Champollion was a French classical scholar and archaeologist, responsible for deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. He is celebrated as the man who lead to the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone and thus the founding father of Egyptology.
Jean-François Champollion was born in Figeac in south-western France on 22 December 1790. He was educated privately until he was nine years old, when he was sent to join his brother at the Académie de Grenoble. In Grenoble, under the influence of Fourier, a former secretary of the mission in Egypt, and of his elder brother, Jean-François focused his study on the ancient languages of the east and of Egypt in particular.
In 1807, Jean-François moved to Paris, where he studied at the School of Oriental Languages at the Collège de France. Dedicating himself to the study of various oriental languages – including Persian, Ethiopic, Sanskrit, Zend, Pahlevi and Arabic – Champollion also began work on a dictionary and grammar of the Coptic language. Still only 19, and exempted from military service thanks to the intervention of Fourier, Champollion returned to Grenoble as an assistant professor of History. In 1814 he published his two volumes, entitled ‘L’Égypte sous les Pharaons’.
In 1815, Champollion was left without an academic post when the faculty of letters in Grenoble was closed. But he continued his work and it was in this period that he made his breakthrough. Examining texts brought from Egypt, he began to identify a relationship between hieroglyphic and non-hieroglyphic scripts. He initially summarised this in his famous ‘Lettre à M. Dacier’ in 1822, followed in 1824 by a longer thesis on the ‘hieroglyphic, figurative, ideographic and alphabetic’ systems of ancient Egypt. It caused a sensation, providing the long-searched-for solution to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
In 1826, Champollion became director of the soon-to-be-opened Egyptian Museum at the Louvre. From 1828 to 1830 he conducted his only expedition in Egypt. When he returned to Paris in 1831, a professorship in Egyptian history and archaeology was specially created for him.
Champollion died suddenly on 4 March 1832, in the midst of writing his great Egyptian grammar and dictionary. This was published by his brother after his death.