up and they attacked the royal procession and killed the advisors. The general then took the young Pharoah under his wing.

I have wanted to write a book about this since 2017 but issues with the health of a family member take up so much time I never got back into it.


u/FallenFamilyTree Feb 03 '23

I have wanted to write a book about this since 2017 but issues with the health of a family member take up so much time I never got back into it.

I would love to read this if you ever put it into writing of some sort!


u/zhivago6 Feb 03 '23

There is little info on Wikipedia.


Most of the information about this I got from reading research papers. There are lots of things like the Rosetta Stone that reference the revolt, but the Ptolomeys wanted to destroy all evidence of it. They have found papyrus fragments that give us a little info, that's how we know about the families of the warriors being sold into slavery. There was one document that implied the Ptolomeys were concerned that Hannibal would join the rebels after the defeat of Carthage.


u/midgetsinheaven Feb 03 '23

So fascinating! You know you could add what you've learned to Wikipedia. It's open for anyone to edit.


u/zhivago6 Feb 03 '23

I created a very detailed timeline that included sources but it was online and the website is now dead, so I can't retrieve my work.


u/rkincaid007 Feb 03 '23

Not available using the way back machine? (Or whatever it’s called) Sounds like an interesting read


u/ZippyDan Feb 03 '23

The native Egyptians in Thebaid ("Upper Egypt", ironically now in the south of modern Egypt)

Isn't it Upper Egypt because the Nile flows "backwards" and this is upriver? Rivers generally flow "downward" based on elevation, so upper Egypt was the "higher" ground.


u/Ferengi_Earwax Feb 03 '23 edited Feb 03 '23

The Nile river flows south to north originating from lake Victoria. It empties into the Mediterranean sea. The "upper Egypt" simply refers to the highlands( south) as opposed to the delta (flatlands, which are to the north). It originates from their originally being 2 Egyptian kingdoms. Lower egypt(delta, but now northern Egypt on the map) and upper Egypt (the highlands, now part of Southern Egypt on modern maps). The first dynasty and pharaohs United both kingdoms and is thought to be depicted in the https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narmer_Palette

They essentially took both kingdoms logo and combined it into one crown you see most pharaohs wearing. https://www.ees.ac.uk/the-royal-crowns-of-egypt


u/ZippyDan Feb 04 '23

You just confirmed what I said...


u/Ferengi_Earwax Feb 04 '23

I don't mean any insult but your comment wasn't very clear and might be confusing to some people so I decided to clarify it.


u/No-Level-346 Feb 04 '23

You're not really answering the question. Why "ironically"?


u/Ferengi_Earwax Feb 04 '23

I'm sorry what? I was just clarifying that guys comment for others who might be confused. And as for the irony? Who asked about irony anyway? If you're referring to why it's "ironic" that should be obvious via our comments


u/Globo_Gym Feb 03 '23

I mean, there would have to have been at some point. I always thought that the annexation of egypt by alexander was brief and there had to have been a revolt at some point.


u/DaddyCatALSO Feb 03 '23

Not brief, lasted until Octavius too over


u/Globo_Gym Feb 03 '23

Ah, that was poorly worded.

I mean that sure the egyptians were under persian rule, but they revolted several times against darius and Xerxes, too. By the time alexander came around they were used to persian rule. When the greeks came through alexander painted himself as a liberator. He got his divinity in Siwa and that's really it until ptolemy takes over.

I wonder if they had the expectation that they were actually going to be liberated, or if they were aware they were under 6new occupation? If they were aware of new occupy they had to test the will if the greeks. How much fighting are the greeks willing to do for egypt? How much money and man power is going to be sunk?

These things are never really mentioned, it all was just seamless and that just seems contrary to human nature.


u/17th_Angel Feb 03 '23

Liberation was probably not really a thought, that was probably aimed more at a Greek audience. As someone once said, Egypt is easy to oppress. They have revolts, but it is easy to control the population, and their culture supported that. It was really just and economic and food resource to whoever owned it.


u/kmoonster Feb 03 '23

Brief is relative. For a kingdom over 3,000 years old, 'brief' takes on a different definition.


