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Imagine being so wealthy that the economy of the cities and empires you visit collapse

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The tale of Mali’s King Musa Keita is arguably the greatest display of wealth in human history. Consider being the richest and most giving king in human history, holding over half of all the gold in the ancient world.               AD 4nXcvICO1 MOGFd9hs6qU23DieZIh7dVQz7EOzbLu5w7evJguHPDdXmKlH3L3aIjCSYGoNOyuMcRl6LI42V GMW3H9231Du

This is the mind-boggling story of Mansa (King) Musa of Mali, the richest and most generous king.

LINEAGE AND ASCENSION

The Mali Empire was one of the largest and most influential empires in medieval Africa. It stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Niger River and was a regional superpower. Mali’s territories were rich with natural resources- the main ones being gold and salt, which were mined and exported all across Africa, the Mediterranean, and Eurasia. Gold and salt were regarded as two of the most precious resources in those times, along with books, copper, silver, and bronze.

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The kingdom had an abundance of these resources and thus quickly became a vast and strong empire. Its territories included modern-day Senegal, southern Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Muhammad ibn Qu, who passed away in 1312 while exploring the ocean, was the one who came before Musa. This put Musa Kieta on the throne and he thus became the king of the vast and lavish Mali empire in the year 1312. Musa was a generous and wise king and a devoted Muslim. The king expanded his wealth by escalating mining production, controlling the trade of salt and gold, securing trade routes, and imposing taxes and tariffs on trade. This substantially boosted the income of the kingdom. Over a very long period, Mali had created a large reserve of gold. Mali is also suspected to have been involved in the trade of many other goods, such as ivory, slaves, spices, silks, and ceramics. 

THE GREAT HAJJ EXPEDITION-

Being a devoted follower of Islam, Musa decided to carry out a very lavish and long Hajj to Mecca. Here comes the biggest wealth flex of all time. King Musa was on the opposite spectrum of humility. He organized a huge convoy that stretched as long as the eye could see, consisting of more than 60,000 people- soldiers, slaves, and citizens—all wearing fine silk clothes and carrying gold jewellery and bars. The caravan also included animals- camels, horses, and goats—which were transporting lots of gold. An immeasurable amount of Gold.

Musa made his pilgrimage between 1324 and 1325, spanning 2700 miles. On his way to Mecca, he gave away a lot of gold to the poor and donated to several learning and religious institutions. Present estimates put the donations at close to $1 billion.

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He visited a lot of places, such as Timbuktu, Cairo, and Medina, on his way to Mecca. It is said that he built a mosque every Friday in these places during the entire duration of his pilgrimage. 

CASUALLY CAUSING MASS INFLATION-

He showered the cities of Mecca, Cairo, and Medina with gold, giving away a staggering 567 Kilograms as if it were mere pocket change. This act of incredible generosity backfired spectacularly. The sheer volume of gold in circulation caused inflation. Prices skyrocketed as everyone flooded the market with the devalued gold. The abundance of gold caused its worth to plummet for over a decade. 

Realizing his mistake, Mansa Musa tried to stabilize the economy by borrowing back the very gold he had given away. The lenders in Cairo, seeing an opportunity, charged exorbitant interest rates. This backfired again – the borrowed gold, with the added interest, drove the price of gold to never-before-seen heights, causing a corresponding drop in prices for other goods.

Finally, Mansa Musa settled his debts in one massive payment, including the hefty interest. This, however, flooded the market once more, causing the price of gold to tumble again.

In a single pilgrimage, Mansa Musa triggered inflation, attempted to fix it, and ultimately worsened the situation. The impact wasn’t limited to just three cities; it rippled across Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe.

Historians who visited Cairo, even a decade after Musa’s shenanigans, recorded that the market still had not recovered. Shihab al-Din al-‘Umari, who visited Cairo shortly after Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca, noted that it was ‘a lavish display of power, wealth, and unprecedented by its size and pageantry.’

All the money that he gave away is estimated to be a meagre 2.5% of his total riches. We are talking about a man who does not know the meaning of poor! 

ECONOMIC IMPACTS-

Many historians regard this as the earliest example of the term ‘Inflation.’

A rare case where charity and generosity sent the economies of cities into a toss and decade long recession. Inflation was mostly caused by the quantity of money that Mansa Musa brought into Cairo. Thus, gold lost value when there was an abundance of it in the economy. The purchasing power of Gold decreased.

Let’s say, the cost of a camel is 1 gold bar. The number of people who have 1 gold bar is less. Therefore, only those who have a gold bar to spare can purchase a camel.

Now, when Mansa Musa gave away gold to everyone, suddenly everybody could afford a camel. Seeing this, the camel seller will increase the price of a camel to 10 gold bars to keep the massive demand in check. 

What happened here is that the same 10 gold bars that would have got you 10 camels can only let you purchase 1 camel now. The purchasing power of Gold as a medium of exchange has decreased. 

So to buy the same camel, you end up paying a lot of gold. 

It is as simple as ‘if nobody has it, it’s special. If everyone has it, it’s worthless.’

This does not just stop at a camel. It trickles down to everyday food, products, and services. The currency is basically worthless. 

According to some sources, the action caused a loss of $1.5 billion in current currency.

LESSONS FOR PRESENT DAY

Mansa Musa’s story offers a valuable lesson in modern day economics as well as the lavish lifestyle of kings of the past. First and foremost is the importance of wealth distribution and its impact on economic stability. While there is no doubt that Mansa Musa had the best intentions while donating his wealth to the poor, he lacked the foresight to think about the consequences of flooding the economy with gold. And by doing so, the concept of inflation was made known to more and more people. His tale also serves as a caution for economist and policy-makers today

One other thing is the spread of impact. The ripples of his pilgrimage and its economic impact had ripple effects that spread across continents. The story of the King of Mali influenced trade routes, currencies, markets and prices of commodities. His story is the answer to the evergreen question that economists get asked- Why can’t we just print more money? That way, everyone is rich. 

Lastly, Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage highlights the delicate balance between wealth and inflation. While wealth can boost economic growth and prosperity, an unchecked inflow of riches can lead to inflation and all the headaches that come with that. It also erodes the purchasing power of citizens and destabilizes economies. 

This lesson is particularly relevant in an era of unprecedented wealth inequality, where the actions of a few ultra-rich individuals can have disproportionate effects on global economic dynamics.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MANSA MUSA?

Mansa Musa returned to Mali a year and a half later. He was a very devoted Muslim and a patron of education and religion. He funded hundreds of mosques, universities, and institutions across the empire, especially in Timbuktu. The prestigious tales of his great Hajj spread all over the continents of Africa and even Europe. So much so that he was revered as a god by everyone because of his kindness and generosity, which were relatively unusual in those days.

Mansa Musa was immortalized when he was included in the Catalan Atlas, made in 1375, One of the most prominent maps of medieval Europe. The king is seen holding a golden scepter and a huge and shiny gold nugget. 

He managed to put himself and his empire on the map and that is the greatest achievement a king could do. Make his kingdom known around the world.
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IN CONCLUSION

Modern attempts to estimate Mansa Musa’s wealth go all the way up to Rs 33,00,000 crore in today’s currency, making him the world’s richest man who ever lived. I mean, come on, the man owned more than half the gold ever discovered in the old world. The man possessed an abundance of livestock, salt, silk, rare earth metals, and other items.

That brings us to the end of this ‘lavish and grandiose’ article.

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