Ancient African history remains a mystery to many of us. There are so many great kingdoms/empires that existed many years back that we are just rediscovering. They have rich histories, which are very interesting. An easy way of learning about them is by reading about one ancient kingdom at a time. Let's talk about one of the greatest kingdoms from African history, the Mali Empire.
The Mali Empire was one of the strongest and largest empires in Africa. It was established around the 13th century and lasted until the 17th century. It is estimated to have had 40 - 50 million people. It stretched from present-day countries of Mali, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. So who established this great empire?
King Sundiata Keita, in the 13th century, united several small kingdoms to form the Mali empire. King Sundiata was a skilful warrior, hunter, and a great military strategist. He was also known as the "Lion King" (If you enjoy reading about ancient African leaders, check out our other posts on the king of kindness, or you can read about a legendary Zulu King or the King Shark).
Ancient Mali was rich in natural resources. Some of the resources that were present included gold, salt, copper, ivory, and slaves. Gold was mined in two rivers, the Senegal River and Niger River. Salt was mined in the Sahara desert, while ivory came from elephants.
Gold was one of Mali's natural resources mined in both the Senegal and Niger River. Captured by Michael Steinberg
The Mali empire's location was strategic because it was in the middle of a trade route. It meant that they were able to easily trade with other kingdoms such as those in North Africa. It also meant that Malians (people from Mali) influenced the culture.
Under the rule of King Sundiata Keita, the kingdom expanded and grew. However, Ancient Mali grew the most under King Keita's nephew, Mansa Musa.
Mansa Musa was the grandnephew of King Sundiata. He ruled the Mali kingdom from the year 1312 C.E to 1337 C.E. During his time as king, he expanded the Mali territory. He brought architects from all over Africa and the Middle East to design new buildings for the cities.
One thing that Mansa Musa is known for is his wealth. He is the richest person to have ever lived in modern history. Historians have said that he was richer than anyone could ever imagine or describe. Today's billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos do not have as much wealth as Musa had.
You may wonder what made him so rich? Mansa Musa introduced a taxing system in the kingdom. Taxes were introduced to trade, resources such as gold, and when they conquered a new city. Due to taxation, and the strategic trading route, Ancient Mali was extremely wealthy, and Mansa Musa became the richest person.
During this time, the kingdom of Mali was still relatively unknown outside of West Africa. All of this changed in the year 1324 when Mansa Musa went on Pilgrimage.
Mansa Musa's Pilgrimage
In 1324, the king made his Pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. The Pilgrimage is a journey that Muslims have to make at least once in their life to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.
This is an image of millions of Muslims at annual pilgrimage known as The Hajj. Captured by Konevi.
Mansa Musa left Mali with a caravan of around 60,000 people. Among them included soldiers, officials, attendants, maids, and enslaved people. They travelled with 100 camels, each camel carrying about 300 pounds (or 136 kilograms) of gold.
On their way, they made a stop at Cairo. Mansa Musa went and gifted the leader of Egypt with gold. Musa and his team ended up staying in Egypt for three months, and during that time, he generously gave Egyptians gold.
He continued on his journey and gave out gold to other cities, such as Medina and Mecca. He ended up giving out all the gold that he had carried with him.
The people sang praises about King Musa. His generosity, however, had a negative impact on the economies of several kingdoms.
The Economic Impact of Mansa Musa's Generosity
When Musa gave away his gold, he probably did it with good intentions. He was sharing his wealth with those around him. However, some scholars argue that he intentionally distributed the gold to disrupt other kingdom's economies, especially Egypt's.
At the time, Egypt was the leading gold market. This meant that people who wanted to buy gold, went and bought it from Cairo, Egypt. Therefore, some scholars argue that Mansa Musa distributed the gold deliberately knowing very well that it would cripple economies to protect Mali.
To understand Mansa Musa's impact, we first need to know why gold is so valuable. Gold is a type of metal that is used to create coins and jewellery. The thing that makes gold stand out more than other metals such as silver and copper is that gold doesn't corrode or change. It is a rare metal, and not many countries have it.
So what happens when a king donates so much gold to everyone in a kingdom?
Gold begins to lose its worth. The prices of goods also go up, meaning things become very expensive. When there is so much of something, it loses its value. It also affects the prices because it will cost more to produce things. It led to a gold recession, and prices became inflated.
Upon his return from Mecca, Musa realized what had happened. He tried to borrow all the gold to carry back to Mali from people who lend money. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough. Egypt's economy was particularly affected. It took the kingdom 12 years to recover from Mansa Musa's 3-month stay. During this period, people around the world including Egyptians, turned to Mali for their source of gold, which grew the kingdom even further.
Despite this, Egyptians still sang praises about King Musa for many years. People around the world learnt of Mansa Musa's wealth. He became the richest man to have ever lived!
King Musa returned to the Mali empire and continued building cities, mosques, schools, and universities.
Do you think Mansa Musa distributed his gold due to his nature of giving? Or do you believe that he was a Shrewd leader and knew that in order to protect his empire, he needed to cripple other economies? Tell us in the comments!