- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, according to the 2019 Forbes billionaires’ list
- With an estimated fortune of $131bn (£99bn) he is the wealthiest man in modern history
- But Mansa Musa, the 14th Century West African Muslim king, was “richer than anyone could describe”
LONDON – Though Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, his wealth is far lesser than that of Mansa Musa, the ancient King of Mali the richest man of all time, The BBC reported Sunday, March 10.
“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 the great-great-grandson of Sunjata, who was the founder of the empire of Mali. His 25-year reign (1312-1337 CE) is described as “the golden age of the empire of Mali” (Levztion 66).
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.
In 2015, Jacob Davidson wrote about the African king for Money.com saying he was “richer than anyone could describe.”
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.
“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 centers that traded in gold and other goods were also in his territory, and he garnered wealth from this trade,” she added.
Mansa Musa, a devout Muslim, performed his Hajj in 1324. 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.
Mansa Musa gave away thousands of ingots of gold, and Egyptian traders took advantage of this by charging five times the normal price for their goods. The value of gold in Egypt decreased as much as 25 percent.
Yet, the trip to Makkah helped put Mali and Mansa Musa on the map. 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.
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.
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,” said 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,” added Ware.