When we think of the wealthiest people in the world, we most often think of the Waltons (of Wal-Mart fame), Warren Buffett, or Bill Gates. However, if you go a bit further back in history, you’ll discover that the wealth of the kings, queens, and rulers of yesteryear trumps the bank accounts of most modern day millionaires and even billionaires by a mile.
In fact, during his time, one man controlled more wealth than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the wealthiest member of the Walton family, Sam Walton, combined. That man was Mansa Musa I. With an adjusted net worth of approximately $400 billion, Musa is without a doubt the richest man to have ever lived. So who was he? And why haven’t you heard more about him?
Abubakari sent 200 boats out into the sea, ordering them not return from their voyage until they had reached the far side of the Atlantic, or until they ran out of food and water, whichever came first. Quite a long time later, one boat returned, with tales of a great whirlpool that had drowned everyone. Abubakari didn’t believe the captain’s story, so he took 2,000 boats, and appointing himself head of the expedition, set off to find the truth. As the King’s deputy, Mansa Musa became ruler in his absence. Abubakari II never returned, and Mansa Musa eventually inherited the throne.
Much of Musa’s wealth came from the production of mosques, madrsasas, and universities, many of which are still standing today. The University of Sankore was built during his time, and is still in existence. The quality of life in urban centers, such as Timbuktu, was vastly superior to other parts of the world at the time, largely due to the availability of work, and Musa’s control of the gold and salt trades.
As a result, he now controlled the price of gold for all of the Mediterranean. He also controlled more than half of the world’s salt supply. Between his gold and his salt, traders from as far away as Europe made annual trips to his kingdom from Venice, Granada, and Genoa, and this gave him the power to set prices as high he wanted.
Today, there aren’t any billionaires who could command 12,000 people to carry four-pound bricks of gold on an incredibly long walk. Or even billionaires who could affect the price of gold by simply being in charge. Mansa Musa was not only the wealthiest man to ever live, but arguably the most powerful. This may be a good part of the reason his story is skimmed over in most textbooks. That aside, Mansa Musa is a clear, and perhaps rare example, of a very wealthy individual who held at least an equal amount of power to go along with it.
Paula writes for africanglobe