March 4: Anniversary of the death of Jean-François Champollion (1790 – 1832)

Jean-François Champollion “Le Jeune”, decipherer of hieroglyphics
Figeac, December 23, 1790 – Paris, March 4, 1832
Portrait painted in 1831 by Léon Cogniet – Louvre Museum – INV 3294


Jean-François Champollion’s a premiere in the decipherment of the hieroglyphic script, though Thomas Young, the British polymath, had made the first advances in the decipherment before 1819. But he was a genius, and he did great work to give us the ability to read the Egyptian hieroglyph.

In 1822, Champollion published his first breakthrough in the decipherment of the Rosetta hieroglyphs, showing that the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs – the first such script discovered. In 1824, he published a Précis in which he detailed a decipherment of the hieroglyphic script demonstrating the values of its phonetic and ideographic signs. In 1829, he traveled to Egypt where he was able to read many hieroglyphic texts that had never before been studied, and brought home a large body of new drawings of hieroglyphic inscriptions. Home again he was given a professorship in Egyptology, but only lectured a few times before his health, ruined by the hardships of the Egyptian journey, forced him to give up teaching. He died in Paris in 1832, 41 years old. His grammar of Ancient Egyptian was published posthumously.

During his life as well as long after his death, intense discussions over the merits of his decipherment were carried out among Egyptologists. Some faulted him for not having given sufficient credit to the early discoveries of Young, accusing him of plagiarism, and others long disputed the accuracy of his decipherments. But subsequent findings and confirmations of his readings by scholars building on his results gradually led to the general acceptance of his work. Although some still argue that he should have acknowledged the contributions of Young, his decipherment is now universally accepted and has been the basis for all further developments in the field. Consequently, he is regarded as the “Founder and Father of Egyptology”. (more here )

http://Ancient Origins

Champollion and others used Coptic and other languages to help them work out other words, but the Rosetta Stone was the key to hieroglyphic. This picture shows us how Champollion worked out what all the hieroglyphs in the two names were. This made it a lot easier to read other Egyptian words now.

Now, let us read the latest time of this amazing man. With heartfelt thanks to Marie Grillot.

4 mars : Anniversaire du décès de Jean-François Champollion (1790 – 1832) via

At this moment which takes on such a special symbolism in ancient Egypt, at this hour when the sun finally triumphs over darkness, Jean-François Champollion passes away in Paris on March 4, 1832. The one who, in the fire of his passion, said: “I am all in Egypt, she is everything for me”, has been swept away by the disease when he is only 41 years old …

He has always had poor health. We remember his syncope during his “eureka” and his frequent discomforts, which occurred during his readings in the graves.

Members of the Franco-Tuscan Expedition gathered around Jean-François Champollion and Ippolito Rosellini
in the ruins of Thebes – Painting by Giuseppe Angelilli (Archaeological Museum of Florence)

Consumption, diabetes, overwork have weakened him for months. His stay in Egypt, during which he drank the water from the Nile, was also bad for his fragile liver.

The few months before his last Autumn spent in Figeac, where he returned to be pampered with his family, but this only brought him a slight improvement. On his return to Paris at the beginning of 1830, he had settled with his wife Rosine and his daughter Zoraïde in the Favart street Nr 4. In December, he resumed his lessons at the Collège de France, but he had to abandon them after a few days. Breathless and exhausted by endless coughing fits, it became impossible for him to provide his teaching.

The Champollion Brothers:
on the left, Jean-François Champollion “Le Jeune” (Figeac, December 23, 1790, Paris, March 4, 1832)
on the right, Jacques-Joseph Champollion-Figeac (Figeac, October 6, 1778, Fontainebleau, May 9, 1867),
archaeologist, historian

With his brother, Jacques-Joseph, the faithful, the protector at all times, he nevertheless continues to work on his “Egyptian Grammar”; moreover, he confided to his work: “I hope that it will be my calling card for posterity.”

In January, his condition worsened, but he still fought against this evil that later won him over… Jacques-Joseph relates with emotion these tragic moments when he implores: “’My God, two more years’… and then hitting his head:’ Too soon There is still so much in there ‘.

jean-Francois Champollion in Egyptian dress by Giuseppe Angelelli in 1828

At the beginning of February, he goes into delirium, from which he will emerge only briefly. He will have time to say: “I want to be buried at Père-Lachaise, near Fourier”. He will have time to ask to see his “Egyptian outfit” again, that outfit which certainly reminds him of the best days of his existence: his Galabiah, his Caftan, his Tarbouche… and his Gournah slippers.

The obelisks of the Louqsor temple as discovered by Champollion in 1828 (watercolor by François-Charles Cécile – 1766-1840 – RMN Grand Palais)

He will have time to worry about transporting the obelisk. The obelisk which he “chose” himself at Louqsor, and which returns to the “Luxor”, in a ship commanded by one of his very dear friends, Raymond Jean Baptiste de Verninac Saint-Maur, the one who commanded the “Astrolabe” on his return from the Franco-Tuscan expedition.

