Short Story Review: The Thief versus King Rhampsinitus by Herodotus

In the introduction to this short story it states that this might be the world’s oldest detective story, which naturally, I found intriguing. It goes on to explain that this mystery was told to Herodotus on one of his many travels, which he subsequently chose to record…

The king was vastly wealthy, and no one in the kingdom comes remotely close to possessing the amount of wealth he does.  So, to safeguard it, he has built a special treasury next to the palace, that none can access, bar him.

However, the builder has engineered a secret point of access, known only to him.  Sometime later, when he falls ill and knowing that he will soon die, he shares his secret with his two sons, wanting to ensure that once he’s gone, they are able to maintain their current standard of living.

As soon as the father dies, the two sons set off to find out if what they have been told is true.  It is confirmed when they gain access to the sealed treasury.  The two brothers begin to make regular trips to the vault so that it becomes clear to the king on his inspections that his wealth is slowly dwindling.  However, the seals over the door haven’t been disturbed and he is at a loss as to how anyone else is gaining entry.

So, he sets about trying to capture the thieves…what unfolds is a surprising tale of cunning and boldness.

It’s amazing to think that this tale is well over two thousand years old.  It was certainly interesting to read, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction set in the ancient world.

I came across this short story in The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, ed. Mike Ashley.


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