Is Mansa Musa the richest man who ever lived? (2023)

By Naima Mohamud
BBC Africa

  • Published

Is Mansa Musa the richest man who ever lived? (1)Image source, Getty Images

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, according to the 2019 Forbes billionaires' list released this week. With an estimated fortune of $131bn (£99bn) he is the wealthiest man in modern history.

But he is by no means the richest man of all time.

That title is believed to belong to Mansa Musa, the 14th Century West African ruler who was so rich his generous handouts wrecked an entire country's economy.

"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," Rudolph Butch Ware, associate professor of history at the University of California, told the BBC.

Mansa Musa was "richer than anyone could describe", Jacob Davidson wrote about the African king for Money.com in 2015.

In 2012, US website Celebrity Net Worth estimated his wealth at $400bn, but economic historians agree that his wealth is impossible to pin down to a number.

The 10 richest men of all time

  • Mansa Musa (1280-1337, king of the Mali empire) wealth indescribable
  • Augustus Caesar (63 BC-14 AD, Roman emperor) $4.6tn (£3.5tn)
  • Zhao Xu (1048-1085, emperor Shenzong of Song in China) wealth incalculable
  • Akbar I (1542-1605, emperor of India's Mughal dynasty) wealth incalculable
  • Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919, Scottish-American industrialist) $372bn
  • John D Rockefeller (1839-1937) American business magnate) $341bn
  • Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov (1868-1918, Tsar of Russia) $300bn
  • Mir Osman Ali Khan ( 1886-1967, Indian royal) $230bn
  • William The Conqueror (1028-1087) $229.5bn
  • Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011, long-time ruler of Libya) $200bn

Source: Money.com, Celebrity Net Worth

(Video) Mansa Musa, one of the wealthiest people who ever lived - Jessica Smith

The golden king

Mansa Musa was born in 1280 into a family of rulers. His brother, Mansa Abu-Bakr, ruled the empire until 1312, when he abdicated to go on an expedition.

According to 14th Century Syrian historian Shibab al-Umari, Abu-Bakr was obsessed with the Atlantic Ocean and what lay beyond it. He reportedly embarked on an expedition with a fleet of 2,000 ships and thousands of men, women and slaves. They sailed off, never to return.

Some, like the late American historian Ivan Van Sertima, entertain the idea that they reached South America. But there is no evidence of this.

In any case, Mansa Musa inherited the kingdom he left behind.

Under his rule, the kingdom of Mali grew significantly. He annexed 24 cities, including Timbuktu.

The kingdom stretched for about 2,000 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to modern-day Niger, taking in parts of what are now Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

With such a large land mass came great resources such as gold and salt.

During the reign of Mansa Musa, the empire of Mali accounted for almost half of the Old World's gold, according to the British Museum.

And all of it belonged to the king.

"As the ruler, Mansa Musa had almost unlimited access to the most highly valued source of wealth in the medieval world," Kathleen Bickford Berzock, who specializes in African art at the Block Museum of Art at the Northwestern University, told the BBC.

"Major trading centres that traded in gold and other goods were also in his territory, and he garnered wealth from this trade," she added.

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The journey to Mecca

Though the empire of Mali was home to so much gold, the kingdom itself was not well known.

This changed when Mansa Musa, a devout Muslim, decided to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, passing through the Sahara Desert and Egypt.

Image source, Getty Images

The king reportedly left Mali with a caravan of 60,000 men.

He took his entire royal court and officials, soldiers, griots (entertainers), merchants, camel drivers and 12,000 slaves, as well as a long train of goats and sheep for food.

It was a city moving through the desert.

A city whose inhabitants, all the way down to the slaves, were clad in gold brocade and finest Persian silk. A hundred camels were in tow, each camel carrying hundreds of pounds of pure gold.

It was a sight to behold.

And the sight got even more opulent once the caravan reached Cairo, where they could really show off their wealth.

The Cairo gold crash

Mansa Musa left such a memorable impression on Cairo that al-Umari, who visited the city 12 years after the Malian king, recounted how highly the people of Cairo were speaking of him.

So lavishly did he hand out gold in Cairo that his three-month stay caused the price of gold to plummet in the region for 10 years, wrecking the economy.

US-based technology company SmartAsset.com estimates that due to the depreciation of gold, Mansa Musa's pilgrimage led to about $1.5bn (£1.1bn) of economic losses across the Middle East.

(Video) Is Mansa Musa the richest man who ever lived? #mansa #mansamusa #rich #richest #richestman #money

On his way back home, Mansa Musa passed through Egypt again, and according to some, tried to help the country's economy by removing some of the gold from circulation by borrowing it back at extortionate interest rates from Egyptian lenders. Others say he spent so much that he ran out of gold.

