By Naima Mohamud (BBC Africa)
The richest man of all time.
That title belongs 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 incomprehensible
- 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
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.
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.
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.
Read more: Mansa Musa: The richest man who ever lived