This time, let’s go back to the Empire time, the time of Napoleon. There we find a discovery of a peculiar kind. An astounding form of the Zodiac!

Jean-Baptiste Prosper Jollois, a French civil engineer, was born on January 4, 1776. He was in the very first class of the new Ecole Polytechnique, founded in 1794 to train engineers…

The zodiac at Esna, engraving after drawing by Jean-Baptiste Prosper Jollois and Edouard Devilliers du Terrage, Description de l’Égypte, Antiquités, vol. 1, 1809 (Linda Hall Library)

Jollois was one of what is traditionally said to have been 151 savants – there may have been as many as 167 – who were picked to form a Commission of Arts and Sciences to go by ship to an unknown destination and there to investigate the geography, natural history, and modern culture of this country yet to be announced. He was assigned to accompany Pierre-Simon Girard, chief engineer, as he made his way to upper (southern) Egypt, following in the wake of military forces pursuing the mamelukes. The job of the young engineers was to survey the Nile and the irrigation systems in use. But when they reached a location near Dendera, everything changed, at least for Jollois. There he met the artist Vivant Denon, who had accompanied the first military invasion into upper Egypt and had discovered not only the ruins of a temple at Dendera but a carved stone zodiac hidden in a small room on the top of the temple.

EGYPTIAN MYTHOLOGY – DENDERAH ZODIAC Detail of the supporters of the ancient (Ptolemaic) marble zodiac in the upper temple of the Temple of Hathor at Denderah Stock Photo
Detail of the fourth image, the Zodiac at Esna, showing the plate signature: “Jollois et Devilliers delt.” (Linda Hall Library)
The Zodiac of Dendera, detail of an engraving, after a drawing by Edouard Devilliers du Terrage and Jean-Baptiste Prosper Jollois, Description de l’Égypt, Antiquités, plate vol. 4, 1809-28 (Linda Hall Library)

Source: Linda Hall Library

The Picture at the top: modern-papyrus-depicting-the-Dendera-zodiac-or-denderah-zodiac-an-Egyptian-bas-relief-from-the-ceiling-of-the-pronaos-or-portico-of-a-chapel-dedicated-to-Osiris-in-the-Hathor-temple-at-Dendera-contain

Aside from the sad events of the Napoleon invasion, this was indeed a fascinating discovery. Here is a brilliant story by Marie Grillot. 🙏💖

Jean-Baptiste Jollois – the Egyptian campaign with an “X.”

via égyptophile

Circular Zodiac of Dendera (Antiquities, t. IV, pl. 21):
drawing by Prosper Jollois and Édouard de Villiers Du Terrage

Jean-Baptiste Prosper Jollois was one of the scholars of the French expeditionary force who left Toulon on May 19, 1798 (30 Floréal, Year VI) for Egypt.
He is only 23 years old, with a great desire to travel and discover other horizons, combined with an “ardent desire” to acquire education, experience and the “intimate conviction that this trip will be useful”.

Endowed with great intelligence, an insatiable curiosity and a well-made mind, he is one of the forty polytechnicians (students, former students and teachers) who participate in the incredible adventure of these “scholars”. It was in Egypt that he obtained his civil engineering diploma.

The Commission of Scientists first settled in Rosette. Jollois takes numerous surveys and drawings of the town and surrounding area. Then the scholars go to Cairo, where everything is ready to welcome them, including the new Institute, created on August 22, 1798.

In March 1799, Jollois was one of the scholars who left with the Desaix Division for Upper Egypt. There is, in particular, his great friend de Villiers du Terrage, Dubois-Aymé, Duchanoy, Descotils, Rozière, Dupuy… Their mission is to collect information on trade, agriculture, and irrigation and raise the profile of the Nile. But they must also carry out a scientific study of the monuments and vestiges of antiquity.

They are often amazed by what they discover: “… We arrived at Denderah, ancient Tentyris, famous for the magnificent temple of Hathor, whose portico still remains with its eight columns, brilliant with colours that time does has not been erased, and surmounted by their strange capitals, formed by the heads of women with heifer’s ears….”

Desaix points out to them “a circular zodiac with, in its middle, hieroglyphic figures and representations of Egyptian divinities”. With Villiers du Terrage, they make drawings on which Castex will base himself to make his marble copy. “The lively interest which Messrs. Jollois and de Villiers had aroused in such a precious monument had prompted them to look for others of the same kind. It is, therefore, to M. Jollois and his collaborator that the world scholar is indebted for the knowledge of these Egyptian planispheres whose historical importance is sufficiently felt through the discussions and research they have brought about. They will write a memoir on ancient astronomical bas-reliefs and the Egyptians’ knowledge of most constellations.

In Thebes, still inseparable, “not hesitating to break their leader’s orders and to run into danger, they set off without escort, multiply the readings, tirelessly measure temples and hypogea”. We owe them a rich and beautiful “General Description of Thebes, containing a detailed exposition of the present state of its ruins, followed by critical research on the history and extent of this first capital of Egypt”. We distinguish in particular that of the “Ozymandias Tomb designated by some travellers under the name of Palace of Memnon, or Memnonium” (the Ramasseum).

They even acted as Egyptologists when they discovered, in August 1799, in the Valley of the Monkeys, the tomb of Amenophis III (WV23).

They go up the Nile as far as Philae, and then, in November, they return to Cairo. Jollois was then transferred to the Delta to inspect the hydraulic works.

Upon his return to France, he was appointed secretary of the “Description of Egypt”. He enriches it with several drawings and memoirs.

His career as a Ponts et Chaussées engineer continued in the Vosges and the Seine department, but in each of his posts, his passion for archaeology led him to carry out research… We can also think that his attraction for antiquities has never been contradicted, nor altered since we find him as president of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of France.

He died on June 24, 1842, and was buried in Paris, in the 12th division of the Montmartre cemetery.

Marie Grillot

Scholars in Egypt, Museum of Natural History, Nathan 1998


  1. As I also enjoy the beauty and mystery of ancient Egypt I was thrilled to see the zodiac engraving above. Thank you for sharing another of Marie’s excellent posts. Such skill and attention to detail makes me think that surely it was them who were advanced and us that are ancient! Love and light, Deborah.

    Liked by 2 people

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