Philae obelisk

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The Philae obelisk with Kingston Lacy in the background

The Philae obelisk was one of two obelisks found at Philae in Upper Egypt in 1815 and soon afterwards acquired by William John Bankes. He noted two inscriptions on it, one in Egyptian hieroglyphs the other in ancient Greek.[1] By comparing the two texts, although they were not translations of one another, Bankes believed that he recognised the names Ptolemy and Cleopatra in hieroglyphic characters: his identification was afterwards confirmed by Thomas Young and Jean-François Champollion, and assisted Champollion in his eventual decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. The inscriptions record a petition by the Egyptian priests at Philae and the favourable response by Ptolemy VIII Euergetes and queens Cleopatra II and III; the documents are dated 118/117 BC.

During the 1820s Bankes acquired the obelisk found at Philae and had it transported to his estate at Kingston Lacy in Dorset, England. The operation was carried out by the noted adventurer Giovanni Belzoni. The house now belongs to the National Trust and the obelisk can still be seen in the gardens.

The obelisk gave its name to Philae robotic lander, part of the Rosetta mission, which arrived at the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on the 6th August 2014.[2]


  • Edwyn R. Bevan, The House of Ptolemy (London: Methuen, 1927) pp. 322–323 Textus
  • E. A. Wallis Budge, The decrees of Memphis and Canopus (3 vols. London: Kegan Paul, 1904) vol. 1 pp. 139–159 Incomplete copy at Google Books
  • Erik Iversen, Obelisks in exile. Vol. 2: The obelisks of Istanbul and England (Copenhagen: Gad, 1972) pp. 62–85
  • T. G. H. James, Egyptian antiquities at Kingston Lacy, Dorset: the collection of William John Bankes. San Francisco: KMT Communications, 1993–94
  • Stephanie Roberts, "The Real Cleopatra's Needle" in Ancient Egypt (Dec. 2007/Jan. 2008)
  • Anne Sebba, The exiled collector: William Bankes and the making of an English country house. London: John Murray, 2004


  1. ^ The Greek inscription has been referred to by scholars as "OGI 137–139; SB 8396; Lenger, C. Ord. Ptol., 51 f.; A. Bern., 19".
  2. ^ "Europe's Rosetta probe goes into orbit around distant comet". BBC News. 6 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.