Did You Know The Richest Man on Earth Was an African Man?

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

4 Things to Know About 14th C. King of Mali, Mansa Musa

1. Born into Family of Rulers

Mansa Musa (Musa I of Mali) was born c. 1280 into a family of Malian rulers. He came to power in 1312 C.E., after the previous king, Abu Bakr II, disappeared at sea during an expedition of the Atlantic Ocean. King Musa inherited a kingdom that was already wealthy, but his trade expansion into other territories made Mali the wealthiest kingdom in Africa. His riches came from salt and gold deposits in the Mali kingdom, as well as elephant ivory.

According to the British Museum, during his reign, the empire of Mali accounted for almost half of the Old World's gold.

2. Pilgrimage to Mecca

Prior to his pilgrimage or hajj to Mecca, Mali was not well known outside of Africa. Between 1324 and 1325, this journey spanned 2,700 miles across the Saharan Desert to Egypt and included a caravan of:

  • 60,000 men

  • 12,000 slaves each carrying 4 pound gold bars

  • 80 camels carrying 50–300 pounds of gold dust

  • His entire royal court and officials,

  • Soldiers

  • Entertainers

  • Merchants

  • Camel drivers

  • Goats and sheep for food

Musa gave gold to the poor he met in the cities he passed, and traded gold for souvenirs. His journey was documented by several eyewitnesses along his route, who were in awe of his wealth and extensive procession, and records exist in a variety of sources, including journals, oral accounts, and histories.

His journey put Mali on the map and led to a drawing of Musa sitting on a golden throne atop Timbuktu, holding a piece of gold in his hand, in the Catalan Atlas map from 1375.

3. Egypt's Gold Crash

While his generosity was celebrated initially, the sudden influx of gold in cities throughout Egypt decreased its overall value for the next 12 years. Some historians believe Musa's pilgrimage was less out of religious devotion, but rather to garner international attention to the wealth of Mali while destabilizing Cairo's economy – which was the leading gold market at the time. In order to relocate these markets to territories he controlled, Musa would have to first affect Cairo's gold economy.

4. Growing the Kingdom of Mali

After his return from Mecca, King Musa brought architects and scholars from across the Islamic world to revitalize cities in his kingdom, like Gao and, most famously, Timbuktu, by building mosques, schools, and large public buildings. Timbuktu soon became a centre of education and people travelled from around the world to study at what would become the Sankore University. His expansive kingdom included all or parts of modern-day:

  • Burkina Faso

  • Chad

  • Gambia

  • Guinea

  • Mali

  • Mauritania

  • Niger

  • Nigeria

  • Senegal

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