Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

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Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Cassim, Ali Baba's elder brother, in the cave by Maxfield Parrish (1909)
Folk tale
NameAli Baba and the Forty Thieves
RegionMiddle East
Published inThe One Thousand and One Nights, translated by Antoine Galland

"Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" (Arabic: علي بابا والأربعون لصا) is a folk tale in Arabic added to the One Thousand and One Nights in the 18th century by its French translator Antoine Galland, who heard it from Syrian storyteller Hanna Diyab. As one of the most popular Arabian Nights tales, it has been widely retold and performed in many media across the world, especially for children (for whom the more violent aspects of the story are often suppressed).

In the original version, Ali Baba (Arabic: علي بابا ʿAlī Bābā) is a poor woodcutter and an honest person who discovers the secret of a thieves' den, and enters with the magic phrase "open sesame". The thieves try to kill Ali Baba, but his faithful slave-girl foils their plots. His son marries her, and Ali Baba keeps the secret of the treasure.

Textual history[edit]

The tale was added to the story collection One Thousand and One Nights by one of its European translators, Antoine Galland, who called his volumes Les Mille et Une Nuits (1704–1717). Galland was an 18th-century French Orientalist who heard it in oral form from a Syrian Maronite story-teller called Hanna Diyab, who came from Aleppo in modern-day Syria and told the story in Paris.[1] In any case, the earliest known text of the story is Galland's French version. Richard F. Burton included it in the supplemental volumes (rather than the main collection of stories) of his translation (published as The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night).[2]

The American Orientalist Duncan Black MacDonald discovered an Arabic-language manuscript of the story at the Bodleian Library;[3] however, this was later found to be a counterfeit.[4]


Ali Baba and his older brother, Cassim (Arabic: قاسم Qāsim, sometimes spelled Kasim), are the sons of a merchant. After their father's death, the greedy Cassim marries a wealthy woman and becomes well-to-do, building on their father's business. Ali Baba marries a poor woman and settles into the trade of a woodcutter.

One day, Ali Baba is at work collecting and cutting firewood in the forest, when he happens to overhear a group of 40 thieves visiting their stored treasure. Their treasure is in a cave, the mouth of which is sealed by a huge rock. It opens on the magic words "open sesame" and seals itself on the words "close sesame". When the thieves are gone, Ali Baba enters the cave himself and takes a single bag of gold coins home.

Ali Baba and his wife borrow his sister-in-law's scales to weigh their new wealth. Unbeknownst to them, Cassim's wife puts a blob of wax in the scales to find out what Ali Baba is using them for, as she is curious to know what kind of grain her impoverished brother-in-law needs to measure. To her shock, she finds a gold coin sticking to the scales and tells her husband. Under pressure from his brother, Ali Baba is forced to reveal the secret of the cave. Cassim goes to the cave, taking a donkey with him to take as much treasure as possible. He enters the cave with the magic words. However, in his greed and excitement over the treasure, he forgets the words to get out again and ends up trapped. The thieves find him there and kill him. When his brother does not come back, Ali Baba goes to the cave to look for him, and finds the body quartered and with each piece displayed just inside the cave's entrance, as a warning to anyone else who might try to enter.

Ali Baba brings the corpse home where he entrusts Morgiana (Arabic: مرجانة Murjāna), a clever slave-girl from Cassim's household, with the task of making others believe that Cassim has died a natural death. First, Morgiana purchases medicines from an apothecary, telling him that Cassim is gravely ill. Then, she finds an old tailor known as Baba Mustafa whom she pays, blindfolds, and leads to Cassim's house. There, overnight, the tailor stitches the pieces of Cassim's body back together. Ali Baba and his family are able to give Cassim a proper burial without anyone suspecting anything.

The thieves, finding the body gone, realize that another person must have known their secret, so they set out to track him down. One of the thieves goes down to the town and comes across Baba Mustafa, who mentions that he has just sewn the pieces of a corpse back together. Realizing the dead man must have been the thieves' victim, the thief asks Baba Mustafa to lead the way to the house where the deed was performed. The tailor is blindfolded again, and in this state he is able to retrace his steps and find the house. The thief marks the door with a symbol so the other thieves can come back that night and kill everyone in the house. However, the thief has been seen by Morgiana who, loyal to her master, foils the thief's plan by marking all the houses in the neighborhood similarly. When the 40 thieves return that night, they cannot identify the correct house, and their leader kills the unsuccessful thief in a furious rage. The next day, another thief revisits Baba Mustafa and tries again. Only this time, a chunk is chipped out of the stone step at Ali Baba's front door. Again, Morgiana foils the plan by making similar chips in all the other doorsteps, and the second thief is killed for his failure as well. At last, the leader of the thieves goes and looks himself. This time, he memorizes every detail he can of the exterior of Ali Baba's house.

