Mansa Musa

The best estimate of Mansa Musa’s wealth puts his riches at an absurd $400 billion.

Musa I (1280 – 1337) was the ninth Mansa of the Mali Empire, which reached its territorial peak during his reign. Musa is known for his wealth and generosity. He has been subject to popular claims that he is the wealthiest person in history, but his actual wealth is not known with any certainty. His riches came from the mining of significant gold and salt deposits in the Mali Empire, along with the slave and ivory trade.

Mansa is a word for a ruler, generally translated as “king”. It is particularly known as the title of the rulers of the Mali Empire, and is sometimes translated as “emperor”. Mansa Musa came to power in 1312 C.E., after the previous king, Abu Bakr II, for whom he’d served as deputy, disappeared at sea. Mansa Abu Bakr II had departed on a large fleet of ships to explore the Atlantic Ocean and never returned.

Is that true?

Some confusion remains about Abu Bakr II. Some believe that it was Muhammad ibn Qu that was Musa’s predecessor. They say that he succeeded his father, Mansa Qu, and was the predecessor of Mali’s most famous ruler, Mansa Musa. The exact dates of Muhammad ibn Qu’s reign are not known with certainty, though his reign was certainly brief. His father’s predecessor, Sakura, was killed at some point between 1298 and 1308, and his own successor Musa took the throne in 1307 or 1312. Musa said that his predecessor (whom he did not specifically name) disappeared leading an expedition into the Atlantic Ocean.

Mansa Musa Facts

According to 14th Century Syrian historian Shibab al-Umari,
Abu-Bakr was obsessed with the Atlantic Ocean and what lay beyond it.
He reportedly embarked on an expedition with a fleet of 2,000 ships and
thousands of men, women, and slaves. They sailed off, never to return.

Some, like the late American historian Ivan Van Sertima, entertain the idea that they reached South America. But there is no evidence of this.

Mansa Musa inherited a kingdom that was already wealthy, but his work in expanding trade made Mali the wealthiest kingdom in Africa. His riches came from mining significant salt and gold deposits in the Mali kingdom. Elephant ivory and the slave trade were major sources of his wealth.

Musa’s rule came at a time when European nations were struggling due to raging civil wars and a lack of resources. under the rule of Musa, the prosperous empire grew to span a sizeable portion of West Africa, from the Atlantic coast to the inland trading hub of Timbuktu and parts of the Sahara Desert.

As the territory grew while Musa was on the throne, so did the economic standing of its citizens. It wasn’t until 1324 that the world outside of Mali’s border would get a glimpse of the king’s expansive wealth. A devout Muslim in a majority Muslim community, Musa set off on a journey to Mecca for his Hajj[1] pilgrimage. But the king didn’t travel by himself. Arab writers from the time said that he traveled with an entourage of tens of thousands of people and dozens of camels, each carrying 300 pounds of gold.

While in Cairo, Mansa Musa met with the Sultan of Egypt, and his caravan spent and gave away so much gold that the overall value of gold decreased in Egypt for the next 12 years. After his return from Mecca, Mansa Musa began to revitalize cities in his kingdom. He built mosques and large public buildings in cities like Gao and, most famously, Timbuktu.

Timbuktu became a major Islamic university center during the 14th century due to Mansa Musa’s developments. Mansa Musa brought architects and scholars from across the Islamic world into his kingdom, and the reputation of the Mali kingdom grew.

The kingdom of Mali reached its greatest extent around the same time, a bustling, wealthy kingdom thanks to Mansa Musa’s expansion and administration. Mansa Musa annexed 24 cities during his reign.

Contemporary accounts of Musa’s wealth are so breathless that it’s almost impossible to get a sense of just how wealthy and powerful he truly was…

Rudolph Butch Ware, associate professor of history at the University of California

Mansa Musa Facts

During the reign of Mansa Musa, the empire of Mali accounted
for almost half of the Old World’s gold, according to the British Museum.

The king reportedly left Mali for Mecca with a caravan of 60,000 men.

He took his entire royal court and officials, soldiers, griots
(entertainers), merchants, camel drivers, and 12,000 slaves,
as well as a long train of goats and sheep for food.

A city whose inhabitants, all the way down to the slaves, were clad in gold brocade and the finest Persian silk. A hundred camels were in tow, each camel carrying hundreds of pounds of pure gold.

Mansa Musa returned from Mecca with several Islamic scholars, including direct descendants of the prophet Muhammad and an Andalusian poet and architect by the name of Abu Es Haq es Saheli, who is widely credited with designing the famous Djinguereber mosque. In addition to encouraging the arts and architecture, he also funded literature and built schools, libraries, and mosques.

Timbuktu soon became a center of education and people traveled from around the world to study at what would become Sankore University. The best estimate of Mansa Musa’s wealth puts his riches at an absurd $400 billion. That is more than triple the net worth of the current richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. Mansa Musa’s palace no longer exists but the mosque and the university he built in Timbuktu still stand.

You’re Dead To Me – Mansa Musa Podcast

  1. The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. Hajj is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and of supporting their family during their absence from home. [Back]

Further Reading


National Geographic
Soft Schools
You’re Dead To Me

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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