Today, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates are known to be three of the richest men in the World according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire’s Index. Although they have billions of dollars in their bank accounts, they still couldn’t compete from the African emperor Musa I or Mali or Mansa Musa who is said to be the richest man of all time. Time magazine even described him as “richer than anyone could ever describe”. In this article, we are going to know more of the man who was so rich he crippled economies.
Who is Mansa Musa?
Mansa Musa was born into a ruler family in 1280, back then Mansa Abu-Bark, Mansa Musa’s brother, ruled their empire until 1312. According to Shibab al-Umari, a 14th-century historian, Abu-Bakr was obsessed with the Atlantic Ocean and what he could found beyond it. That is why he embarked on a journey bringing 2,000 ships and thousands of men, women, and salves with him. But apparently, the expedition never returned. Mansa Musa inherited the throne of the kingdom that was so rich with gold. He ruled the Malian empire and he was able to conquer 24 cities that each has surrounding districts with estates and villages during his time including Timbuktu. And under his rule, the Malian Empire was the largest producer of gold in the world. Mansa Musa’s kingdom stretched from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to modern-day Niger.
Mansa Musa’s Empire
The kingdom’s land stretched for about 2,000 miles and it came with a lot of great resources such as salt and gold. According to the British Museum, the empire of Mali had half of the Old World’s gold during the rule of Mansa Musa and all of it belonged to him.
Mansa Musa had almost unlimited access to the most expensive and valued source of wealth during the medieval world. And almost all the trading centers that exchanged gold and other valuable goods were also part of his territory and that’s where Mansa Musa got all his wealth.
Mansa Musa’s Journey to Mecca
Even if the empire was home to a lot of gold, the Mali kingdom itself was not that well-known. But this all changed when a devoted Muslim, Mansa Musa, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca where he passed through Egypt and the Sahara Desert.
According to historians, Mansa Musa reportedly left the kingdom of Mali along with a caravan of 60,000 men. It is said that he took his entire royal court and its officials, merchants, camel drivers, soldiers, entertainers, slaves, and a long train of sheep and goat for food.
Just imagine all of the city’s inhabitants, all the way down to the slaves, were dressed in gold and the finest Persian silk along with hundreds of camels that was in tow and each of them carrying hundreds of pounds of gold. What a sight to behold, right?
And the caravan’s appearance became even more lavish when they reached Cairo where they really showed off their wealth.
What Happened in Cairo?
Mansa Musa left a very memorable impression on Cairo that even visitors who went to the city twelve years after Mansa Musa narrated how the people of Cairo spoke highly of the Malian king. Apparently, Mansa Musa lavishly handed out gold in Cairo during his three-month stay that he caused the price of gold to drop in the region which wrecked the economy.
During his journey back home, Mansa Musa passed through Egypt once again. According to some historians, Mansa Musa tried to help Egypt’s economy by removing some of the gold from circulation by borrowing it back at an expensive interest rate from Egyptian investors. Some say Mansa Musa spent so much of his wealth that he ran out of gold.
Historians say that Mansa Musa gave so much gold along the way that the entertainers no longer liked to praise him in their songs because they think that Mansa Musa wasted so many local resources outside the empire.
Putting His Kingdom and Himself on the Map
Mansa Musa returned to the kingdom of Malia from Mecca with several Islamic scholars including descendants of the prophet Muhamad, an architect named Abu Es Haq es Saheli, and an Andalusian poet. Mansa Musa ordered the architect to design the famous Djinguereber mosque and he reportedly paid the Andalusian poet two hundred kilos of gold which in today’s money would be 8.2 million dollars.
Aside from encouraging arts and architecture, Mansa Musa also sponsored building schools, mosques, and libraries. That is why Timbuktu became a center of education and people from different parts of the world traveled to study at what would become Sankore University.
While it cannot be denied that Mansa Musa spent and wasted a lot of gold throughout his pilgrimage. But it was also his excessive generosity that caught the attention of the world. Quite literally, Mansa Musa had put himself and his kingdom on the map. If you look at a Catalan Atlas map from 1375, you will see a drawing of an African king that sits on a golden throne while holding a piece of gold in his hand on top of Timbuktu. That made Timbuktu an African El Dorado and people from different parts of the world came to have a glimpse.
After Mansa Musa died at the age of 57 in 1337, the Malia empire was inherited by his sons who couldn’t rule the empire. It resulted in smaller estates breaking off and the fall of the empire. The arrival of the Europeans in the region was the kingdom’s final nail in their coffin.
But historians believed that if the Europeans arrived during Mansa Musa’s time, with the height of its economic and military power, things would definitely have been different.
Up to the 19th century, the Malian empire still had a mythical status as a lost city of gold at the edge of the world. Back then it is still known as a beacon for European fortune hunters and explorers and this was mostly because of achievements by Mansa Musa 500 years earlier.