Lucy Duran of the School of African and Oriental Studies in London notes that Malian griots, who are singing historian storytellers, in particular, were upset with him.

"He gave out so much Malian gold along the way that jelis [griots] don't like to praise him in their songs because they think he wasted local resources outside the empire," she said.

Education at heart

There is no doubt that Mansa Musa spent, or wasted, a lot of gold during his pilgrimage. But it was this excessive generosity that also caught the eyes of the world.

Mansa Musa had put Mali and himself on the map, quite literally. In a Catalan Atlas map from 1375, a drawing of an African king sits on a golden throne atop Timbuktu, holding a piece of gold in his hand.

Timbuktu became an African El Dorado and people came from near and far to have a glimpse.

In the 19th Century, it still had a mythical status as a lost city of gold at the edge of the world, a beacon for both European fortune hunters and explorers, and this was largely down to the exploits of Mansa Musa 500 years earlier.

Image source, Getty Images

Mansa Musa returned from Mecca with several Islamic scholars, including direct descendants of the prophet Muhammad and an Andalusian poet and architect by the name of Abu Es Haq es Saheli, who is widely credited with designing the famous Djinguereber mosque.

The king reportedly paid the poet 200 kg (440lb) in gold, which in today's money would be $8.2m (£6.3m).

In addition to encouraging the arts and architecture, he also funded literature and built schools, libraries and mosques. Timbuktu soon became a centre of education and people travelled from around the world to study at what would become the Sankore University.

The rich king is often credited with starting the tradition of education in West Africa, although the story of his empire largely remains little known outside West Africa.

"History is written by victors," according to Britain's World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

After Mansa Musa died in 1337, aged 57, the empire was inherited by his sons who could not hold the empire together. The smaller states broke off and the empire crumbled.

(Video) Mansa Musa: the Richest Man Who Ever Lived?

The later arrival of Europeans in the region was the final nail in the empire's coffin.

"The history of the medieval period is still largely seen only as a Western history," says Lisa Corrin Graziose, director of the Block Museum of Art, explaining why the story of Mansa Musa is not widely known.

"Had Europeans arrived in significant numbers in Musa's time, with Mali at the height of its military and economic power instead of a couple hundred years later, things almost certainly would have been different," says Mr Ware.

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FAQs

Was Mansa Musa the richest man in history? ›

Mali's Timbuktu was known for its schools and libraries. Mansa Musa (Musa I of Mali) was the ruler of the kingdom of Mali from 1312 C.E. to 1337 C.E. During his reign, Mali was one of the richest kingdoms of Africa, and Mansa Musa was among the richest individuals in the world.

Who is the richest human ever lived? ›

Mansa Musa, or Musa I of Mali is considered one of the richest people ever. Musa was the ninth emperor of the Mali Empire, one of the prosperous Sahelian kingdoms that developed along the trans-saharan trade routes in the later medieval period.

Why Mansa Musa is so rich? ›

Musa earned his fortune primarily through trading gold and salt, which were found in abundance in West Africa at the time. He used much of his wealth to strengthen important cultural centers, especially Timbuktu.

How rich is Mansa Musa today? ›

With camel-loads of gold and salt, Mansa Musa's net worth has been valued by modern-day scholars to be around $400 to $415 billion in modern money.

Who was the first billionaire? ›

The American business magazine Forbes produces a global list of known U.S. dollar billionaires every year and updates an Internet version of this list in real time. The American oil magnate John D. Rockefeller became the world's first confirmed U.S. dollar billionaire in 1916.

Who is No 1 richest person in the world? ›

Bill Gates

Who was richer King Solomon or Mansa Musa? ›

1 Kings 10:23 said King Solomon

King Solomon
Shlomo (שְׁלֹמֹה‎), meaning "peaceable", is a common Hebrew male given name. The following individuals are often referred to only by the name Shlomo: Solomon, king of ancient Israel, according to various religious texts.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Shlomo
was richer than any other king on earth at that time. Same with 2 Chronicles 9:22. Mansa Musa
Mansa Musa
Mansa, 'ruler' or 'king' in Mandé, was the title of the ruler of the Mali Empire. It has also been translated as "conqueror" and "priest-king". In oral tradition and the Timbuktu Chronicles, Musa is known as Kanku Musa.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Mansa_Musa
did not live in that time. He lived AFTER Solomon.

Who is the richest man in Africa? ›

For the eleventh time in a row, Aliko Dangote

Aliko Dangote
Aliko Dangote GCON (born 10 April 1957) is a Nigerian billionaire business magnate. Dangote is the founder and current chairman and CEO of the Dangote Group, the largest industrial conglomerate in West Africa.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Aliko_Dangote
(b. 1957) has been named the richest man in Africa in 2022, with an estimated net worth of around $13 billion.

