Background and Rise to Power
Musa I was born around AD 1280 in the Malian Empire. Musa I is better known as Mansa Musa, or Musa, the king of kings. In the Malian Empire, when a king went away on a trip, a deputy was chosen to run the country while the king was gone. If the king died while away, the deputy was appointed as ruler. Supposedly, Mansa Musa was chosen as deputy while the Malian king went to explore the limits of the Atlantic Ocean. The king was never heard from again and Mansa Musa was appointed as king.
Mansa Musa was a devout Muslim, and following the teachings of Islam, Mansa Musa went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Mansa Musa left Mali in 1324, reportedly with 60,000 men. Among these men were 12,000 slaves carrying 4-lb gold bars and 80 camels with between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust. Mansa Musa would have his slaves sprinkle the gold dust wherever he walked, and Musa also used this gold to buy souvenirs from cities he passed through, including Medina and Cairo. Musa was also said to have built a mosque every Friday while on his pilgrimage. Mansa Musa spent so much gold on his pilgrimage that it took the Mediterranean a decade to get the economy back to normal. the amount of gold in circulation devalued the metal, and other goods super inflated in price to adjust to the new found wealth.
Mansa Musa's pilgrimage had been a political statement along with a religious statement. Mansa Musa flaunted his wealth in an attempt to get Mediterranean traders to come to Mali, and soon enough, traders from Venice, Genoa, and Granada were coming to trade in Timbuktu. Along with advertising Mali, Mansa Musa also brought many artisans back with him from all over the Mediterranean, including Egypt, Spain, and Italy. These architects and artists he used to build up the two main cities in Mali, Timbuktu and Gao. Mansa Musa had these artists build Sankore Madrasah, or the University of Sankore, the Great Mosque, and his own personal palace. When Timbuktu was briefly conquered by the Mossi Kingdom in 1330, Mansa Musa also had these architects design a rampart and stone fort for the city.
Mansa Musa died around 1332, though some believe he may have lived up until 1337. Mansa Musa makes our list because he was the only man to have been able to sway the entire Mediterranean economy. He is also one of the few men in the running for the richest man to ever live. Mansa Musa changed the Mediterranean world as well as the whole of Africa.