|Biographical detail : ||King of Mali famous for his journey to Makkah
World’s richest person ever, many historians point to was a medieval African king. Munsa Musa of Mali, whose capital was Timbuktu, was worth an estimated $400bn (adjusted for inflation) thanks to his kingdom’s vast reserves of gold and salt, two of the world’s most precious resources of the time.
The King of Mali, Mansa Musa, became famous throughout medieval Europe and the Islamic world when he travelled across the Sahara from Timbuktu to Cairo then to Makkah.
On his hajj to Makkha via Cairo beginning in 1324, according to the Arab historian al-Umari, his entourage included 60,000 porters, 12,000 slaves who each carried 4Ib gold bars and 80 camels carrying 300Ib of gold dust each. The king’s most senior queen is reported to have taken with her 500 maids.
Every day throughout his journey Musa held banquets for poor and is said to have built a mosque for every Friday of his journey to hajj.
In Egypt his generosity, according to the historian, “gave out so much gold that they depressed its value in Egypt and caused its value to fall.” The economy was destabilised for 20 years. According to the historian David W Tschanz, this is the only time recorded in history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean.
With his lavish spending and generosity in Cairo and Makkah, he ran out of money and had to borrow at usurious rates of interest for the return trip. Amazingly considering the distance and time span Musa repaid every moneylender on his eventual return to Timbuktu.
Mansa Musa brought back with him an Arabic library, religious scholars, and most importantly the Muslim architect al-Sahili, who built the great mosques at Gao and Timbuktu and a royal palace. Al-Sahili's most famous work was the chamber at Niani. It is said that his style influenced architecture in the Sudan where, in the absence of stone, the beaten earth is often reinforced with wood, which bristles out of the buildings.
Mansa Musa strengthened Islam and promoted education, trade, and commerce in Mali. The foundations were laid for Walata, Jenne, and Timbuktu becoming the cultural and commercial centres of the Western Sudan, eclipsing those of North Africa and producing Arabic-language black literature in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Diplomatic relations were established and ambassadors were exchanged between Mali and Morocco, and Malinke students were sent to study in Morocco.
Mansa Musa ruled for 25 years, bringing prosperity and stability to Mali and expanding the empire he inherited. Mali achieved the apex of its territorial expansion under Mansa Musa. The Mali Empire extended from the Atlantic coast in the west to Songhai far down the Niger bend to the east: from the salt mines of Taghaza in the north to the legendary gold mines of Wangara in the south.
The sophistication of the Musa’s Mali empire, including the “dignified freedom of women”, was such that some historians believe that it was only devasted by the slave trade carried out by Europe’s 19-century explorers and colonisers.