One of the most common questions googled is, “Who is the richest man who ever lived”? Everyone is interested to know who in this world holds that maximum worth. So, today we will look deep into this question. According to the rich list that Forbes published last time, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos was the richest man in the world with a fortune estimated at around $177 billion.
Quite awesome! Indeed yes.
Jeff Bezos’s Income
The income of Jeff Beoz is one number that is quite hard to get your head around. So, let us put it this way: Bezos’s fortune is larger than the GDP of 75% of countries around the world. He is alone wielding the equivalent riches of a nation, and a fairly big one at that. It is the level of wealth nobody could conceivably spend in a lifetime, no matter how expensive their tastes are.
Jeff Bezos is 57 years of age at the time I am writing it, and now if he’s probably going to live till 80 years (a clear assumption) then to use up all of his 177 billion dollars before he dies, he would need to spend almost $22 million (discounting interest) every single day for the rest of his life. That is well over ten times the average income an American makes over his entire career, every single day, for about 8400 days in a row.
What’s interesting about it?
The really interesting fact is that whilst Jeff Bezos may well be the richest man in modern times but he isn’t the richest human being ever to have lived. Remarkably enough, if you adjust for inflation, he isn’t even close.
The Richest Man Ever Existed.
The individual who holds that title is estimated to have had a fortune well over twice the size of poor old Jeff’s, and larger than the fortune of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, and Jack Ma altogether. The funny thing is that, despite his vaunted financial position in the annals of human history, there is a very good chance that you have never even heard of this guy.
Before, let us know who this guy is. So, let me introduce you to Mansa Musa- the richest man in history. Never heard of him? Why?? There can be two good reasons for that-
- First, he was born almost 750 years ago.
- Second, he was the Sultan of the Mali empire.
Point one seems to be quite clear, but what about point two? The explanation is that like Europe and the US, most parts of the world have school systems that traditionally do not put a lot of emphasis on African history. So, let us have a sneak peek into the Mali Empire.
The Mali Empire
Though not knowing about the Mali empire is a shame because the Mali empire is the largest ever seen in western Africa and was quite something. At its height in the 14th century, it covered almost half a million square miles and was home to around 5% half the world’s population. It rose incredibly quickly- in the space of just a couple of generations during what’s known as the golden age of trade in Africa. The rise of the Mali empire was built on its unfathomable wealth, and that came primarily from two things- Gold and Salt, both of which were in rich local supply.
Wealth from Gold and Salt
So much so that at the time, approximately half of all golds in the Old World- that consists of Europe, Africa, and Asia came from just three gold mines in Mali. Yes a vast fortune could come from gold and there is no surprise, but the fact salt was such a major factor might seem a little absurd when viewed through our modern perspective. But, in most parts of Africa salt is a vital commodity and so was in 14th century Africa. And, especially to the right buyer, it was worth its weight in gold.
As unlikely as that may sound, it helps you make a lot of sense when you think about it. After all, salt is an essential part of the human diet, and we quite literally can not survive without it. It also happens to make bland food much more palatable, and it can be used as a preservative, which was especially useful before the invention of reliable refrigeration. So, in regions where salt was sparse, it was priceless.
On the other hand, gold is a shiny metal. And, we use it in all sorts of things today- from electronics to spaceships. But the fact it looked very appealing, the price it holds till date is expansively high, and so was in the 14th century.
We have come far knowing about the empire and the reason for the wealth of the richest man, but what about him? We still need answers for who, what, and how about him.
Mansa Musa- the Richest Man
Mansa Musa was born around 1280 AD, and he came to the throne as the 10th ruler of the Mali empire in approximately 1312 AD. His rise to power was a slightly odd one because he was only supposed to be a temporary ruler, who was just selected for a caretaker position when his predecessor Abubakari Keita II decided to go and find out what was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The emperor took some 3000 ships and set off into the vast expanse of ocean, leaving behind his throne and one of the greatest fortunes in history.
There is no evidence that there was anything to discover on the other side so far, and neither Abubakari Keita II nor his free thousand-strong fleet was ever seen again. Though a few historians believe that he did indeed make it to South America, that is not the point. The point is, this was how the emperor of the Mali empire never came back from his bold voyage, and so Mansa Musa officially ascended to the throne, where he set about extending the borders of his lands and growing his already vast wealth.
And yes, do not confuse Mansa to be a name because it isn’t. It is a job title, moreover a first name that means ‘Emperor’ or ‘Sultan’. Therefore, as the head of one of Africa’s greatest empires, just how rich was Mansa Musa?
Well, before we get to the numbers, how about an example?
An episode from Mansa Musa’s life will tell you very well how rich he was- the mecca trip.
