If you were to be asked this question, you would probably say that it is or was a banker, a software or an industry mogul. You would also probably say that he lived in Europe or North America, Saudi Arabia or even Asia. In fact he or she could be alive today, but we would have no idea who that person is, since it’s a fairly bad idea to tell the whole world you have enough money and influence to buy them all several times over.
Nevertheless, the one person we do know was the wealthiest didn’t come from Europe or the Middle East, nor was he a banker or an oil magnate. In fact he was the king of the Mali Empire in Africa and his name was Musa Keita I or Mansa Musa (King of Kings).
He ruled in North Western Africa in the 14th century CE and his empire stretched over lands which are now part of countries such as: Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, The Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.
When he came to power in 1312 CE, Europe was mostly ravaged by wars and disease, but the Islamic world, including the Mali empire, were flourishing. By taking advantage of the empire’s location as an important link in the trade routes between the Mediterranean and the African West Coast and together with the natural resources of the empire, like salt and gold, made Mansa Musa one of the richest men that have ever lived.
In one pilgrimage he made to Mecca in 1324 he showed the world exactly how ridiculously rich he was. Some eye witness accounts say that his camel caravan was winding through the Sahara Dessert as far as the eye could see. Historians agree that in his company there were thousands of travelers, soldiers and slaves, many carrying with them gold bars and many other riches, while dressed in the finest silks and dresses.On this pious journey he donated so much gold to the pour, bought so many souvenirs and built so many mosques that he destabilized the local economy, especially in Egypt’s Alexandria.
He was also a patron of culture and learning, building many universities and schools throughout his empire, attracting all sorts of students from all the corners of the Muslim world. He became so well known that the Mali Empire was included on the 1375 Catalan Atlas. Here he is presented with a golden crown and holding a golden nugget in his hand.
Thanks to Jessica Smith who made this video together with TED-Ed, without whom we would probably would have never knew for sure who the richest man in the world was.
As well as to John Green and Crash Course for their very, very informative and fun videos on YouTube.