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The first legitimate attempts to understand ancient Egyptian civilization objectively came during the period known as the Enlightenment. Many are familiar with the political aspects of the Enlightenment put forth by seventeenth century writer John Locke or eighteenth century writers Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but just as important are the cultural changes during the period. Enlightenment philosophers, historians, and philologists all began to study pre-Hellenic ancient civilizations without the veneer of the Bible. Although they viewed ancient Egypt and the other ancient Near Eastern civilizations as exotic and “other,” these early modern scholars all had a will to understand ancient peoples objectively. <ref> Outram, Dorinda. <i>The Enlightenment.</i> (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 63</ref> It was from within this intellectual milieu that the modern study known as Egyptology made its first true steps.
If one were to identify Egyptology’s first true patron, it would be none other than the conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon is best known for his rise and fall as a military commander and dictator over much of Europe, which in many ways demonstrates that the French-Corsican commander eschewed many of the Enlightenment’s ideas about democracy and representational government. Although it is true that Napoleon only used the political ideas of the Enlightenment when they were to his advantage, he was a firm believer in the cultural aspects of the Enlightenment as discussed above. Napoleon’s conquest brought the French to Egypt, which they occupied from 1798-1801. Even before he invaded Egypt, Napoleon was awed by Egypt’s legacy so he brought 167 scholars, known as <i>savants</i>, from the Commission of the Sciences and Arts with him during the initial invasion. The <i>savants</i> studied all aspects of Egypt, from the flora and fauna to its history, and compiled all of their findings in a multi-volume work known as <i>Descripton de l’Égypte</i>. The volumes of interest to the proto-Egyptologists of the time were labeled <i>Anitquités</i>, which contained numerous drawings of the monuments with accompanying French text. <ref> Jeffreys, David. “Introduction – Two Hundred Years of Ancient Egypt: Modern History and Ancient Archaeology.” In <i>
Viewss of Ancient Egypt Since Napoleon Bonaparte: Imperialism, Colonialism, and Modern Appropriations.</i> Edited by David Jeffreys. (Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, 2011), p. 2</ref> Despite the strides that Napoleon’s scholars were quickly making, understanding the ancient Egyptian language was still a stumbling block that needed to be overcome.
===The Discovery and Decipherment of the Rosetta Stone===