When we hear the phrase, ‘Richest Man in the World,’ names like Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates come to mind. However, the fact is that the richest man that ever lived on this planet was not the owner of Amazon or the founder of Microsoft; rather, he was a Muslim royal named Mansa Musa who ruled the 14th Century kingdom of Mali in Africa.
The wealth of Mansa Musa was so astonishingly magnanimous that it is considered to be ‘indescribable’ according to modern standards. Some historians have made an attempt to calculate the worth of Musa and the closest they have come to put a number on it is $400 billion.
However, popular opinion hopes that the wealth and riches of Musa cannot be accurately calculated for the magnanimity of his riches is unprecedented to date. Even all the rich people of the modern age combined cannot boost their wealth in front of the riches and gold stocks that Mansa Musa beheld in his Empire of Mali. According to Rudolph Butch Ware, associate professor of history at the University of California;
“Contemporary accounts of Musa’s wealth are so breathless that it’s almost impossible to get a sense of just how wealthy and powerful he truly was.”
Born in the year 1280, Mansa was destined for glory and riches, for he opened his eyes to the ruling family of the Mali Empire, an Islamic West African state that consisted of today’s Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia along with the modern state of Mali.
However, the wealth and riches of Musa are not credited to his fortunate birth in royalty. Rather, the Sultan, with his exquisite skill and leadership, conquered adjustment lands and expanded his Empire massively in his 25-years of the rule. In total, he conquered 24 cities, overpowering not only the territories and people but also the wealth and riches of those lands.
The kingdom overtook territories that extended for about 2,000 miles, from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to the extents of modern-day Niger. Among the resources that the king gathered, gold and salt were the prominent riches. That is why Mansa Musa is also titled the “Golden King.”
According to a study conducted by the British Museum, during the rule of the mighty king Mansa Musa, the Empire of Mali had the ownership of almost half of the Old World’s gold, and the sole ownership belonged to the king himself.
Therefore, the title of ‘Richest Man Who Ever Lived’ is won by Musa not only by destiny but also by conscious design. During the 25 years reign of Mansa Musa that began in the year 1312, Mali went on to become the most significant and massive producer of gold in the entire world. According to Kathleen Bickford Berzock, a specialist in African art at the Block Museum of Art at the Northwestern University,
“As the ruler, Mansa Musa had almost unlimited access to the most highly valued source of wealth in the medieval world. Major trading centers that traded in gold and other goods were also in his territory, and he garnered wealth from this trade.”
It is interesting to note that despite the unprecedented vastness of his wealth, back in the 14th Century, people outside the Empire of Mali had little to no idea regarding the richness of resources and gold that existed within the Empire.
However, today, every historian and history enthusiasts are familiar with his name owing to a singular event that made history. That event was the biggest pilgrimage that traveled to Mecca under the Sultan’s umbrella in 1324-1325. Mansa Musa left Mali for Mecca with an estimated caravan of about 60,000 men and traveled through the desert of Sahara and Egypt before ending up in modern-day Saudi-Arabia.
Musa quite literally paved his path to Mecca with gold. Owing to the magnanimity and luxurious ambiance of the caravan, it was dubbed as ‘the golden city moving through the desert.’ The caravan included his entire royal court and officials, soldiers, entertainers, merchants, camel drivers, and 12,000 slaves, along with a long train of goats and sheep for food.
The extravagance and royalty of the caravan were depicted by historians in words that do little justice to the glamour and luminosity that radiated from the moving city of gold and riches. It was clad in gold brocade and finest Persian silk with over a hundred camels carrying hundreds of pounds of pure gold. It was indeed a sight worth glaring at.
The extravagance and glamour of the caravan reached its full boom and opulence once the city stationed itself in Cairo. For the first time ever, Musa and his people had the chance to show off their wealth to the world, and so they did, in a manner that made history. For Musa, this Hajj pilgrimage was not just a religious journey for salvation.
Rather, it was a monumental expedition that put his kingdom on the map. Several famous historians such as Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Fazlullah al Omari, Abdullah es Sa’di, Ibn Battuta, etc., documented Musa’s life, with a special focus on this extravagant pilgrimage.
During his travels, Musa donated a large sum of gold to the Mamluk treasury while the members of his caravan flooded the Mamluk markets with gold, paying five dinars for commodities that cost one dinar, causing the Cairo gold crash. The impact of such benevolent extravagance was recorded by the historian al Umari said that Musa flooded Cairo with his kindness.”
He visited Cairo 12 years later and found people still talking about the kindness and charity of the great golden king. On his return from Mecca, along with other dignitaries, Musa brought with him a poet named Abu Es Haq es Saheli whom he paid 200 kg (440lb) in gold, which in today’s currency would be $8.2m (£6.3m).
Such was the extravagance and wealth of the Golden King. This caravan and the pilgrimage alone is a testimony of the lavishness and boundless riches in which the king indulged and spread around.