How is the richest man in the world? ›

Get the List of Top Richest People in the World And Tesla's Elon Musk is the richest person in the world with a net worth of $239.3 billion as of 9 February 2022.
...
List of 20 Richest Person in the world 2022.
PersonNet worth (Billion Dollars)Company/Country
1. Elon R Musk$250.2Tesla/ United States
19 more rows
31 Aug 2022

Who was the greatest African king? ›

Who was the greatest African king? Mansa Musa has been recognized as the greatest African emperor there has ever been. His leadership led the Mali kingdom to become one of the wealthiest empires in the world. This was fuelled mainly by the production of gold, salt, agriculture and dynamic trade.

Is Elon Musk richer than Mansa Musa? ›

South-African born Elon Musk is the world's third richest person in history with a peak net worth of $340 billion in 2021. He is behind only Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa
Mansa, 'ruler' or 'king' in Mandé, was the title of the ruler of the Mali Empire. It has also been translated as "conqueror" and "priest-king". In oral tradition and the Timbuktu Chronicles, Musa is known as Kanku Musa.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Mansa_Musa
($418-600 billion) and John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) was an American business magnate and philanthropist. He has been widely considered the wealthiest American of all time and the richest person in modern history.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › John_D._Rockefeller
($418B).

Who is the richest family in the world? ›

The top 10 richest families in 2022 by estimated wealth are:
  • The Waltons with $212 billion24.
  • The Mars family with $142 billion.
  • The Kochs with $124 billion.
  • The Hermès family with $112 billion.
  • The Sauds with $100 billion.
  • The Ambanis with $94 billion.
  • The Wertheimers with $62 billion.
  • The Johnsons with $61 billion.

How many billionaires are there in the world? ›

Wealth distribution

While there were a total of 3,311 billionaires worldwide in 2021, a high number of the world's population owns less than 10,000 U.S. dollars. As a result, nearly half of the world's wealth is owned by the richest percent, highlighting the issue of global inequality.

Who is a Quadrillionaire? ›

quadrillionaire (plural quadrillionaires) Somebody whose wealth is greater than one quadrillion units of the local currency. quotations ▼ (by extension) An extremely wealthy person.

How can I speak billionaire? ›

How to Pronounce Billionaire - YouTube

How can I be a billionaire? ›

Simply stated, a billionaire is a person who has a net worth of $1 billion or more. In other words, if you can sell all of your assets for cash, pay off your debts, and have $1 billion remaining in the bank afterward, you are a billionaire.

Who is the top 10 richest people in the world? ›

BILLIONAIRES LIST 2022
  • Elon Musk: $263.2 billion.
  • Bernard Arnault & family: $142.4 billion.
  • Jeff Bezos: $141.4 billion.
  • Gautam Adani & family: $135.1 billion.
  • Bill Gates: $103.0 billion.
  • Warren Buffett: $95.0 billion.
  • Larry Ellison: $89.8 billion.
  • Larry Page: $86.6 billion.
2 days ago

Who is the richest woman in the world? ›

Most affluent women worldwide 2022, by net worth

The granddaughter of the L'Oréal founder, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers

Francoise Bettencourt Meyers
Françoise Bettencourt Meyers (French: [fʁɑ̃swaz bɛtɑ̃kuʁ mɛjɛʁs]; born 10 July 1953) is a French businesswoman, philanthropist, writer, pianist and billionaire heiress, the richest woman in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$75.3 billion as of March 2022, according to Forbes.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Françoise_Bettencourt_Meyers
was the wealthiest woman in the world as of April 2022. Her and her family's net worth was estimated at 74.8 billion U.S. dollars.

Who was richer King Solomon or Mansa Musa? ›

1 Kings 10:23 said King Solomon

King Solomon
Shlomo (שְׁלֹמֹה‎), meaning "peaceable", is a common Hebrew male given name. The following individuals are often referred to only by the name Shlomo: Solomon, king of ancient Israel, according to various religious texts.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Shlomo
was richer than any other king on earth at that time. Same with 2 Chronicles 9:22. Mansa Musa
Mansa Musa
Mansa, 'ruler' or 'king' in Mandé, was the title of the ruler of the Mali Empire. It has also been translated as "conqueror" and "priest-king". In oral tradition and the Timbuktu Chronicles, Musa is known as Kanku Musa.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Mansa_Musa
did not live in that time. He lived AFTER Solomon.

