Normally, when people think about world’s richest people of all times, names like Bill Gates, John D Rockefeller and Warren Buffet come to their mind immediately. Only a few people know about or have heard of Mansa Musa I of Mali, one of the richest man to have ever walked the earth – A 14th century African Mansa (meaning king).
After an inflation adjusted fortune of about $400 billion, Mansa Musa I is considered one of the richest man in the history of world; not only of his own time but in the list of richest men currently inhabiting the world.
As the story goes, Mansa Musa Keita I came into power in the year 1312 and did so when luck favored him immensely out of nowhere. The king before Musa I had tried to journey the world on a boat, but unfortunately disappeared, so the crown went to Mansa Musa I instead. The title of Mansa was granted to him when he was crowned and is literally translated into King. He became king during the time when much of Europe was steeped into civil wars and was famished, while many of the African kingdoms were flourishing in comparison. He amassed his great wealth through exploitation of his country’s salt and gold mines and production.
During his reign from the years 1321 to 1331 Mansa Musa expanded his empire to a great extent and brought the following modern day parts of the world under his rule; Mali, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Chad. In short, his empire was known to stretch for about 2000 miles.
Mansa Musa I went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in the year 1324, and he did not travel cheap. As reported by Jessica Smith in a TED-Ed talk.
He brought a caravan which was known to stretch as far as the eye could see. An entourage of about tens of thousands of soldiers, civilians and slaves, many camels and horses bearing a great quantity of gold, was brought alongside him.
Moreover, on his stop in Cairo, it is said that he spent an abundance of gold as charity, and gave it away to the poor and the needy. It, thus, resulted in mass inflation, as the metals devalued for the next decade. Hence it took years for the city of Cairo to overcome the crisis.
However, he made an attempt to correct the crisis by borrowing the gold back, which he had given away initially. He borrowed the gold back at a very high-interest rate in efforts to right the economy he had unintentionally wrecked.
Mansa Musa I, not only spent in charity but also spent money on building schools, mosques, libraries, also a major university, many of which stand today still and are a testament to his generous heart.
Mansa Musa I, died in the year 1337 after a reign of 25 years. Maghan I, succeeded his father, however, his heirs were unable to retain the vast fortune which Mansa Musa I accumulated during the time he lived, and it was eventually washed-out by invading armies and civil wars.