Tech billionaires and business leaders from the West and China are among the world’s wealthiest men today. The title of “richest man who ever lived” goes, however, to a little-known ancient ruler from a region of the world more often associated with poverty than with unimaginable wealth.
Mansa Musa ruled the vast Mali Empire in 1312. He ascended to the throne after his predecessor, Abu-Bakr 11, for whom Mansa Musa had served as a deputy, went missing while searching for the Atlantic Ocean’s edge.
Musa took over as leader at a difficult time in European history, when countries were being destroyed by never-ending civil wars and a lack of resources.
The Mali Empire, on the other hand, was flourishing due to its abundance of gold, salt, and other natural resources.
Under this ruler, the empire expanded to encompass a large portion of West Africa, from the Atlantic coast to Timbuktu, a trading center in the country’s center, and even parts of the Sahara. His money and wealth grew in lockstep with the area he controlled.
Until 1324, the rest of the world had no idea how much wealth King Musa possessed in his kingdom. Musa was a devout Muslim who lived in a kingdom where the majority of the people were also devout Muslims. He went on pilgrimage to Mecca, but not by himself.
Musa led a caravan of tens of thousands of soldiers, slaves, and heralds to the Holy Land. They were all dressed in pricey Persian silk and held golden staffs. Even though there is some disagreement about how many people were in his group, the convoy that accompanied him was significant. There were camels and horses hauling hundreds of pounds of gold.
This display of wealth drew the attention of the people who lived in the areas he passed through, as such a large caravan would be difficult to miss. When he passed through Egypt, he had an impact on the people that lasted more than a decade.
When he arrived in Cairo, Egypt’s capital, and was forced to meet with Cairo’s ruler, al-Malik al-Nusar, his true character was revealed. According to the writings of ancient historian Shihab al-detailed Umari, Musa was met in Cairo by a junior official of al-Nasir, who invited him to meet with other royals. Musa declined the offer, claiming he was on his way to the Holy Land for a pilgrimage.
His reasoning became clear as time passed. He didn’t want to see the sultan because it meant kissing the ground and the sultan’s hand. He agreed to the meeting after much deliberation and persuasion.
Musa refused to kiss the sultan’s feet during the meeting, and things didn’t go well until he relented and kissed the sultan’s feet. But because he was in Egypt, he shared his vast fortune with the locals. He also bought from local traders and exchanged gold for them.
Then word of Musa’s wealth spread throughout the world, not just in Africa. Even after he died, which occurred between 1332 and 1337. Musa was depicted on the Catalan Atlas of 1375, which was an important tool for sailors in medieval Europe, by the end of the 14th century. The atlas was created by Abraham Cresques, a well-known Spanish cartographer. Musa was shown sitting on a golden throne, holding a golden sceptre, crown, and gold nugget.
Musa was a true legend whose wealth dwarfed that of today’s billionaires, from the vast amount of natural resources he controlled to the growth and development of the communities he left behind. Even by today’s standards, it’s difficult to say how wealthy he was.