Salt and Gold
When we think of the world’s richest man we may consider contemporary tech giants or retail billionaires; however the richest man who ever lived was the ruler of a vast African Empire.
Mansa Musa was the ruler of the Malian Empire from 1312. He took control of the Empire following the disappearance of his predecessor Abu – Bakr who undertook a sea voyage to cross the Atlantic, but never returned.
Mansa Musa gathered a vast wealth estimated to be equivalent to 400 billion dollars. His wealth was accumulated via gold and Salt trading from his extensive West African Empire.
As a devout Muslim Mansa Musa left his Empire to make pilgrimage to Mecca. He travelled with a caravan of tens of thousands of men, some were soldiers, some were slaves and some were heralds. Also in his caravan were hundreds of horses, camels and elephants. The horses carried hundreds of pounds of gold. Mansa Musa spent freely along the route of his travels and exacted influence in the cities along his route. In Cairo his generosity to the people of Egypt left such a large quantity of gold as gifts and as payment for goods that in the following 12 years the value of gold in Egypt depreciated.
Mansa Musa used his time in Mecca to meet with scholars. When he returned to his Malian Empire he brought scholars, astronomers and architects with him, along with a desire to build. He built a mosque each week in his Empire and also founded a wondrous library in Timbuktu.
Mansa Musa encouraged arts, literature and architecture within his Empire. He embarked on programs of building madrassas. His masterpiece mosque the Djingvereber mosque still stands today, as does the University of Sankore.
During times of conflict the manuscripts of the great Library of Timbuktu were entrusted to individuals to prevent their loss and destruction and many survive today. Most recently these manuscripts were threatened by the Islamist rebels attacked Timbuktu. Thankfully they were smuggled out of the city to safe storage before the libraries were burned.