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Mansa Musa depicted holding a gold coin from the 1375 Catalan Atlas. (Public Domain)

SCIENCE & TECH: Mansa Musa, History’s Richest Man, Wrecked Egypt’s Economy Just by Passing Through

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In 2022, Forbes has named Elon Musk as the richest person in the world today. But his $219 billion is said to be nothing compared to the tremendous wealth of a 14th Century West African ruler named Mansa Musa (Musa I of Mali).

Mansa Musa ruled the kingdom of Mali from 1312 to 1337 and was so rich and extravagant in his spending that he wrecked the Egyptian economy, for more than a decade, just by passing through!

The Malian ruler amassed his fortune, estimated at over $400 billion (adjusted for inflation), through the mining of salt and gold in his kingdom. He first caught the world’s attention, and continues to be famous today, for his epic hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in 1324. Stories say that Musa I made the pilgrimage of an estimated 4,000 miles (6437.38 km) with a caravan including tens of thousands of soldiers, heralds, civilians, and slaves. His 500 heralds were draped in Persian silk and carried golden staffs. Camels and horses accompanied the people, carrying hundreds of pounds of gold bars.

Mansa Musa depicted holding a gold coin from the 1375 Catalan Atlas. ( Public Domain )

One of the key events on this grand journey took place in Egypt – a country Mansa Musa changed for over a decade. At first, he faced a small political issue with Cairo’s ruler, al-Malik al-Nasir. Allegedly he refused to meet the Egyptian leader “because he would be obliged to kiss the ground and the sultan’s hand,” according to texts from historian Shihab al-Umari.

But the problem was soon resolved, and it’s said that while he was in Egypt, Musa I was generous with his wealth and purchases of food for his retinue and souvenirs to bring home. No matter their social status, everyone who entered his presence received some of the king’s riches. He’s even said to have gifted gold dust to impoverished people.

At first this thrilled the Egyptians; but Mansa Musa’s well-intentioned gifts of gold actually depreciated the value of the precious metal in Egypt, and the economy took a major hit following the king’s passage through the country. It’s believed that it took the Egyptian economy at least 12 years to bounce back from Mansa Musa’s short visit!

Top Image: Mansa Musa’s travels through Egypt changed the country’s economy for over a decade. Source: HistoryNmoor/ CC BY-SA 4.0

By Alicia McDermott



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