The leader of the thieves pretends to be an oil merchant in need of Ali Baba's hospitality, bringing with him mules loaded with 38 oil jars, one filled with oil, the other 37 hiding the other remaining thieves. Once Ali Baba is asleep, the thieves plan to kill him. Again, Morgiana discovers and foils the plan when her lamp runs out of oil and she has to get it from the merchant's jars; the thieves give themselves away one by one hearing her approach and mistaking her for their boss. After refilling her lamp, Morgiana kills the 37 thieves in their jars by pouring boiling oil on them one by one. When their leader comes to rouse his men, he discovers they are all dead and escapes. The next morning, Morgiana tells Ali Baba about the thieves in the jars. They bury them, and Ali Baba shows his gratitude by giving Morgiana her freedom. However, she continues living with Ali Baba and his family anyway.

To exact revenge, the leader of the thieves establishes himself as a merchant, befriends Ali Baba's son (who is now in charge of his late uncle Cassim's business), and is invited to dinner at Ali Baba's house. However, the thief is recognized by Morgiana, who performs a sword dance with a dagger for the diners and plunges it into the thief's heart, when he is off his guard. Ali Baba is at first angry with Morgiana, but when he finds out the thief wanted to kill him, he is extremely grateful and rewards Morgiana by marrying her to his son. Ali Baba is then left as the only one knowing the secret of the treasure in the cave and how to access it.



The story has been classified in the Aarne–Thompson-Uther classification system as ATU 954, "The Forty Thieves".[5] The tale type enjoys "almost universal ... diffusion".[6]


A West African version, named The Password: Outwitting Thieves has been found.[7]

Percy Amaury Talbot located a Nigerian variant, called The Treasure House in the Bush, from Ojong Akpan of Mfamosing.[8]

An American variant was collected by Elsie Clews Parsons from Cape Verde.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

Audio recordings and music[edit]

Audio readings/dramatizations include:

Theatre - Stage[edit]

Poster for 40 Thieves at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 1886
  • The story has been used as a popular pantomime plot for many years. An example of the "pantomime Ali Baba" was the pantomime/musical Chu Chin Chow (1916).
  • Badi-Bandar Rupkatha (বাঁদী-বান্দার রূপকথা) is a 2014 Bangladeshi theatrical dance adaptation of Ali Baba and Forty Thieves organised by Srishti cultural centre and Nrityanchal. Many leading Bangladeshi dancers performed in the adaptation such as Shamim Ara Nipa, Shibli Sadiq, etc.[13]

Theatrical films[edit]

Live-action non-English language films[edit]

Live-action English-language films[edit]

Animation - USA[edit]

Animation - Europe and Asia[edit]



  • Indian TV series Alif Laila, based on the Arabian Nights, had a 14 episode segment on Alibaba and the Forty Thieves.[30]
  • Princess Dollie Aur Uska Magic Bag (2004–2006), an Indian teen fantasy adventure television series on Star Plus where Vinod Singh portrays Ali Baba, one of the main characters in the show along with Sinbad and Hatim.
  • In the American/British television mini-series Arabian Nights (2000), the story is told faithfully with two major changes. The first is: when Morgiana discovers the thieves in the oil jars, she alerts Ali Baba and, together with a friend, they release the jars on a street with a steep incline that allows the jars to roll down and break open. Furthermore, the city guard is alerted and arrest the disoriented thieves as they emerge from their containers. Later, when Morgiana defeats the thief leader, Ali Baba, who is young and has no children, marries the heroine himself.
  • In the 2019 BBC/FX adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Ali Baba was portrayed by Kayvan Novak. This was an expansion from a reference to the character in the original novel.[31]
  • This story was partially used in the 2022 Indian fantasy TV series Ali Baba: Dastaan-E-Kabul Aired on Sony SAB, where Sheezan Mohammed Khan played the main character of Ali Baba.[32]


  • Adventures of Ali Baba (2018–2019) is an Indian animated television series, produced by Shilpa Shetty Kundra, which aired on Colors Rishtey. A modern-day retelling of the folktale, it follows brothers Ali and Baba, who protect dungeons and fight evil forces with their supernatural powers.[33]

Video games[edit]

  • Blade of Ali Baba is a unique item of the video game Diablo II (2000).
  • "Alibaba" appears as the hacker alias of Futaba Sakura in Persona 5 (2016).
  • The story Alibaba and the 40 thieves appears on the website Poptropica as a playable island.
  • Alibaba and Morgiana were playable characters in the mobile game Grimms Notes, while the 40 thieves and their leader were enemies.
  • "Baba's Wee Booties" are a community created weapon for the Demoman in the video game Team Fortress 2 (2007)
  • "The Forty Thieves" is a questline in Assassin’s Creed Mirage (2023) where the player must help Ali Baba's daughter take on the 40 thieves.


At the United States Air Force Academy, Cadet Squadron 40 was originally nicknamed "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" before eventually changing its name to the "P-40 Warhawks".[34]

The name "Ali Baba" was often used as derogatory slang by American and Iraqi soldiers and their allies in the Iraq War, to describe individuals suspected of a variety of offenses related to theft and looting.[35] Additionally, British soldiers routinely used the term to refer to Iraqi civilians.[36] In the subsequent occupation, it is used as a general term for the insurgents.[37]

The Iraqis adopted the term "Ali Baba" to describe foreign troops suspected of looting.[38]




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  33. ^ "Raj & Shilpa Shetty Kundra Turn TV Producers With A 13 Part Animation Series !". Bollyy. 31 October 2018.
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External links[edit]