What Happened To The Wealth of The Richest Man To Ever Live?

A brief crash course on history’s richest man to have lived; Mansa Musa Keita 1 of the 14th-century Malian empire.

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If you think I’m talking about Solomon you’re mistaking – he probably never existed.
Emperor Mansa Musa 1, of the 14th-century Malian empire, is the one I speak of. The only living being in reported history to directly control the price of gold in the whole Mediterranean!
How much was he worth? Well, after his net worth was adjusted for inflation it surmounted to a mouth-opening four hundred billion USD i.e $400,000,000,000 – more wealth than that of Sam Walton, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates combined!

What do we know about this guy?  A quick search for this guy will bring you posts on his enormous Malian empire and his world-shaking pilgrimage to Mecca. After that, beyond Wikipedia, is zot. What in the hell happened to all this man’s wealth fam? And to where did all his riches go?

What in the hell happened to all this man’s wealth fam? And to where did all his riches go?
Maybe like me, you hurdled down whatever path you did and got little to no information on African history, so I’ll help us out and go over a few facts about the dude:

  1. According to historians, Musa Keita I was appointed the deputy to the king, Abubakari II, as it was a custom to appoint such a one as heir to the throne whenever a King was to go on a far away journey. Abubakari went on an expedition to explore the extents (and limits) of the Atlantic ocean but never returned.Mr. Keita was crowned Mansa (meaning King) and he expanded his kingdom tremendously, gaining control over its lucrative natural resources, most notably gold.
  2. King Keita had a lot of land at his disposal. To give you a perspective, he ruled all (or parts) of modern day Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad, adding up to about 2000 miles across and making him ruler of all the gold mines in the area; Imagine the king of Saudi Arabia personally owning all the oil mines in his kingdom. Mad!
  3. Apart from whatever wealth he inherited after becoming king, the mansa made his fortune by maximizing his country’s salt and gold production and imposing his rule on trans-desert trading towns. At the time, he reportedly got to produce over half of the world’s salt and gold supply, and as news of his wealth traveled across the Mediterranean to southern Europe, traders from Venice, Granada and Genoa soon added Timbuktu to their maps for manufactured goods and gold trade.
  4. Kankou Musa (which literally translates to “Musa whose mother was Kankou”) was a Muslim, and as Muslims are encouraged to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime (if they can afford to of course), trust this typical African man – he traveled in a grand style and it is this style that brought him to the notice of the world even more.
    Records have it that he made his pilgrimage between 1324–1325 carrying along 60,000 men with him. The men included “12,000 slaves who each carried four pounds of gold bars and heralds dressed in silks who bore gold staffs, organized horses, and handled bags. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals. Those animals included 80 camels which each carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust”. Omo see money!
  5. Uncle Musa was extremely (and uneducatedly) generous with his wealth during his pilgrimage of close to 4000 miles to Mecca. He gave tons of gold to the poor along cities on the way which made the value of gold to plummet – plunging the whole region into an inflation crisis that lasted for a period of 12 years!
    In a bid to rectify the economy of the Meditaranian gold market Musa borrowed all the gold he could carry from lenders at Cairo thereby directly controlling the price of gold in the entire Meditaranian.
  6. The empire won a good number of conquests under his reign and taking control of those areas, he was able to establish Timbuktu as one of the greatest cities in history, converting it into a center of trade and Islamic culture as merchants from the Middle East, Egypt, and other African kingdoms came to trade there.
    It was also under his reign that the University of Sankore in Timbuktu was restaffed with jurists, mathematicians, and astronomers, which made it a center of learning and culture, drawing Muslim scholars from all over the world.
  7. By the end of Mansa Musa’s reign, the Sankoré University had been converted into a fully staffed University with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria, capable of housing 25,000 students and it had one of the largest libraries in the world with roughly 1,000,000 manuscripts!
  8. Not much is agreed upon with regards to the date of Mansa’s death, but anyway, he died and was succeeded by his son (who was, of course, appointed the deputy to the king earlier on) but he too, died soon after he returned from Mecca.
    The guy died, civil wars were fought, the empire got torn up and the rest is history. Although many sites he established still stand firm today, along with tales and records of his rich lifestyle, Mali is an extremely poor country judging by income per capita coming in at #18 on the list of the world’s poorest countries and that’s just sad.

So now, what do we know about history’s richest man? He was an African Emperor of the great Malian empire who caused a great depression on his pilgrimage to Mecca by being too darn generous and honestly, I don’t blame him – he clearly sucked at economics. At least, he tried to stabilize the statusquo.

the-extravagant-journey-put-mansa-musa-on-the-map-quite-literally
Mansa MusaKeita portrayed in the 1375 Catala Atlas

 

His pilgrimage is what literally put him on the 1375 Catalan Atlas (one of the most important world maps of Medieval Europe) holding a big ass gold coin. It was even reported that he built a new mosque every friday!

In as much as this dude’s actions have made me use more exclamation marks than I would have bargained for, after his death his precious empire pretty much went to waste due to wars and many other factors we will need to take histrory lessons to know about.There probably wouldn’t be anyone as rich as he was again but we will have to keep our fingers crossed that none of our African leaders will cause our economy to plummet ay further.

There probably wouldn’t be anyone as rich as he was again but we will have to keep our fingers crossed as we hope that none of our African leaders will cause our economy to plummet any further from how bad it already is.

Further Reading:

Sources:

  • Djibril Tamsir Niane, “Mansa Musa” in New Encyclopedia of Africa, John Middleton and Joseph C. Miller, eds. (New York: Scribner’s, 2008); Djibril Tamsir Niane, Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century (London: Heinemann, 1984): David C. Conrad and Djanka Tassey Conde, Sunjata: A West African Epic of the Mande Peoples (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2004).

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