Chariot Racers and Malian Emperors: Who Were History’s Richest People In The World?
So who exactly were history’s richest people in the world? If there are two things that our generation is obsessed with, they would be wealth and making lists. Each year the Forbes magazine publishes their Forbes Rich List of the wealthiest and the most famous people alive and we enviously skim to read about their current net worth.
Their earnings seem out of this world, thinking that in our era humankind is seeing not only an unprecedented rise in population but also extraordinary amounts of money owned by single individuals. But we could not be more wrong: if we look back in history, there are plenty of people who have been the richest people in the world in their time -if not more so – than today’s modern billionaires.
Below are just a few individuals that could easily give today’s members of the Forbes Rich List a definite run for their money (no pun intended) and be outright contenders for the title of ‘The richest people in the world ever.’
History’s Richest People 1: Mansa Musa I Of Mali
Mansa Musa I Of Mali (1280 – 1337).
King Mansa Musa I is probably the richest person who ever lived in human history. Although historians have trouble estimating his enormous fortune, they decided to pinpoint it around the $400 billion mark (if we adjust for inflation, as we will do for everyone on this list), which easily makes Mansa Musa I more than four times richer than today’s number one, Bill Gates, who currently tops the Forbes list with $86 billion.
The King, who was born in 1280 and ruled the Mali Empire in West Africa until his death in 1337, amassed considerable wealth by exploiting Mali’s rich natural resources, most notably salt and gold. Yet as a devout Muslim, he used much of this wealth for charity and the public good: he built schools, libraries, universities, and mosques, like the renowned Djinguereber Mosque in Timbuktu. His rule is still considered as the golden age in Mali’s history.
History’s Richest People 2: Augustus Caesar
Augustus Caesar (63 BC – 14 AD).
Everyone knows about the Roman Empire that for centuries stretched all over the then-known western world in Europe and Africa – so it is not hard to imagine that one of the richest people ever is bound to be a Roman emperor. The first Roman Emperor, to be exact: Augustus. He ruled the Romans from 27 B.C., succeeding Emperor Julius Caesar, until his death in 14 A.D and he was pivotal in establishing the Roman Principate, which is regarded by historians as the first phase of the Roman Empire.
Augustus Caesar’s empire was producing 25% to 30% of global wealth at the time and, according to some historians, he personally owned one fifth of it at some point – that would be equivalent to $4.6 trillion today, although the same sources still put Mansa Musa I at the top – while he owned all of Egypt for a bit. Impressive, even for an emperor!
History’s Richest People 3: Gaius Appuleius Diocles
Gaius Appuleius Diocles (104 AD – 146 AD).
Today, some of the richest people in the world are athletes – but we are not talking about basketball or soccer. Back in the day, chariot racing was all the rage and a guy named Gaius Appuleius Diocles was the true star of the game. Born around 104 A.D. in Lusitania, a.k.a. modern Portugal, much like Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s superstar and currently the best-paid modern day athlete, he quickly gained fame in the local game and transferred to the big leagues in Rome.
Over the course of 24 years, he won 1,462 races and managed to amass a fortune that amounts to $15 billion today solely from the prizes he won. His wealth was so vast that he could buy enough grain to feed Rome for a whole year – making him the highest paid athlete of all time.
History’s Richest People 4: King Henry VIII
King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) and his amazing diet.
The second Tudor monarch to occupy the throne of England in the rich and complicated annals of British history, Henry VIII is as famous for his six wives and his feud with the Pope that led to the establishment of the Church of England as he is for his lavish lifestyle. His father’s, Henry VII, financial wisdom and frugality left him with a considerable fortune and made him one of the richest people of his time – he was far wealthier than any of the previous monarchs before him.
The King liked to play cards and dice games so much that he gambled away £3,250 in card games (a considerable sum back then), and he was rumored to have lost the bells of Old St Paul’s Cathedral on a throw of the dice. He also reportedly spent £6 million ($8 million) a year on alcohol and £3.5 million ($4.5 million) on meat, including whale fillets and grilled beaver tales for his feasts – while his second divorce to Anne of Cleves cost him almost £30 million ($40 million). Not bad for a King!
History’s Richest People 5: William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087).
With an estimated net worth of roughly $230 billion, William I remains one of the richest people to have ever lived. Having secured his position as Duke of Normandy, William was knighted by the King and set out to conquer Brittany and Maine – which he did. After Edward the Confessor died with no heirs, William led the successful Norman invasion that consolidated his claim on the throne and won the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066.
As you might have guessed, the overwhelming majority of his wealth came from invading, conquering, pillaging, and redistributing the wealth and the lands of the kingdoms he won over. When he died, his fortune was scattered away among his sons.
So the next time you contemplate today’s riches, try to put them into perspective. As for Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, they would not hold a candle to a certain 14th century African king’s wealth!
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