9 Riveting Mysteries Set in the Distant Past

Catching murderers and other criminals will probably always be difficult, but it has gotten easier over time. Today, forensic experts have plenty of reliable techniques and advanced technology at their fingertips. But centuries ago, all sleuths had to go on were their wits and whatever clues the culprit left behind. The thrilling mysteries listed here take place in bygone eras, from the days of Ancient Rome to the War of the Roses, and are full of clever investigators using their skills to crack tough cases. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Historical Mysteries: Our 9 Picks

Title Author
1. Rome: The Art of War M.C. Scott
2. Shades of Time Sarah Woodbury
3. The Chef's Secret Crystal King
4. The Throne of Caesar Steven Saylor
5. Temple of the Grail Adriana Koulias
6. The Sheriff's Catch James Vella-Bardon
7. Michelangelo & the Morgue Joanne Lewis
8. The Deadliest Lie June Trop
9. Dark Queen Rising Paul Doherty

The History of the Mystery Genre

Some of the world's oldest known stories used the same elements that make modern mysteries so enticing. Homer's famous epic poem The Odyssey is something of a prototype of the genre. The hero's life is in constant danger as he uses his cunning to solve problems and overcome his enemies. But the genre isn't exclusive to Western culture. One of the stories in One Thousand and One Nights (commonly known as Arabian Nights) is considered to be the oldest known murder mystery. This tale, The Three Apples, is full of plot twists and revolves around a mysterious death. Centuries later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popularized the genre with his stories about the now-famous Sherlock Holmes. Eventually, of course, mystery made its way from the pages of books to the big screen. Some of the most well-known of these movies were directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who worked on several classics throughout his career, including Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window.

Classic Mystery Books

The authors on this list stand on the shoulders of many amazing writers who influenced the genre. Consider diving into mystery's rich history with these classics:

  1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  2. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  4. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  5. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

5 Real Ancient Murder Mysteries

In Depth

Whodunits that take place in bygone eras can be even more suspenseful than modern tales because of the lack of advanced technology, which leaves sleuths with only their wits to solve complex crimes. If you're looking for stories where detectives and spies must rely on primitive techniques in order to stop diabolical villains, then here, in no particular order, are nine riveting mysteries set in the distant past.

First up, at #1, we have "Rome: The Art of War" by M.C. Scott. With the treacherous Vitellius and his brother Lucius ruling over Rome, the people want General Vespasian to declare himself as the rightful emperor and overthrow the ruthless despot. Unfortunately, Vespasian's family is in Rome, so before he can march towards Vitellius, he has to ensure their safety and rally the people to his cause. In order to do this, he sends over Sebastos Pantera, a very skilled spy who he believes can get the job done.

Next, at #2, is "Shades of Time" by Sarah Woodbury, the twelfth entry of her "After Cilmeri" series, which revolves around a time traveling family and their adventures across alternate realities. In this novel, time travelers David and Anna get caught up in the political struggles of the 13th century. As her brother David is dealing with rebellious barons in Ireland, Anna struggles to rule over Wales and England, and she's forced to jump between their original reality and this timeline in order to keep history from crumbling.

In this novel, time travelers David and Anna get caught up in the political struggles of the 13th century.

At #3 is "The Chef's Secret" by Crystal King. When renowned chef Bartolomeo Scappi dies, his nephew, Giovanni Brioschi, inherits his vast estate. Along with all of his wealth, Bartolomeo also leaves behind keys to two strongboxes containing a plethora of recipes and private journals, which include very sensitive information about an illicit love affair. Now, Giovanni must protect his uncle's journals from his rivals, who will stop at nothing to learn the late chef's secrets.

Next up, at #4, we have "The Throne of Caesar" by Steven Saylor. As Julius Caesar is preparing to fight the Parthian Empire, he enlists the help of Gordianus the Finder in uncovering a potential plot to assassinate him. Will Gordianus be able to expose the conspiracy against the dictator of the Roman Republic in time, or will Caesar meet his demise on the Ides of March?

Next, at #5, is "Temple of the Grail" by Adriana Koulias. Set in 13th century France, the story revolves around the monastery of St Lazarus and the deadly secrets that it holds. A group led by Inquisitor Rainiero Sacconi are sent to investigate the monks of St Lazarus, who are suspected of committing heretical acts inside the monastery. When people start dying under mysterious circumstances, templar Andre and his scribe Christian try to figure out what's really going on, provoking the ire of the inquisitor and some of the monks.

Set in 13th century France, the story revolves around the monastery of St Lazarus and the deadly secrets that it holds.

At #6 is "The Sheriff's Catch" by James Vella-Bardon. When his fellow soldiers murder his pregnant wife, Abel de Santiago deserts the Spanish army and vows to avenge his loved ones. He's soon captured and sold as a slave for one of the Spanish Armada's ships, but when they're defeated by an enemy fleet, Abel finds himself washed ashore in Ireland. Will he be successful in his quest for vengeance, or will his constant misfortune lead to his death?

Next up, at #7, we have "Michelangelo and the Morgue" by Joanne Lewis. In late 15th century Florence, the Medici family's influence is waning, and a friar named Savonarola is burning vanities. Despite this, budding artist Michelangelo wants to make a name for himself, and in order to create the greatest masterpiece of his career, he sneaks into the morgue to learn more about human anatomy. When he stumbles upon the bodies of fellow artists, he realizes that they were murdered, and now he has to figure out who killed them before he suffers the same fate.

At #8 is June Trop's "The Deadliest Lie." Miriam bat Isaac is an alchemist with a knack for solving mysteries. When the scrolls containing the Alchemical League's formulas are stolen, it's up to her to figure out who took them. Unfortunately, the culprit may be one of her loved ones, and in order to recover the scrolls and reveal the identity of the thief, she must navigate the dangerous underbelly of Alexandria.

Miriam bat Isaac is an alchemist with a knack for solving mysteries.

Finally, at #9, we have Paul Doherty's "Dark Queen Rising." Set during the Wars of the Roses, the story focuses on Margaret Beaufort, the Countess of Richmond and mother of Henry VII. With Edward of York claiming the English throne, Margaret must do whatever it takes to protect herself and her son. When she's framed for the deaths of four people in a London tavern, her clerk Christopher Ulswicke rushes to clear his mistress' name while she devises a plan to take the throne from her enemies.