u/CPNZ Feb 03 '23

Interestingly "the" Rosetta Stone was only one of many copies - "According to the inscription on the Stone, an identical copy of the declaration was to be placed in every sizeable temple across Egypt. Whether this happened is unknown, but copies of the same bilingual, three-script decree have now been found and can be seen in other museums. The Rosetta Stone is thus one of many mass-produced stelae designed to widely disseminate an agreement issued by a council of priests in 196 BC. In fact, the text on the Stone is a copy of a prototype that was composed about a century earlier in the 3rd century BC. Only the date and the names were changed!" https://www.britishmuseum.org/blog/everything-you-ever-wanted-know-about-rosetta-stone


u/steveosek Feb 03 '23 edited Feb 03 '23

Their existence makes sense given historical context. Egypt, particularly Alexandria, was mutli-cultural as hell eventually, with people from all over the region being in it. Lots of trade, so putting these stones out is the modern day equivalent of cities that get a lot of international travelers having signs in multiple languages.


u/gingersaurus82 Feb 03 '23

I don't think it was for the foreigners. The Rosetta stone is written in Greek, the language of the ruling elite; and ancient Egyptian, the language of the local masses. The Egyptian is further written in both hyroglyphics, the religious script for priests, since it was posted at and the text concerned temple taxes; and demotic, the common script, used in daily life for record keeping, letters, etc.

Any foreigner happening upon it would have to be able to both speak and write one of these two languages.


u/XanderTheMander Feb 03 '23

It's more like how California has tons of things in Spanish and English.


u/Devil-sAdvocate Feb 03 '23

Any foreigner happening upon it would have to be able to both speak and write one of these two languages.

Only literate ones, and only those literate ones who knew one of those languages.

Scholars have estimated that at the high point of Greek civilization, fewer than one-third of the adult population could read or write. Even so, literacy was more widespread in the Greco-Roman world than it was in many other ancient civilizations, where the ability to read or write was limited to a small number of priests or scribes.

Very few people were literate in Egypt- almost all of them officials of state. Estimates are as low as 1% of the population as being literate in Egypt and up to 5% being the high end of the estimate.


u/steveosek Feb 04 '23

Very true. Also wasn't Greek pretty much the universal language of the time for writing? Like didn't even the Romans write in Greek a lot too?


u/Devil-sAdvocate Feb 04 '23 edited Feb 04 '23

After Rome conquered Greece (~175 BC) they took a bunch of educated Greeks as slaves to do administration duties/scribes.

Then after the empire split, The Eastern Roman Empire mostly used Greek while the Western mostly used Latin.


u/steveosek Feb 04 '23

Oh huh, interesting and makes sense.


u/jagerwick Feb 03 '23

Does it mention where they buried the gate?


u/The13thAllitnilClone Feb 03 '23

It's not there any more, the Americans nicked it over a century ago


u/Proxy-Pie Feb 03 '23

I always wanted to know more about this event, it's not mentioned a lot.

For anyone who's interested, I found an old article I read with more details about the revolt: https://www.lib.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/files/TheGreatRevoltoftheEgyptians.pdf


u/drmcsinister Feb 03 '23

Within the kiln complex, archaeologists were surprised to find the remains of a man inside a kiln with his legs sticking out.

That's crazy. So not only did a ton of people die, but the area was just left in complete and total destruction. Not even corpses were moved... for centuries.


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u/BillyBlabby Feb 03 '23

It's amazing to see how that has changed the history of languages. We couldn't decipher anything from way back without this hunk of rock. I'm blown away!


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u/XGcs22 Feb 03 '23

So is the same story in the Bible known as the Exodus?


u/groveborn Feb 03 '23 edited Feb 03 '23

No. Exodus has no archaeological evidence at all. Not even the existence of Hebrew people within the nation living in slavery.

No pottery, nothing at all. No way for a million people to pour out of a busy nation in a few days and find nothing. It appears as though it was an adaptation of a Persian story. Same general theme, made for the Hebrew people after the fall of Israel during the Persian invasion. The religion was very different at that time.

This is during the Greek occupation, not the pharo rule. Thousands of years after they ruled.

Still super interesting, though.

Edit: it could be Babylon. 🀷


u/henkiedepenkie Feb 03 '23

i thought it was an adaptation of the Babylonian exile, in a way not to upset their Persian overlords.


u/smolDreee Feb 03 '23

This discovery is from a more recent point in history, so this neither confirms or denies anything found in the biblical book of Exodus.


u/Shyriath Feb 03 '23

The Torah, including the Book of Exodus, was very probably already compiled into its final form by this time, so it's not likely.