History has had its fair share of wealthy people, from the kings and rulers of centuries past to the oil tycoons and tech giants of the modern world.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is projected to be the world’s first trillionaire, but before him there was a king in Africa who held mass amounts of riches. His name was Mansa Musa. These are 10 things to know about the ruler of the Mali empire.
Under Mansa Musa’s rule, the Mali empire doubled in size, stretching more than 2,000 miles and eventually encompassing modern-day Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Mauritania.
Gold and salt were some of the natural resources in abundance in the Mali empire. Mansa Musa controlled nearly half of all the gold in the Old World, and he acquired wealth from trade in his territories as well.
In 1324, Musa, a devout Muslim, took the Hajj. Reports say he made his pilgrimage with 60,000 people and tons of gold. This extravagant display drew the attention of all who noticed as the moving city traveled across the Sahara.
On a stop during his pilgrimage, Musa “flooded Cairo with benefactions.” He handed out so much gold that its value in the region fell tremendously. It took 12 years for the region to recover from the economic damage caused by his generosity.
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Upon his return from Mecca, Musa built mosques and schools in cities like Gao and Timbuktu. The latter became one of the most important cultural centers in history, home to the famous Djinguereber mosque and Sankore University.
Mansa Musa’s legend spread to Europe. The Catalan Atlas, created long after his death, depicts him covered in gold. Stories of this kind of wealth led early European explorers to Africa.
His wealth is estimated at $400 billion in modern money, but its true value is likely beyond our imagination. Historian Rudolph Ware said of his riches, “Imagine as much gold as you think a human being could possess and double it, that’s what all the accounts are trying to communicate.”
By comparison, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a real-time net worth of $150.3 billion as of May 21, 2020, according to Forbes.
A combination of infighting and European exploration weakened the Mali empire in the century following King Musa’s death. By the 1460s, most of its territories came under the rule of the Songhai empire.
In a time when Europe was ravaged by the plague, Mansa Musa’s immense wealth stimulated the world economy by driving trade in natural resources and other goods. Kathleen Bickford Berzock of the Block Museum at Northwestern University notes that along with economic activity, “People move and ideas move and other types of materials move.” Through his rule of the Mali empire, Mansa Musa facilitated material and cultural enrichment of the world.