The Mecca Episode
The new emperor that the Mali Empire had was a devout Muslim, and like today, it was his solemn duty to undertake the Hajj at least once in his lifetime and therefore he took the Hajj- a pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the five pillars of Islam. And when Mansa Musa found that his time had come to go to Mecca, the pilgrimage that was started from Mali to the Arabian Peninsula is one of the most remarkable journeys of that time that was made by a human being.
The Large Caravan
Well, by human beings I mean 60,000 men and women, 100 elephants, 80 camels, a personal guard of 500 highly trained warriors, and enough food, water, and animals to eat for everyone. Mansa Musa undertook this 2700 mile pilgrimage at the center of an entire movable city- a caravan that stretched longer than the eye could see. It was bigger and more extravagant even than the entourage Aladdin took with him to impress Princess Jasmine, and that too was made by a magic genie.
So, like anyone, if you go out on a trip, you will probably take a bit of spending money with you, and it seems Mansa Musa did too. But, what was his extra spending?
Spendings took Along
Extra spendings have a bit of a different meaning when you’re the richest man ever. For him, it was 21,000 kilograms of solid gold. Just in case to us some bargains to be had in duty-free. You might be bewildered about how exactly he transported such a vast amount of gold, almost about 20,999 kg. That job was left to his 12,000 slaves each of whom was given almost 2 kilos in solid gold. Along with the bullion, Mansa Musa also brought thousands of kilos of gold dust, which was used as currency throughout his kingdom.
Taking all this together- the tens of thousands of people and hundreds of animals, the unimaginable quantities of gold that the world had never before seen anything quite like the display of wealth Mansa Musa did on this trip to Mecca. And yet, in reality, this extravagant show of riches wasn’t all it seemed.
As you may well know, another of the pillars of Islam is a Zakat, which is the giving alms to charitable causes. That’s right! Manza Musa hadn’t brought all this gold for himself, he was planning to give it away. Like, all of it. He spent so much gold on the poor on route to Mecca that Mansa Musa single-handedly crashed the price of the commodities across most of North Africa and the western Arabian Peninsula. It included major gold-trading cities like Cairo, Medina, and Mecca itself, precipitating a decade-long recession.
His generosity was over cold hard gold dust. Mansa Musa also wanted to share his beliefs far and wide. But being the richest man in history, he didn’t settle for simply spreading the word. Instead, he started a tradition that every Friday that came on his pilgrimage, no matter where he reached he had a mosque built. Considering the trip took two years in total, he built a lot of them.
Brought Mali Empire to Map
It has been long since Mansa Musa ruled over the Mali empire, and written records from the time are pretty much nonexistent. That means it’s difficult to be completely sure that his intentions on the pilgrimage were solely philanthropic and spiritual. Some historians suspect he was keen to show off his immense wealth and resources as a kind of medieval PR exercise or a branding mission designed to impress his friends and frighten his enemies and just generally put the Mali empire on the map. And yes, it certainly did that- both figuratively and literally.
Because as a direct result of the fame Mansa Musa gained for himself and his empire on the way to Mecca, both soon began to show up on world maps for the first time, including the Catalan Atlas, one of the most vital medieval maps of the 14th century. There you can see Mansa Musa himself holding a gold coin and just generally looking like a bit of a boss.
The pilgrimage also acted as a source of the epic recruitment campaign, with Mansa Musa’s wealth, generosity, and effortless power winning him thousands of supporters and securing his empire, the services of some of the most celebrated thinkers and artists of the era. Many of whom he brought back when the caravan returned home after completing the Hajj.
Speaking of returning home, it was around this time that Mansa Musa began to sprinkle a little gold dust within the borders of his lands, too, building mosques and madrassas- those are educational institutions in many cities. But there was one place in particular for which Mansa Musa reserved most of his attention, ‘Timbuktu’. It’s something you have certainly heard of in your lifetime. No European managed to figure out how to get to Timbuktu until the 1830s.
But, the main reason the name became famous in the first place is largely thanks to Mansa Musa. He annexed Timbuktu on his way back from Mecca and set about turning it into one of the most important centers for trade, culture, religion, and learning. The Timbuktu University, one of the world’s premier seats of knowledge boasting 25,000 students and a library of a million books.
So, how rich was Mansa Musa?
Mansa Musa was a man so wealthy that the exact numbers involved aren’t important. His wealth was, to all intents and purposes, limitless. He could anyone do whatever he wanted to and whenever he felt like it. Luckily, it seems that what he most often wanted to do was give his wealth away to improve the lives of others. And he certainly did not go for the worst ways to spend the greatest fortune in history.
What is your viewpoint about it? now we just leave it you that actually”who is the richest man who ever lived”?