Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

  (Redirected from Ali Baba)

Cassim in the cave by Maxfield Parrish (1909)

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

In the original version, Ali Baba (Arabic: علي باباʿAlī Bābā ) is a poor woodcutter who discovers the secret of a thieves' den, and enters with the magic phrase "Open Sesame". The thieves try to kill Ali Baba, but Ali Baba's faithful slave-girl foils their plots. Ali Baba's son marries her and Ali Baba keeps the secret of the treasure.

Textual historyEdit

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 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) and thought its origins were Greek Cypriot.[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, 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 body home where he entrusts Morgiana, 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 know their secret, and 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 a dead man's body 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, killing the 37 thieves in their oil jars by pouring boiling oil on them. 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.

To exact revenge, the leader of the thieves establishes himself as a merchant, befriends Ali Baba's son (who is now in charge of the late 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 classification system as AT 676.[5]

In popular cultureEdit

Adaptations in art, entertainment, and mediaEdit

Audio recordingsEdit

Audio readings/dramatizations include:

Books and comicsEdit

  • Tom Holt's mythopoeic novel Open Sesame is based on characters from the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.[citation needed]
  • In an Alvin comic book (Dell Comics No. 10, Jan.-Mar. 1965), The Chipmunks (Alvin, Theodore, and Simon) join eccentric scientist Dr. Dilby in his time machine. Their first stop is ancient Persia, where they meet Ali Baba and help him fight the 40 Thieves.[citation needed]
  • Although not a direct adaptation, the characters of Ali Baba, Cassim, and Morgiana as well as part of the concept of the Forty Thieves are featured in the Japanese manga series Magi. In 2012, this manga was adapted to anime.[citation needed]


Animated filmsEdit
  • A Popeye cartoon, Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937), features Popeye meeting and defeating the titular group and their leader Abu Hassan (portrayed by Popeye's nemesis Bluto).[citation needed]
  • A Merrie Melodies Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck cartoon, Ali Baba Bunny (1957), has a similar premise to the concept of the treasure-filled magical cave.[citation needed]
  • The story was adapted in the 1971 anime Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (アリババと40匹の盗賊, Aribaba to Yonjuppiki no Tozoku), storyboarded by Hayao Miyazaki.[citation needed]
  • The Disneytoon Studios film DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp uses the reference of the folk tale but alters the name of Ali Baba to Collie Baba, the story origins reveals that the DuckTales version of the greatest thief that he stolen the magic lamp from the evil sorcerer name Merlock for good.[citation needed]
  • Another Disney film Aladdin (1992) makes references to the story, as Genie names Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in the song "Friend Like Me".[citation needed]
  • In Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996), the 40 thieves play an integral part in the story. However, the story is very different from the original Ali Baba story, particularly Cassim's new role as Aladdin's father and the King of Thieves.[citation needed]
  • In the animated movie Ali Baba and the 40 Thevies-The Lost Scimitar of Arabia (2005), Ali Baba, the son of the Sultan of Arabia, is worried about his father's safety when he discovers that the Sultan's evil brother, Kasim, has taken over the throne and is plotting to kill him. With his friends, Ali returns to Arabia and successfully avoids his uncle's henchmen. Out in the desert, Ali becomes the leader of a group of forty men who are ready to fight against Kasim.[citation needed]
  • In the anime Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic (serialized since June 2009), Ali Baba appears as one of the main characters and one of Aladdin's friends. At some point in the show, he is shown as the leader of a gang of thieves called Fog Troupe. Morgiana is his loyal friend, whom Ali Baba freed from slavery, and Cassim is his friend from the slums, who is constantly jealous of Ali Baba and tries to bring him ill fate, when he can.[citation needed]
  • Bing Crosby recorded the story on 25 April 1957,[6] linking the narrative with songs. This was issued as an album Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in 1957.
  • The second track on "super group" Dark Lotus' album Tales from the Lotus Pod (2001) is titled "Ali Baba".[citation needed]
  • John Holt sings of the dream he had of Ali Baba in his song titled "Ali Baba".[citation needed]
  • On the first track on Licensed to Ill, "Rhymin' & Stealin", the Beastie Boys chant "Ali Baba and the forty thieves".



Poster for 40 Thieves at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 1886

Video gamesEdit

  • Ali Baba (1981) is a computer video game by Quality Software[9]


Alibaba Group of China used the name because of its universal appeal.[10]


Zero-knowledge proofs are often introduced to students of computer science with a pedagogical parable involving "Ali Baba's Cave".[11]


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".[citation needed]

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.[12] Additionally, British soldiers routinely used the term to refer to Iraqi civilians.[13] In the subsequent occupation, it is used as a general term for the insurgents.[14]

The Iraqis adopted the term "Ali Baba" to describe foreign troops suspected of looting.[15]



  1. ^ Goodman, John (17 Dec 2017). Marvellous Thieves adds a new chapter to Arabian Nights - Paulo Lemos Horta gives 'secret authors' their due in his study of the World Literature classic. North Shore News.
  2. ^ Burton, R. F. Supplemental Nights to the Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night with Notes Anthropological and Explanatory. III, fasc. 2. p. 369. (n.)
  3. ^ MacDonald, Duncan Black (April 1910). "'Ali Baba and the forty thieves' in Arabic from a Bodleian MS". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland: 327–386. JSTOR 25189681.
  4. ^ Mahdi, Muhsin (1994). "Galland's Successors". The Thousand and One Nights: From the Earliest Known Sources; Part 3, "Introduction and Indexes".
  5. ^ Ashliman, D.L. (3 February 2019). "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  6. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  7. ^ Fienberg, Daniel (18 December 2019). "'A Christmas Carol': TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  8. ^ "Leading Dancers to Present Ali Baba". Archived from the original on 29 December 2014. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  9. ^ Barton, Matt (23 February 2007). "Part 2: The Golden Age (1985-1993)". The History of Computer Role-Playing Games. Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 30 March 2009. Retrieved 26 March 2009.
  10. ^ "Alibaba's IPO Filing: Everything You Need to Know - Digits - WSJ". 7 May 2014. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
  11. ^ Quisquater, Jean-Jacques; Guillou, Louis C.; Berson, Thomas A. (1990). "How to Explain Zero-Knowledge Protocols to Your Children" (PDF). Advances in Cryptology – CRYPTO '89: Proceedings. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. 435: 628–631. doi:10.1007/0-387-34805-0_60. ISBN 978-0-387-97317-3.
  12. ^ Vasagar, Jeevan. "Court martial hears of drowned Iraqi's final moments". Retrieved 18 April 2007.
  13. ^ Norton-Taylor, Richard (21 September 2009). "Baha Mousa inquiry: 'rotten' UK military blamed for death in army camp". The Guardian.
  14. ^ Fumento, Michael. "Back to Falluja: The Iraqi Army versus the Keystone Kops insurgency". Retrieved 18 April 2007.
  15. ^ Levin, Jerry (3 May 2003). "Will The Real Ali Baba Please Stand Up". CPT. Archived from the original on 11 April 2007. Retrieved 18 April 2007.

External linksEdit