The Incredible Story Of Mansa Musa, The Richest Man Ever Alive

The Incredible Story Of Mansa Musa, The Richest Man Ever Alive

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the world's current richest man, according to the 2019 Forbes billionaires' list. With an estimated fortune of $131bn (£99bn), he's the wealthiest man in modern history.

However, he's by no means the richest man of all time.

This title belongs to Mansa Musa, the 14th Century West African ruler that was so rich his generous handouts wrecked a whole country's economy.

The Incredible Story Of Mansa Musa, The Richest Man Ever Alive

In 2012, US website Celebrity Net Worth estimated Mansa Musa's wealth at $400bn, yet economic historians agree his wealth is impossible to pin down to a number.

The Incredible Story Of Mansa Musa, The Richest Man Ever Alive

Mansa Musa travelled to Mecca with a caravan of 60,000 men and 12,000 slaves

The ten richest men of all time:

  • Mansa Musa (1280-1337, king of the Mali empire) wealth incomprehensible
  • Augustus Caesar (63 BC-14 AD, Roman emperor) $4.6tn (£3.5tn)
  • Zhao Xu (1048-1085, emperor Shenzong of Song in China) wealth incalculable
  • Akbar I (1542-1605, emperor of India's Mughal dynasty) wealth incalculable
  • Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919, Scottish-American industrialist) $372bn
  • John D Rockefeller (1839-1937) American business magnate) $341bn
  • Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov (1868-1918, Tsar of Russia) $300bn
  • Mir Osman Ali Khan ( 1886-1967, Indian royal) $230bn
  • William The Conqueror (1028-1087) $229.5bn
  • Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011, long-time ruler of Libya) $200bn

Mansa Musa was born in 1280 into a family of rulers. His brother, Mansa Abu-Bakr, ruled the empire until 1312 when he abdicated to go on an expedition.

As reported by 14th Century Syrian historian Shibab al-Umari, Abu-Bakr was obsessed with the Atlantic Ocean and what lay beyond it. He embarked on an expedition with a fleet of 2,000 ships and thousands of women, men, and slaves. They sailed off, never to return.

Under Mansa Musa's rule, the kingdom of Mali grew significantly. He annexed 24 cities, including Timbuktu.

The kingdom stretched for approximately 2,000 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean to modern-day Niger, taking in parts of what are now Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, and Ivory Coast.

According to the British Museum, during the reign of Mansa Musa, the empire of Mali accounted for almost half of the Old World's gold. All of it belonged to the king.

Although the empire of Mali was home to so much gold, the kingdom wasn't well known itself.

That changed when Mansa Musa decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, passing through the Sahara Desert and Egypt.

The Incredible Story Of Mansa Musa, The Richest Man Ever Alive

The trip to Mecca helped put Mali and Mansa Musa on the map - a photocopy of the Catalan Atlas map from 1375

He left Mali with a caravan of 60,000 men, taking his entire royal court and officials, soldiers, merchants, camel drivers, griots (entertainers), and 12,000 slaves, as well as a long train of sheep and goats for food.

It was a city moving through the desert. Its inhabitants, all the way down to the slaves, were clad in gold brocade and most beautiful Persian silk. A hundred camels were in tow, each camel carrying hundreds of pounds of pure gold.

The sight got even more opulent once the caravan reached Cairo, where they could show off their wealth.

Mansa Musa left such a memorable impression on Cairo that al-Umari, who visited the city twelve years after the Malian king, recounted how highly the people of Cairo were speaking of him.

The Incredible Story Of Mansa Musa, The Richest Man Ever Alive

Mansa Musa commissioned the famous Djinguereber Mosque in 1327

US-based technology company estimates that because of the depreciation of gold, Mansa Musa's pilgrimage led to around $1.5bn (£1.1bn) of economic losses across the Middle East.

On his way back home, Mansa Musa passed through Egypt again and tried to help the country's economy by removing some of the gold from circulation by borrowing it back at extortionate interest rates from Egyptian lenders.

There's no doubt that Mansa Musa spent, or even wasted, a lot of gold during his pilgrimage. However, it was this excessive generosity that also caught the eyes of the world.

Mansa Musa had put Mali and himself on the map, quite literally. In a Catalan Atlas map from 1375, a drawing of an African king sits on a golden throne atop Timbuktu, holding a piece of gold in his hand.

Timbuktu became an African El Dorado, and people came from near and far to have a glimpse.

In the 19th Century, it still had a mythical status as a lost city of gold at the edge of the world, a beacon for both European fortune hunters and explorers, and that was mainly down to the exploits of Mansa Musa 500 years earlier.

Mansa Musa returned from Mecca with several Islamic scholars, such as direct descendants of the prophet Muhammad and an Andalusian poet and architect by the name of Abu Es Haq es Saheli, that is widely credited with designing the famous Djinguereber mosque.

The king reportedly paid the poet 200 kg (440lb) in gold, that in today's money would be $8.2m (£6.3m).

Along with encouraging the arts and architecture, he also funded literature and built schools, libraries, and mosques. Timbuktu soon became a center of education and people traveled from around the globe to study at what would become the Sankore University.

The rich king is frequently credited with starting the tradition of education in West Africa, although the story of his empire mainly remains little known outside West Africa.

After Mansa Musa died in 1337, aged 57, the empire was inherited by his sons who couldn't hold the empire together. The smaller states broke off, and the empire crumbled.

Reference: BBC

The Incredible Story Of Mansa Musa, The Richest Man Ever Alive The Incredible Story Of Mansa Musa, The Richest Man Ever Alive Reviewed by Katerina Papakyriakopoulou on 1:42 PM Rating: 5

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