Mansa Musa was a king in ancient Mali and perhaps the wealthiest person ever. Musa was the grandson of Sundiata’s brother. Sundiata secured trade routes through Mali. The kingdom became prosperous by taxing the traders who brought salt from the north and gold from south of the kingdom. Mali conquered many neighboring lands and built a new empire in the same region as ancient Ghana.

Unlike his granduncle, Sundiata, Musa was a faithful Muslim. In 1324, he made a hajj, or sacred visit, to the city on the Arabian Peninsula where Islam developed. On his journey, Musa’s great wealth captured the attention of the Arab world.

Mansa Musa


Musa I (c. 1280 – c. 1337) was Mansa (king) of the ancient West African kingdom of Mali. (see the full map below)

Mansa Musa was said to have taken more than 500 people with him on the hajj, each carrying a staff of solid gold. When he passed through the Egyptian city of Cairo, legends say the Malian king gave away so much gold that the price fell, and the economy was affected for over twenty years. The appearance of a wealthy king from a faraway land made a deep impression on the people he encountered, causing Mali to appear on maps throughout the Middle East and Europe. Sub-Saharan Africa became well-known north of the great desert for the first time.

The kingdom of Mali weakened after the death of Musa, and the neighboring kingdom of Songhai developed into the last black empire of pre-colonial West Africa. Songhai was destroyed after a bloody war with Morocco. Morocco’s Sultan wanted West African gold, so in 1590, he sent an army of 3000 men south across the Sahara Desert. The spears and lances of the Songhai warriors were no match for the cannons and muskets of the Moroccans, but the fighting continued long after the Songhai government had been destroyed. After ten years, the Sultan lost interest and abandoned his army in Songhai. The Moroccan soldiers were either killed or absorbed into the local population. The Moroccan invasion destroyed Songhai and the trade routes that had brought prosperity to the region for hundreds of years.

The World’s Richest Man?

Mansa Musa was the wealthiest person in History according to a calculation by the website Celebrity Net Worth. After adjusting for inflation, Musa was worth $400 billion. Forbes magazine estimates that the wealthiest people, including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates, have accumulated only a fraction of the wealth of the ancient African king. Click here for Forbes’ current estimate of the world’s richest people.


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Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on African History.

Mali (map)


Mali grew into an empire during the rule of Sundiata’s grandson, Musa. It reached its greatest extent about 1350.