The 1%, the “job creators”, the mega wealthy; these individuals all have one thing in common (or a bunch of things depending on your view) – a significantly larger bank account than the average individual. Think about a few of the richest people in the world right now. Name a few of those individuals. You likely put Warren Buffett, Elon Musk or Bill Gates at the top of the list. Now think historically. You probably can’t get past those three names. This is partially due to adjusted inflation and figuring out how much ancient kings and wealthy innovators were worth based in today’s dollars.

Via How Africa

There was one man in history that dwarfed all others in terms of wealth. He lived in the 14th century and he was likely from what we would consider a wealthy nation, correct? Not at all, he was actually named Mansa Musa, the King of Mali, and he was worth $400 billion, adjusted for inflation. To make matters more interesting, he came from one of the last places we would have expected, he was a devout follower of a religion that is currently distrusted, he, on most accounts, was a very giving and noble man, and he may have changed history but we don’t have enough facts to accept it as truth.

All of those cryptic statements will be addressed here, but first, we need to understand a bit about the world in which he lived and how he came to become a king in the first place. This article will go in depth with as much information as possible, but it is important to note that much of the information was not written at the time, history was recorded orally, so there are debates on what will be laid out as fact here. In time, this article may be outdated as we uncover more about this man.

Beginning

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We view Africa as a place of extreme poverty and less than average educational standards. In the time of Mansa Musa, though, things were much different. It was a land of extreme wealth and important trade routes.  The kings of the land were poised to be extremely powerful individuals, but it took Musa becoming emperor after the death of Abu-Bakr II for things to really change.

First, he was only known as Musa. Mansa was given as a title upon taking the crown as it was a name which meant king. The empire he inherited included the modern nations of Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali. It stretched over 2,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Chad.

Via African Legends

One of the keys to his wealth and success can be gleamed from one of his titles, of which he held many. Known as Lord of the Mines of Wangara he held dominion over either the only gold mines known at the time, or at least the significant majority of them.

It is said that during his reign, he conquered 24 cities and districts, so it is clear this was not a pacifist king, but as you will learn shortly, he was also not a tyrant.

The Legend or True Story of Musa’s Ascent to the Throne

Via Ancient Origins

The story of how he took the throne is probably the most interesting tale, legend, historical recounting, or whatever you choose to believe, of all time. According to Arab-Egyptian scholar Al-Umari, he quotes Mansa Musa’s story in his own words:

“The ruler who preceded me did not believe that it was impossible to reach the extremity of the ocean that encircles the earth (the Atlantic Ocean). He wanted to reach that (end) and was determined to pursue his plan. So he equipped two hundred boats full of men, and many others full of gold, water and provisions sufficient for several years. He ordered the captain not to return until they had reached the other end of the ocean, or until he had exhausted the provisions and water. So they set out on their journey. They were absent for a long period, and, at last just one boat returned. When questioned the captain replied: ‘O Prince, we navigated for a long period, until we saw in the midst of the ocean a great river which was flowing massively. My boat was the last one; others were ahead of me, and they were drowned in the great whirlpool and never came out again. I sailed back to escape this current.’ But the Sultan would not believe him. He ordered two thousand boats to be equipped for him and his men, and one thousand more for water and provisions. Then he conferred the regency on me for the term of his absence, and departed with his men, never to return nor to give a sign of life.”

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As it was common in the time, the current ruler would appoint a deputy to reign in his stead. Since Anubakari II never returned, he defaulted to the king from then on.

Religion

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While the U.S. has just elected a new president and facing significant struggles with the Islamic or Muslim community in the states (as of the time of this writing), the religion was not always viewed with such distrust and this is for good reason. Any religion has extremists, and before anyone reading this decides that the Muslims are the worst offenders, keep in mind that the KKK, The Aryan Nations, those of the Crusades, the Central African Republic are just examples of the terrorists that we have faced from different radical groups within any religion. This article is not about extremists though, this is about how Musa’s Muslim religious affiliation came to be and why it changed the world in many ways.

On his pilgrimage to Mecca, Musa traveled through the middle east and stopped in multiple cities. In those cities he would spread his wealth, which was altruistic or selfish depending on your world view. Did he do it to gain popularity and respect, or to share the wealth that all but fell in his lap?

Via Kali.tv

The interesting results of his giving on this pilgrimage was that the cities generally saw a huge economic boom to start that lead to increased inflation that ultimately hurt the area in which he gave. While cities such as Cairo, Medina and Mecca were devastated for a decade as the price of goods inflated and the price of metals plummeted due to the influx of the precious gold that he brought, it took Musa to fix the issue on his return trip. He would borrow all the gold his large group could carry at a high interest rate to try to help rectify the unforeseen consequences that he cause.d

During the trip it is reported that he would build a masque every Friday. His religion was most likely due to the trade routes that he either controlled or had his fingers in. He was exposed a great deal to those of a religion he was not completely familiar with and fell in love with the teachings the more he learned.

