Mansa Musa (reigned c. 1312 – c. 1337) was the ninthMansa (Ruler or King) of the Mali Empire, which reached its territorial peak during his reign. Musa is known for his wealth and generosity. He has been subject to popular claims that he is the wealthiest person in history, but the extent of his actual wealth is not known with any certainty.
It is known from local manuscripts and travellers accounts that Mansa Musa’s wealth came principally from the Mali Empire controlling and taxing the trade in salt from northern regions and especially from gold panned and mined in the gold rich regions to the south: Bambuk, Wangara, Bure, Galam, Taghaza and other such kingdoms over many centuries.
Over a very long period Mali had created a large reserve of gold. Mali is also suspected to have been involved in the trade in many goods such as ivory, slaves, spices, silks, and ceramics. However presently little is known about the extent or mechanics of these trades. At the time of Musa’s ascension to the throne, Mali in large part consisted of the territory of the former Ghana Empire, which Mali had conquered. The Mali Empire consisted of land that is now part of Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, the Gambia, and the modern state of Mali.
Mansa Musa went on Hajj to Mecca in 1324, traveling with an enormous entourage and a vast supply of gold. En route, he spent time in Cairo, where his lavish gift-giving is said to have noticeably affected the value of gold in Egypt and garnered the attention of the wider Muslim world. Musa expanded the borders of the Mali Empire, in particular incorporating the cities of Gao and Timbuktu into its territory. Mansa Musa sought closer ties with the rest of the Muslim world, particularly the Mamluk and Marinid Sultanates. He recruited scholars from the wider Muslim world to travel to Mali, such as the Andalusian poet Abu Ishaq al-Sahili, and helped establish Timbuktu as a center of Islamic learning.
Mansa Musa ascended to power in the early 1300s under unclear circumstances. According to Musa’s own account, his predecessor as Mansa of Mali, presumably Muhammad ibn Qu, launched two expeditions to explore the Atlantic Ocean (200 ships for the first exploratory mission and 2,000 ships for the second). The Mansa led the second expedition himself, and appointed Musa as his deputy to rule the empire until he returned. When he did not return, Musa was crowned as mansa himself, marking a transfer of the line of succession from the descendants of Sunjata to the descendants of his brother Abu Bakr.
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