Who is richer Mansa Musa or Genghis Khan? ›

Mansa Musa (Richer than anyone could describe)

The top of our list is none other than Mansa Musa. You know you've made it when no one can describe how rich you are. The King of Timbuktu from the 14th century presided over what was the largest producer of gold in the world, when gold was in high demand.

Is Augustus Caesar richer than Mansa Musa? ›

Mansa Musa's wealth was much greater than Augustus Caesar's estimated $4.6trillion. He was the richest person in history, whose wealth was too vast to be imagined, or ever equalled.

Who is Quadrillionaire? ›

Chris Reynolds, 56, from Pennsylvania discovered that he had been given $92 quadrillion when he opened his monthly statement from the company - $92,233,720,368,547,800 to be exact.

Who is No 1 richest person in the world? ›

Bill Gates

Who is the richest man in the world 2022? ›

Elon Musk is at the top of the list with a net worth of $273.5 billion. India's Gautam Adani attained second position in the list with a net worth of $155.5 billion on Forbes' Real-Time billionaire rankings, but immediately came down to the third spot with a fall in the share prices.

Who is the richest man in Africa? ›

For the eleventh time in a row, Aliko Dangote

Aliko Dangote
Aliko Dangote GCON (born 10 April 1957) is a Nigerian billionaire business magnate. Dangote is the founder and current chairman and CEO of the Dangote Group, the largest industrial conglomerate in West Africa.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Aliko_Dangote
(b. 1957) has been named the richest man in Africa in 2022, with an estimated net worth of around $13 billion.

Is Elon Musk richer than Mansa Musa? ›

South-African born Elon Musk is the world's third richest person in history with a peak net worth of $340 billion in 2021. He is behind only Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa
Mansa, 'ruler' or 'king' in Mandé, was the title of the ruler of the Mali Empire. It has also been translated as "conqueror" and "priest-king". In oral tradition and the Timbuktu Chronicles, Musa is known as Kanku Musa.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Mansa_Musa
($418-600 billion) and John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) was an American business magnate and philanthropist. He has been widely considered the wealthiest American of all time and the richest person in modern history.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › John_D._Rockefeller
($418B).

Who is the richest family in the world? ›

The top 10 richest families in 2022 by estimated wealth are:
  • The Waltons with $212 billion24.
  • The Mars family with $142 billion.
  • The Kochs with $124 billion.
  • The Hermès family with $112 billion.
  • The Sauds with $100 billion.
  • The Ambanis with $94 billion.
  • The Wertheimers with $62 billion.
  • The Johnsons with $61 billion.

Who is the top 10 richest people in the world? ›

BILLIONAIRES LIST 2022
  • Elon Musk: $263.2 billion.
  • Bernard Arnault & family: $142.4 billion.
  • Jeff Bezos: $141.4 billion.
  • Gautam Adani & family: $135.1 billion.
  • Bill Gates: $103.0 billion.
  • Warren Buffett: $95.0 billion.
  • Larry Ellison: $89.8 billion.
  • Larry Page: $86.6 billion.
2 days ago

Is Jeff Bezos richer than Mansa Musa? ›

1337), a 14th century African emperor of the Mali Empire. A Muslim emperor and a successful military leader. Jeff Bezos the current richest man in the world is worth US$150 billion. Mansa Musa's net worth adjusted to today's value is roughly US$400 billion.

Who will be the first trillionaire? ›

It was in fact Jeff Bezos who was set to become the first trillionaire. However, he is now forecasted to reach US$1.06 trillion in 2030, six years behind Musk in sixth place. Gautam Adani and Zhang Yiming are anticipated to be the next to amass more than US$1 trillion after Musk, according to the study.

Who is worth the most money? ›

Jeff Bezos' net worth is approximately $131.9 billion, according to Forbes. The founder, chairman and former CEO of Amazon held the number one spot on Forbes' billionaire list for four years until he was overtaken by Musk. Bezos owns The Washington Post and Blue Origin, an aerospace company.

How can I be a billionaire? ›

Study interest rates, tax brackets, and dividends to become a billionaire. Finance and entrepreneurship are two lucrative subjects to consider to become a billionaire in young age. Educate yourself in market research and how to find a gap and then create business strategies around it.

What's beyond a billionaire? ›

After a billion, of course, is trillion. Then comes quadrillion, quintrillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion

nonillion
Numeral. quintillion (plural quintillions) (US, modern British & Australian, short scale) A billion billion: 1 followed by eighteen zeros, 1018.
https://en.wiktionary.org › wiki › quintillion
, and decillion.

Are there any trillionaire's? ›

Do you know that only 6 trillionaires ever lived on the face of earth? As of today, there are no trillionaires who live on earth. It is definitely not Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. Such extreme wealth we dont see in our lifetime.

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