When you think of the world’s all-time richest people, you probably think of names like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or John D. Rockefeller. But few have heard of, Mansa Musa of Mali – the 14th century Islamic African King who is considered the richest person in all history. With inflation taken into consideration, Mansa Musa amassed a fortune of over $400 billion; widely surpassing the world’s current richest man, Bill Gates, who is worth about $87 billion.
King Musa ruled over the Malian empire of Mali from about 1312 until 1337, and caught the attention of Europeans and Arabs after his renown Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) to Mecca in 1324. He was known for giving gold to the poor, and building houses and mosques on his way to Mecca.
As a devoted Muslim, Mansa Musa prepared his pilgrimage soon after he took his position from Abu Bakri II in 1312. During these preparations, which took years, Mansa Musa used the knowledge and resources from his rich land. Through Malian scholars, who helped plan the pilgrimage, Mansa Musa was well prepared and knew a lot about the cities he went to and how to navigate his way to Mecca.
In 1324, he took thousands of servants (some say 60,000) and started his four thousand kilometer pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. He was followed by more than 80 camels, carrying over 300 pounds of gold and other needed goods. During his voyage, he stopped in the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Cairo, where he attracted the Arabs’ and Europeans’ interest. He was known for his acts of kindness and charity. It’s said that he gave away most of his gold to whomever he met on his travels, especially to the poor on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. But he also helped build mosques on his way to Mecca.
Coming back home, Mansa Musa brought with him Arab scholars, architects, and bureaucrats to help him build the historic buildings we now have in Gao and Timbuktu. Timbuktu became a famous scholarly, cultural, and flourishing trade city in these years. A city to which people from Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa came to learn, trade, and live.
After Mansa Musa’s death in 1337, his son Maghan I became Mansa (King). But his rule did not last as long as his father’s. Attacks from Morocco and the kingdom of Songhai, soon meant the downfall of this great Islamic kingdom.