Mansa Musa (c.1280-1337c.), sat atop the throne of an empire that any other ruler of the world, modern or in antiquity, would envy. Modern economists who have studied the area controlled by Musa calculated his wealth at around $400 billion dollars by todays standards! Most of what is known about this important but little known African ruler has come down to us from Arab historians Al-Umari, Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Battutta. Aside from his celebrated wealth, Musa was known to have invited the Islamic worlds most respected and sought after architects and scholars to his kingdom so as to inaugurate an era of intellectual and architectural prosperity never seen before in West Africa. In fact, it is because of Mansa Musa that we owe the great learning centers and Islamic institutions that made places like Timbuktu a synonym for learning although in more modern times the name has become synonymous with any place obscure, desolate and on the fringes of the earth! Probably the most fascinating aspect of the life of this remarkable African ruler is his magnificent pilgrimage to Mecca in the year 1324 in which he famously led a caravan from his kingdom in West Africa across the Sahara en route to the holy city of Mecca in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia!
This caravan as reported by contemporary historians was reputed to number 60,000 men, with 12,000 servants each carrying large gold bars, also included were nearly 100 camels each carrying bags of gold dust weighing nearly 300 pounds! His generosity became evident as he gave away nearly all of his gold to the poor and trading some for souvenirs throughout his long journey. This extreme act of beneficence however had an unforeseen consequence in the entire Mediterranean world as the value of gold from Egypt to Europe was devalued for over a decade because of its relative abundance! In fact, this act by Mansa Musa has been accurately described as the first time in recorded history that the gold market was controlled by a single individual and indirectly help fund the Italian renaissance! The drawing on this post depicts a map made in the medieval period by European map makers depicting this little known African ruler sitting atop his throne with a huge gold nugget in one hand symbolizing his immense wealth, a gold scepter in the other hand thus demonstrating his royal authority and kingship. I am of the opinion that Mansa Musa was indeed worthy of the title his majesty! The History Channel had a documentary about this king at
History Channel: Mansa Moussa: Pilgrimage of Gold. Another reliable description of Musa can be found by reading Al-Umari’s description of Mansa Musa’s 1324 visit to Cairo.