On March 3, he received extreme unction… Then, on March 4, this genius disappeared, who awakened the walls of the temples, made the papyri possible to read, revived the statues of the pharaohs, which the proscription of worship by Theodosius, 15 centuries earlier, had abandoned themselves to silence, and the key to writing and reading hieroglyphics having fallen into oblivion …

His funeral took place on March 6. 1832, at 11 a.m. In the beautiful baroque church of Saint-Roch, in the first arrondissement of Paris. He had attended this church when he was a student at the College de Franc., He was barely over 17 years old. There he had met the vicar Cheftitchi, his best Coptic teacher and heard him say the mass, in the language of ‘his’ dear Rhamses and Thoutmès”.

Tomb of Jean-François Champollion in division 18 of Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris
Tombe de Jean-François Champollion dans la division 18 du cimetière du Père-Lachaise à Paris

He is buried in Division 18 of Père-Lachaise, where his grave covered with laurels. “His coffin placed, following his wish, not far from Fourier: this mathematician, the prefect, the friend, the initiator” (Jean Lacouture). If many present personalities and scientist regret his inestimable contribution to the knowledge of antiquity, many are there as friends because Jean-François was: “good, indulgent, helpful, worthy in everything of his high reputation and respect which surrounded his life “. Later, his wife Rosine had a simple but dignified monument erected at her own expense, that can still be seen today in the Alley of Acacias”. (Honestly, I had a little problem translating this paragraph, therefore, I added the original text, maybe someone can do it better!) 👇😉👍

Il est enterré dans la division 18 du Père-Lachaise où sa tombe est recouverte de lauriers. “Son cercueil fut déposé, suivant son vœu non loin de Fourier, le mathématicien, le préfet, l’ami, l’initiateur” (Jean Lacouture). Si nombre de personnalités présentes regrettent le savant et bien sûr son inestimable apport à la connaissance de l’antiquité, nombreux sont là en amis, parce que Jean-François fut : “bon, indulgent, serviable, digne en tout de sa haute réputation et du respect qui environna sa vie”. Plus tard, Rosine son épouse “fit élever à ses frais le monument simple mais digne que l’on peut voir aujourd’hui encore dans l’allée des Acacias”. 

A large stone slab bears the following inscription: HERE REPOSE JEAN-FRANÇOIS CHAMPOLLION BORN IN FIGEAC, DEPT. FROM THE LOT, DEC. 1790 DATED IN PARIS ON MARCH 4, 1832.

A sandstone obelisk was then added to it, with these only words engraved: “Champollion the young”, but the symbol is there, solar, luminous …

jean-François Champollion (Figeac, 1790 – Paris, 1832) Marble bust (1863) of the decipherer of hieroglyphics in the Louvre Museum © Musée du Louvre / P. Philibert

Mr. de Forbin, director of the royal museums, will address the king: “to ask him to have the bust of Mr Champollion young executed in marble to be placed in the Egyptian museum of which he is the founder”.

Even Wilkinson (who had nevertheless refused to meet him) will send, from Gournah, saddened condolences, saluting “the inestimable talent of this scholar”. And this homage, anonymous, but gives us a completely emotional dimension “We will regret, no less than the scientists: what equality of temper, what need for affection, what tenderness of heart!”

It is with a broken heart that Jacques-Joseph will bid farewell to the one who “had been more than his own existence”. From his birth in Figeac to his untimely death in Paris, he loved, pampered, carried, accompanied, helped, supported. He will be keen to perpetuate his memory and will publish his posthumous works, in particular, the “Egyptian Grammar”, the “Egyptian Dictionary in Hieroglyphic Writing” and the “Monuments of Egypt and Nubia” …

Marie Grillot


Champollion, a life of lights, Jean Lacouture, Grasset, 1988

Jean-François Champollion, His life and his work, Hermine Hartleben

Champollion, diary of a life, Champollion Figeac Museum

Correspondences, Figeac and the Champollion brothers, Karine Madrigal, Champollion Museum, Figeac

Champollion, the deciphered scientist, Alain Faure, 2020

Notice published in the review of the Société de phrenologie de Paris, November 12, 1833, by Doctor Janin

Champollion a disruptive genius, Jean Maumy http://id=KPZRlEcMfJkC&pg=PA263&lpg=PA263&dq=tombe+champollion+père+lachaise&source=bl&ots=MTAj14cB-y&sig=RXp5PA0yFiX6yL3IiVrwrhb0WVQ&hl=fr&sa=X&ei=21sSU6biKKOb0AXLhYCIAg&ved=0CFUQ6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=tombe% 20champollion% 20father% 20lachaise & f = false

2 thoughts on “March 4: Anniversary of the death of Jean-François Champollion (1790 – 1832)

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Just wonderful. Thank you. I learned so much and have to read it again to remember the details. I study Egyptian Goddesses more than anything right now–except Nature.

    Liked by 1 person

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