His Procession

 

Via Catchnews.com

 

During the pilgrimage it is reported that he Musa had 60,000 men, including 12,000 slaves (each carrying four pounds of gold bars) and heralds dressed in silks carrying gold staffs. He also had organized horses and handled bags, all to carry his possessions. Musa ensured that all the animals and men were fed for the entire trip. Of those animals, 80 were camels which each carried up to 300 pounds of gold dust which Musa gave to the poor he met along his trip.

Much of the information we have about his trip was from eyewitness documentation from those along his route. They were in awe of his wealth and procession and multiple records exist making this a fairly safe fact to trust.

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Due to his pilgrimage to Mecca, he became very well known across northern Africa and the Middle East. In Musa’s word, Islam gave him “an entry into the cultured world of the Eastern Mediterranean.” This lead him to spend much of his energy fostering the growth of Islam within his empire.

The pilgrimage took place from 1324 – 1325. On his return trips many scholars, architects and those that were viewed as highly educated joined his procession. Of the cities in his empire, Gao, was recaptures in 1325 and once Musa heard this news he made a detour to visit the city.

Gao was a rebellious but important trading center in his empire, so it held great importance to him. Upon arrival he was met with two hostages. These were the sons of the Gao king, Suleiman Nar and Ali Kolon. When he returned to Niani he had the two boys with him and educated him in his court.

Lasting Legacy

Mosque via Trip Advisor

Timbuktu and Gao became permanent fixtures in his empire when he returned from his journey. With architects from a region of Spain called Andalusia and Cairo, he was able to build his grand palace in Timbuktu. This palace, the Djinguereber Mosque still stands today.

Timbuktu also quickly became the center of trade, as well as culture and Islam. Merchants from Hausaland, Egypt and other kingdoms throughout Africa quickly filled the markets in the city. A university was founded shortly after, but more were built in the Malian cities Djenne and Segou.

The University of Sankore in Timbuktu was staffed under Musa’s reign with mathematicians, jurists, and astronomers and became a center of learning and culture which brought Muslim scholars from all over Africa and the Middle East.

Via NewsRescue.com

In 1330, Timbuktu was invaded and conquered by the kingdom of Mossi. While Gao had already been recaptured by Musa’s general, it was shortly after that Timbuktu was retaken by Musa as well. Once he had it firmly under his control he built a rampart and fort and added a standing army to protect the city.

While the palace is no longer standing, both the university and mosque can be found in Timbuktu to this day. Of note, the Snakore University held the largest collection of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria, housed 25,000 students and held about a million manuscripts.

The End of Musa’s Reign

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A man with so much power and wealth could have been a tyrant and destroyed the world he knew. Instead, partly or mostly, due to his religion and his good nature, he made a positive impact (for the most part) on the world in which he lived.

It would seem, a man of such fame and respect, would have a solid date when he left this world recorded somewhere. Unfortunately, to this day historians debate the end of his reign.

While it is widely accepted that he ruled for 25 years putting his death in the year of 1332, the debates still rage on due to an account by Ibn-Khaldun in which he stated that  Mansa Musa was alive when the city of Tlemcen in Algeria was conquered in 1337. The sticking point here is that Ibn-Khaldun stated that Musa sent a representative of his court to congratulate the victory in Algeria.

Via Planet.fr

 

While there is little solid information about when Musa died, it is safe to say that he lived a life that many would be envious of. Not envious due to his wealth and power, but of his wisdom and good nature in how he used that wealth and power. $400 billion is an unfathomable amount of money for one individual to hold, but he did so with grace and humbleness by most accounts. At his time, he was so well respected that he was painted on the maps of the time.

While he lived in a world that had a fair share of war and strife, he was not a warmonger or tyrant that ravaged the world in which he lived. Some of the notions that we may not agree with, such as his slaves, were common at the time. While not all slaves in his world were treated equally, accounts depict a man that treated them with respect and made them as comfortable as could be expected.

A Historical Anomaly

Civilization Mod via Ancient Origins

 

Finally, as mentioned at the start of all of this, Musa may have changed history if we could find more proof. Some scholars expect that he actually found the America’s before anyone else, but did not know it. Unfortunately, because most of the records we have were oral and later written, that information is scarce and unreliable.

One day, though, the history books may change and tell a different story about the first people to step foot on American soil. The tragedy is, until that day, very few people know anything about this man. We focus more on individuals that left death and fear in their wake, such as Genghis Khan or Kublai Khan. We worry less about those that lived a quiet and humble life with their power and fantasize more about those that used their power to destroy and hurt the people of their world. What does that say about us?