King of the Mali Empire during the fourteenth century: Mansa Musa. His riches was so immense that it has proven difficult for economics and historians to estimate it. “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, a historian of West Africa at the University of California, said to the BBC. “Mansa Musa’s wealth was beyond words, an indescribable tally that towers above all others.”.
Economic historians are hesitant to estimate Mansa Musa’s wealth, but the internet is less fastidious and spouts a variety of figures that may or may not be close. The most widely quoted estimate of his wealth has it at about $400 billion in today’s money.
The writings of ancient Arab historians and intellectuals account for a large portion of what is known about Mansa Musa (the word “Mansa” is Arabic for “king”). Mansa Musa was born around 1280 and ascended to power in 1312. He had been named Abu-Bakr II’s deputy, much like a modern-day vice president of the United States.
His fame was raised by the pilgrimage. Medieval Europe received word of his lavish caravan and generous spending binge, and Spanish geographer Abraham Cresques depicted Mansa Musa in his 1375 Catalan Atlas. Mansa Musa was shown on the map sitting on a throne in Timbuktu and holding a gold nugget. As a result, Europeans developed an enduring mythological fiction about Timbuktu as a far-off lost city of treasure.
The details of what transpired when he went back home are less clear in the history books. While some claim he passed away in 1332, others claim 1337. Regardless, his sons succeeded to the throne but failed to preserve the empire. While the Empire of Mali had come to an end, Mansa Musa and his great fortune were just getting started in mythology.
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