Philae obelisk

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The Philae obelisk with Kingston Lacy in the background

The Philae obelisk is one of twin obelisks discovered in 1815 at Philae in Upper Egypt. It was discovered nearly intact, while its twin had broken into pieces in antiquity. Both were soon afterwards obtained by William John Bankes, an acquisition which included an important bilingual inscription.

He noted two inscriptions on it, one in Egyptian hieroglyphs, and 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 confirmed afterward by Thomas Young and Jean-François Champollion, and the obelisk was useful to Champollion in his eventual decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.[citation needed]

The inscriptions record a petition by the Egyptian priests at Philae and the favourable response by Ptolemy VIII Euergetes and queens Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III. The obelisk has been dated to approximately 118 or 117 BC.[citation needed]

During the 1820s, Bankes acquired the obelisk and a single, large broken piece of its twin found at Philae and had them transported to his estate at Kingston Lacy in Dorset, England. The operation was carried out by the noted adventurer Giovanni Belzoni. The obelisk was set up as a central feature of the gardens; nearby the broken piece of the twin was set into the lawn as a romantic ruin. The house and estate were bequeathed to the National Trust and the obelisk is located in the gardens.[2] The obelisk is a Grade II* listed building.[3]

In October and November 2014, Ben Altshuler of the Institute for Digital Archaeology, in association with Alan Bowman and Charles Crowther of Oxford's Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents (CSAD), made RTI scans of the obelisk. They observed significant, previously illegible Egyptian and Greek inscriptions.[4][5]

The obelisk, in keeping with its bilingual nature and the "translation" metaphor of the Rosetta space mission, gives its name to the mission Philae robotic lander,[6] which arrived at the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014[7] and landed on 12 November 2014.[8]


  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. ^ "Kingston Lacy - History". National Trust. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  3. ^ Historic England. "Obelisk 140m south west of Kingston Lacy House (1323828)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  4. ^ "Philae Lander, Like Philae Obelisk, Is a Window to the Past". Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  5. ^ "Imaging". The Institute for Digital Archaeology. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  6. ^ Morris, Steven (23 October 2014). "Rosetta mission: Philae comet probe could unlock secrets of the universe". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
  7. ^ "Europe's Rosetta probe goes into orbit around distant comet". BBC News. 6 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  8. ^ "Europe makes history with first ever comet landing". UK Space Agency. 12 November 2014. Retrieved 14 November 2014.


  • Edwyn R. Bevan, The House of Ptolemy (London: Methuen, 1927) pp. 322–23 Textus
  • E. A. Wallis Budge, The decrees of Memphis and Canopus (3 vols. London: Kegan Paul, 1904) vol. 1 pp. 139–59
  • 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

Coordinates: 50°48′35″N 2°01′58″W / 50.80972°N 2.03278°W / 50.80972; -2.03278