Jeff Bezos is currently the richest man in the world.
You can see Forbes’ ‘richest people in the world’ rankings here, to fill out the rest of the top spots.
When you check out the net worth of the wealthiest folks, it’s hard to imagine anyone having that much money.
Now picture someone being that rich – no, richer – in the 14th century.
The richest man of all time is Mansa Musa, according to the BBC. He was a West African ruler who was so rich that his generous handouts single-handedly destroyed a country’s entire 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.
He was born in 1280 into a family who ran an empire. His brother, Mansa Abu-Bakr, ruled the empire until 1312 before deciding to go on an expedition to discover new lands.
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.
Mansa Musa inherited the empire when his brother didn’t return. During his reign, the kingdom of Mali, which stretched 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, grew significantly.
He annexed 24 cities, including Timbuktu.
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.
Mansa Musa’s reign put Mali on the map – literally. The image above shows a Catalan map from 1375 showing Mansa Muli sitting atop Mali with a gold coin in his hand. He also advanced education in his country.
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 reason we don’t hear about him more often is because history is written by the victors.
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.
Colonialism was the final blow that destroyed the empire. Had colonists arrived during Mansa Musa’s reign, things might have worked out differently.
One thing’s for sure – Bezos has nothing on this guy.
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