The richest man in history: Who was mansa musa and why was he so Famous?

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When you talk about the richest humans that have ever existed whose accounts were recorded in history, the name Mansa Musa is always right up there. All evidence indicates that he is very likely the richest human being that has ever lived[1]. His wealth is estimated to be worth over $400 billion[2].

Mansa Musa of Mali is known by many names; Kankou Musa, Kankan Musa, Kanku Musa, Mali-Koy Kankan Musa, Gonga Musa. As a man of immense wealth and power, he was also accorded many titles some of which are: The Lion of Mali, Emir of Melle, Lord of The Mines of Wangara, Conqueror of Ghanata.

He was born in 1280 and is widely believed to have died in 1337[3]. Musa was the 10th Mansa of the Mali Empire of West Africa, who ruled from 1312 to 1337. Mansa means sultan or conqueror or emperor.

Musa’s wealth at the time was of such a level that the world has never witnessed. His wealth came from the empire’s gold.

During the time of his reign, Mali was the largest producer of gold in the world[4].

The Mali empire at the time also comprised of the conquered Ghana Empire also known as Wagadou with its gold deposits.

The Empire of Mali encompassed present-day nations of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and some parts of present-day Mauritania.

A Map Showing the Mali Empire Territory

Musa’s display of wealth was legendary. There are many accounts of his pilgrimage to Mecca, this trip contributed in no small measure to his popularity, especially across the Middle East and Northern Africa.

The most talked-about pilgrimage was made between 1324 and 1325.

He was accompanied by no less than 60,000 men all clothed with gold-laced silk known as brocade. At the time, silk was a luxury that could be only afforded by the rich. His hundreds of royal aids or heralds too were clothed in silk and each had gold staffs. He also brought with him about 21,600 kg of solid gold bars that were carried by his 12,000 servants[5]. Also, in his convoy were about 80 camels that were each saddled with between 23 – 136 kg of gold dust, thousands of soldiers, and entertainers. Musa brought with him enough food and provision to cater for the whole caravan – man and animals alike[6].

The procession was a sight to behold. As documented by several eyewitnesses, it was like a city moving through the desert. The caravan stretched as far as the eye can see, there are claims that it took a full day for the whole convoy to pass.

Musa was very charitable, and he gave freely especially to the poor. There are numerous accounts of him building a mosque every Friday during the pilgrimage.

It is on record that the quantity of gold he gave out to the poor he met along his route, his generous spending, and the amount of gold he donated to some cities he passed through including Medina and Cairo, were so much that it resulted in a gold recession which went on to last for more than a decade.

The sudden and massive influx of gold in the region particularly in the cities of Medina, Mecca and Cairo was so much that gold became significantly devalued, causing inflation.

Later, having realized the aftermath of his generosity, Musa tried to remedy the situation by trying to take as much gold as he could out of circulation. He did this by borrowing as much gold as there was available to be borrowed, and he lured lenders with high interest payments on his debts.

This incident became known as the only time in history that an individual had ever single-handedly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean.

The Djinguereber mosque, Timbuktu, Mali

Mansa Musa was not just a man of great wealth, he also accomplished great feats. It is on record that he conquered 24 cities and their surrounding districts[7].

He is credited with recapturing Timbuktu after it was raided and taken by the Mossi Kingdom. After he took back the city, to prevent future attacks he fortified it and permanently had an army guard it.

It was also during his reign that Mali captured Gao the capital city of The Songhai empire. This feat greatly expanded the empire’s territory.

Musa took the empire to great heights. He is credited to have greatly encouraged architecture, literature and arts. Being a devout Moslem, he also spread and encouraged Islam.

Mansa Musa’s construction works in Mali are unrivalled especially in the building of structures.

Many of the monuments in Mali today owe their existence to him.

He built and pumped money into numerous mosques along with different religious and educational institutional structures, known in the Arab world as madrasas. Some of the structures he built are: his grand palace at Timbuktu built by architects imported from Egypt and Spain, The Hall of Audience a magnificent structure which connected to the Palace, The Djinguereber mosque, Sankore Madrasa also known as The University of Sankore.

The University of Sankore during Musa’s reign housed one of the largest libraries in the world. It had the largest collection of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. It had about a million manuscripts and could house 25,000 students[8].

During his reign, it wasn’t long before Timbuktu became a centre of trade, culture and Islam. Timbuktu markets attracted traders and merchants from all over the world including Europe[9].

