The Richest Person in History

Names such as Carnegie, Rockefeller or Rothschild are all synonymous with vast fortunes, and rightly so. However when it comes to deciding the individual with the largest ever fortune things get more complicated. A smart guess would be to look at some of the wealthiest people around in the time of the Roman Empire, such as Marcus Licinius Crassus, said to have a personal net worth equal to the annual budget of the Roman treasury.

But modern experts tend to agree on one man for the title of the richest person to ever live: Musa Keita I of Mali.

Musa is believed to have amassed $400 billion in today’s money during his 25 year reign as the tenth Emperor of the Mali Empire, much of it down to producing over half the world’s salt and gold.

400 billion dollars.

To put it in perspective, America sent a man to the Moon for less than half that. With that sum you could employ 5 million British soldiers for the next five years and build the world’s largest standing army. You could even give $4 to every person that’s ever lived.

mansa-musa
Worth more than Norway, doesn’t wear socks. Credit: Abraham Cresques

It’s perhaps his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 that shows us best the extent of his wealth. Being the richest man in the world, he didn’t grab a last-minute ticket with Ryanair and hope the three star hotel he’d booked had a working shower. No, he travelled the 3,000 mile journey with a procession of 60,000 men, each of whom carried four pounds of gold bars.

But don’t forget his 80-200 camels, all of which carried yet more hundreds of pounds of gold. As a devout Muslim with more money than three-quarters of all modern-day countries, he made sure to build mosques along his travels, reportedly one every Friday. Impressive enough even before you find out his pilgrimage lasted a year.

As he passed through the different regions, he spent, traded or gave away so much gold that he actually devalued its price in several cities. For ten years. To combat the sudden inflation he’d caused, Musa borrowed as much as gold as he could at extremely high interest. This gives him another ridiculous accolade as the only man in recorded history that controlled the price of gold in the entire Mediterranean.

Musa Keita’s fortune didn’t survive very long after his death, but the legend of the astonishingly rich Malian King lives on today.

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