10 Strange Facts About Mansa Musa: The Richest Man In History

10 Strange Facts About Mansa Musa: The Richest Man In History

Whenever rich rulers are mentioned, you are likely to hear the names of Cleopatra and Augustus Caesar, but none of them was as wealthy as Mansa Musa. In fact, with an estimated net worth of $400 billion when adjusted for inflation, Mansa Musa remains the richest man that has ever lived in known history. He was the ruler of the kingdom of Mali, then known as the centre of gold, for 25 years. He used his skills as a businessman to expand his kingdom to cover most of West Africa including Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Senegal and Burkina Faso. Mali also advances in education and religion to become the place to be in 14th century Africa.


The Kingdom of Mali

Sundiata Keita was the founder of the Western Sudanese empire of Mali in the 13th century. The kingdom of the Malians wasn’t famous to the world until a century later when it became the centre of trade between North African Arab Nations and the rest of West Africa. Its exact extent before Mansa Musa took power is not known, but its capital was the city Niani. The attraction to Mali was its large gold reserves and salt, which it sold to the neighbouring Songhai and other kingdoms to the North. Niani was also located at the confluence of the Niger and the Sankarani Rivers, making it a transport hub between the North and the South.

How He Became King Of Mali

Mansa was the Mandinka name for a king, so Mansa Musa simply meant King or Sultan Musa. The king of Mali in the early 1300 was Mansa Abu Bakr II, who was more of an explorer than a great king. History has it that he left Mali on a voyage around 1305 to explore the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean and never returned. Musa, who was not exactly the next one in the line of succession but was related to Sundiata in some way, had been left in charge of the kingdom and somehow assumed the role of King when his predecessor failed to return. It is not clear whether his rise to power was diplomatic, but he was a great diplomat meaning his ascend had little if any opposition from the people of Mali.

Turning Mali Into Africa’s Greatest Kingdom

Mali was great before Musa became Mansa, but under him, the kingdom flourished. He strengthened the Malian army enabling it to conquer the neighbouring small kingdoms, including the substantially larger Songhai Kingdom. Mansa Musa was also a great diplomat that managed to negotiate trade deals between different communities in the region. He increased the mining of gold in Mali to become probably the largest supplier of gold in the world at the time. Mali also sold lots of Ivory and Salt, which were on high demand across the Arab world in those days.

How He Became The Richest Man In The World

Mali was a monarchy, but that didn’t necessarily make Mansa Musa the richest man in the world. Before becoming the king, Musa was a trader, and he must have been a big one because he had great connections in the merchant world. When he got the right to tax traders and also get a portion of all the gold mined in his kingdom, Musa’s wealth grew beyond what his predecessors had. Musa is believed to have been a very generous man that shared most of his wealth with peasants using most of it to further the spread of education and Islam in Mali. At the peak of his riches when he made his trip to Mecca in 1324, Mali is believed to have had at least $400 billion in assets if adjusted to inflation.

He Built Africa’s First University in Timbuktu

Timbuktu wasn’t part of Mali until after 1325 when Mansa Musa’s generals conquered it. It was acquired in succession with the city of Gao, the former capital of Songhai. When he returned from his Hajj in Mecca, Mansa Musa had learned more about Islam and the need for education in his kingdom. He also brought with him architects and teachers from Mecca, Medina, and Cairo whom he employed to start building the great mosque of Timbuktu and the library of the university using baked bricks that still stand today. With the new technology and his gold to spend, Mansa Musa revolutionized Timbuktu into one of the most advanced cities in Africa at the time.

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He Built A Mosque Every Friday On His Way To Mecca

Mansa Musa’s 1324 trip to Mecca is believed to have been the most lavish project he undertook in his whole life. He carried with him a caravan with 60,000 people, 12,000 of them slaves, and thousands of camels. One of his greatest virtues was his piety, though, and wherever he passed, he had to worship in a mosque. Along his 4,000-mile trip to Mecca, Musa didn’t exactly have the luxury of having mosques along the road, so wherever Friday found him, Mansa Musa would build a mosque. That adds up to a large number of mosques if you consider the fact that his journey took an entire year.

His Grand Entrance In Cairo

In 1324, the ruler of Egypt was the great Mamluk, Sultan Al-Malik Al Nasir, who was also known for his ego. Musa had to go through Cairo on his way to Mecca, meaning he had to go through the Mamluk’s capital with his enormous caravan. Mansa brought his generosity into Egypt, spending lavishly as he bought lots of items at a price way over what they were really worth.

He also donated lots of gold into the treasury of Egypt, which was repaid by being given a palace for him and his servants to stay. The Sultan of Cairo had never seen such a huge caravan and was more surprised when Musa refused to bow to him. Musa told the Sultan that he had no political interests and was only passing through to Mecca.

He Caused A Decade-Long Fall in the value of gold

Mansa Musa is believed to have brought over 20 tones of gold with him on his Hajj. His lavish spending and handing out gold dust freely to peasants along the route and in Cairo caused an influx of gold in the city that Egypt hadn’t seen before. With so much gold both in the treasury and in the economy, the value of gold in Egypt fell terribly that the Historian Al Umar found the impacts lasting when he visited 12 years later. Mansa Musa himself got raided on his way back from Mecca, and he was broke, so he had to borrow back some of the gold he had given away, and it is believed that he had to pay up to 5 times over for it.

He Introduced Mali to the World

Not much was known about the kingdom of Mali before Mansa Musa’s Hajj. His trip, however, caused an interest in the West-African kingdom from all over the world, including Europe. Mansa Musa’s portraits were all over Egypt, Mecca, Medina, and even Spain as people praised the man with more gold than anyone could imagine. The publicity is believed to have increased trade between Mali and the rest of the Arab world. It also brought Spanish and Portuguese merchants to Mali, which later proved detrimental for the kingdom.

The End Of His Legacy

Some of the structures built by Mansa Musa still stand in Timbuktu today, including the great mosque. The Library of Timbuktu wall also stands, although the university itself was later destroyed. When he died, around 1337, Mansa Musa had resigned from the throne and left his son in charge of the Kingdom. His son, or sons as there are rumours of internal wrangling, later caused divisions in the kingdom. His generals are also believed to have taken control of other parts of the then vast empire. The divided kingdom mismanaged the wealth and production in the mining, and salt sites also plummeted. The Portuguese invasion decades later is believed to have finished off what was left of Musa’s empire.

Author: Gus Barge

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