It is impossible to truly know who owns the title of the richest man in the world but there have been many estimates that place The Mali Empires' Mansa (Sultan, conqueror, or emporer) Musa at the number one spot. Mansa Musa (1280-1337) ruled over the Mali empire while it contained some of the worlds largest active gold and salt mines. He was a famed builder who during his Haj to Mecca is said to have built a mosque every Friday. One of his greatest architectural projects he funded was the building, filling, and staffing of the University of Sankore.
It was Mansa Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca however that would make him the most famous. It is said that his caravan was made up of 60,000 people, of which 12,000 were slaves. 80 camels were used to each carry hundreds of pounds of gold which was distributed out along the way to the rich and poor alike as gifts. So great was his distribution of gifts of gold that he devalued gold to a degree larger enough to cause a surge in prices of food and goods. Cairo's economy took ten years to recover from his generosity. One man was able to effect the price of gold all over the Mediterranean. Mansa Musa did recognize the impact of his distribution and on his return trip home he borrowed as much gold as he could back, often at high interest rates.
Mansa Musa and the Mali Empire was illustrated in the Catalan Atlas of 1375, providing one of the first accurate pieces of information about Africa to Europe. In addition to his belief in Islam, Mansa Musa also was known to worship idols as well as sacrificing animals to trees and stones. We will never know if he caused the devaluation of the gold market on purpose as many suspect as this would have moved his empire to the center of the economic world. What we do know is that traders of today could only dream of having that kind of influence!