Historic Adventurers: Mansa Musa and North Africa

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
In 1324, Mansa Musa, the Emperor of Mali, set off across North Africa on a pilgrimage to Mecca, as many faithful Muslims have done for hundreds of years. However, this pilgrimage was different.

Mansa Musa ascended to the throne of Mali in 1307 and inherited an empire that was started by his grandfather, Sundiata (the Lion King).

Quietly, Mansa Musa continued to expand the vast Malian gold mining economy that had flourished in that region for hundreds of years.

The leader stationed his capital city at Timbuktu and created the city as a center for learning. Kingdoms in Europe were finally emerging from the Dark Ages when Mansa Musa led his people into a Golden Age (literally and symbolically). He built universities, libraries, hospitals, and religious study centers that rivaled any contemporary society.

The gold that his people produced was traded for anything they needed, and much of their gold made it into Europe. Some historians claim that 75 percent of Europe's gold during the Middle Ages came from Mali.

In 1324, Mansa Musa decided to explore the areas surrounding his empire by taking his hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). This journey would take him and his crew across North Africa, through Egypt, and into modern-day Saudi Arabia, where he would encounter arguably the largest collection of intellectuals anywhere in the world.

Mansa Musa also used the journey across the Sahara Desert to bring Mali’s gold production to the world through excessive generosity. Mansa Musa’s crew consisted of 60,000 men, along with 80 camels that each carried 300 pounds of gold.

As Mansa Musa rode through Cairo, he threw gold to the people that lined the streets to see this mysterious, rich emperor. Legend has it that when he met with Egypt’s sultan, he filled the entire room with gold from the floor to the ceiling.

The amount of gold that Mansa Musa gave to Egypt was so massive that he single-handedly destabilized the value of gold throughout the Mediterranean region and sent Egypt into an economic downward spiral.

“This is the richest guy anyone has ever seen, that’s the point,” says Rudolph Ware, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan. “They’re trying to find words to explain that.”
Mansa Musa’s journey caused such a stir that he was featured on the famous Catalan Atlas, which depicted the known world to the people of the Iberian Peninsula.

“There are pictures of him holding a scepter of gold on a throne of gold holding a cup of gold with a golden crown on his head. Imagine as much gold as you think a human being could possess and double it, that’s what all the accounts are trying to communicate,” Ward says.

Mansa Musa’s vast wealth and fame, gained from his adventure across the Sahara, led him to be named almost unanimously as the richest person of all time.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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