He built universities in the city as well as in other cities of the empire. Timbuktu became a hot destination for Islamic scholarship as Islam was spread through its markets and universities during his reign.

There are conflicting records of the actual time of his death. Even though it is on record that his younger son who succeeded him ruled from 1337 to 1341, scholars and historians still do not agree on a date. While some say Musa died in 1337, others argue it was 1325.

There are accounts that Musa planned to abdicate his throne to Maghan his son, but died in 1325 after he returned from Mecca[10]. On the other hand, scholars like Ibn-Khaldun give an account of Mansa Musa being alive when Tlemcen, a city in Algeria was captured in 1337 because he sent representatives to Algeria at the time to congratulate the conquerors. However, the wider and more popularly accepted date of his death is 1337.

Masa Musa put the Mali empire on the map. His famous pilgrimage drew the attention of the world and awakened it to the knowledge of the vast wealth that lay in the West African region particularly in Mali.

He is depicted in a Catalan atlas map sitting on a golden throne atop Timbuktu and holding up a gold coin.

After Musa died, he was succeeded by his sons who unfortunately couldn’t hold on to the vast empire and the wealth that came with it.

Most of the wealth was spent on civil wars and fighting off invading armies. Smaller states began to break off and ultimately the empire crumbled. Then later the arrival of Europeans heralded the final nail in the coffin for the once powerful empire.

Some historians believe that things would have turned out very differently for the region if the Europeans had arrived during the reign of Masa Musa; at the time when the empire was at the peak of its military and economic power, instead of arriving a century later after Musa had passed on.

Moreover, historical accounts such as Masa Musas’ is yet another one of the many facts that disprove the western propagated notion about Africa as a wild lawless land of savages before the coming of the Europeans.

Here’s the full list of the ‘26 richest people of all time


1. Mansa Musa I, (Ruler of Malian Empire, 1280-1331) $400 billion

2. Rothschild Family (banking dynasty, 1740- ) $350 billion

3. John D Rockefeller (industrialist, 1839-1937) $340 billion

4. Andrew Carnegie (industrialist, 1835-1919) $310 billion

5. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (last Emperor of Russia, 1868-1918) $300 billion

6. Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII (last ruler of Hyderabad, 1886-1967) $236 billion

7. William the Conqueror (King of England, 1028-1087) $229.5 billion

8. Muammar Gaddafi (former Libyan leader, 1942-2011) $200 billion

9. Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company founder, 1863-1947) $199 billion

10. Cornelius Vanderbilt (industrialist, 1794-1877) $185 billion

11. Alan Rufus (Fighting companion of William the Conqueror, 1040-1093) $178.65 billion

12. Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft, 1955- ) $136 billion

13. William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey (Norman nobleman, ??-1088) $146.13 billion

14. John Jacob Astor (businessman, 1864-1912) $121 billion

15. Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel (English nobleman, 1306-1376) £118.6 billion

16. John of Gaunt (son of Edward III, 1330-1399) £110 billion

17. Stephen Girard (shipping and banking mogul, 1750-1831) $105 billion

18. Alexander Turney Stewart (entrepreneur, 1803-1876) $90 billion

19. Henry, 1st Duke of Lancaster (English noble, 1310-1361) $85.1 billion

20. Friedrich Weyerhaeuser (timber mogul, 1834-1914) $80 billion

21. Jay Gould (railroad tycoon, 1836-1892) $71 billion

22. Carlos Slim (business magnate, 1940- ) $68 billion

23. Stephen Van Rensselaer (land owner, 1764- 1839) $68 billion

24. Marshall Field (Marshall Field & Company founder, 1834-1906) $66 billion

25. Sam Walton (Walmart founder, 1918-1992) $65billion

26. Warren Buffett (investor, 1930- ) $64billion



  1. T. Morgan, March 2018

  2. J. Hall, Oct 2012

  3. There is a small group of scholars & historians that believe he died in 1325

  4. T. Morgan, March 2018

  5. de Graft-Johnson, John Coleman, 2017

  6. Goodwin,1957, p. 110

  7. C. Conrad, David. Jan 2009

  8. S. Hamdun & Noël King (edds.),1975, pp. 52–53

  9. De Villiers and Hirtle, pp. 87–88

  10. Bell 1972, p. 224

2 thoughts on “The richest man in history: Who was mansa musa and why was he so Famous?”

  1. I heard the first University on the Planet was in Timbuktu. Thanks for the Information that I never got in School!

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The richest man in history: Who was mansa musa and why was he so Famous?

by Editorial Team time to read: 6 min