When you think about the richest person in the world of all time, people generally think of the billionaires of today who own large multinational corporations such as those found in the Forbes’ list of billionaires. After all, we live in an era of great wealth and prosperity (even if it isn’t distributed evenly). But, according to historians, the richest person to have ever lived could well have been Mansa Musa.
Mansa Musa, a devout Muslim, was the 14th Century Mali ruler whose true wealth is indescribable, as it would nigh on impossible to fathom. He was born in 1280 CE into the family of the rulers of the Mali Empire. He became the leader of the Mali Empire when his brother, Mansa Abu Bakr II abdicated. Mansa Musa inherited a wealthy kingdom. However, it was under his rule that the empire grew to its zenith and was at its wealthiest.
At its height, the empire covered parts of what are now Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritanian, and Senegal, and stretched over 3,000 kilometres inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Under his rule, the Mali Empire annexed 24 cities, including the famous city of Timbuktu.
His wealth came from the vast resources his kingdom held such as gold and salt. In fact, according to the British Museum, almost half of the Old World’s gold was in the Mali empire during Mansa Musa’s reign. And this all belonged to Mansa Musa 👑.
Even though his kingdom was saturated with gold, it was not well known in the world. However, this changed, as Mansa Musa decided to go for Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, passing through Egypt. On a journey of over 6,000 kilometres, Mansa Musa took a caravan that was said to have been 60,000 people strong. It was reported that his caravan stretched as far as the eye could see.
It was on his route to Mecca, that Mansa Musa met the Sultan of Egypt in Cairo. He spent so much gold in purchases and donations in Cairo, that he decimated the entire economy. An estimate by SmartAsset.com says that Mansa Musa’s excessive donations of gold resulted in about $1.5 billion economic losses in the Middle East 🤯. It is reported by some that he did this initially to move the gold capital of the world from Cairo to Timbuktu. Others report that it was an honest mistake, and that Mansa Musa tried to rectify the situation by borrowing gold on his way back to Mali, to remove some gold from circulation. Whatever the case, Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage revealed his vast wealth.
It was also this journey that put his kingdom on the map – literally. In a Catalan Atlas from 1375, the kingdom of Mali is portrayed with Mansa Musa on a gold throne, holding a piece of gold. Mansa Musa also brought back artists and scholars, upon his return, helping to develop the Mali Empire. He had the famous Djinguereber Mosque built in Timbuktu with the help of an Andalusian architect and established a university, to attract students and scholars to Timbuktu. By attracting the best scholars in the Islamic World at that time, Mansa Musa made Mali the most important place for knowledge in Africa. Under Mansa Musa, the empire became urbanised, with the establishment of many schools and mosques.
Mansa Musa was succeeded by his son, Masa Maghan I, when he died in 1337. However, his legacy still lives on today with the Djinguereber Mosque and the university he established, the University of Sankoré, still standing today, testament to his wealth, his faith and dedication to education.
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Information has been sourced from: