With a fortune of around $400bn in today’s money, Mansa Musa I of Mali, the first king of Timbuktu, may not be a household name, but was by most estimates one of the richest people in history. Deriving his wealth from his country’s vast salt and gold deposits, which at one time accounted for half the world’s supply, Musa ruled West Africa’s Malian Empire in the early 14th century, constructing hundreds of mosques across the continent, many of which survive to this day.
With a fortune estimated at between $300-$400bn in today’s money, Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov (Nicholas II) of Russia was deposed and subsequently executed by the Bolsheviks in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.
The Independent notes that, following his canonisation by the Russian Orthodox Church, he is also the richest saint in history.
Excluding kings, princes and those who inherited their wealth, the list of the world’s richest-ever men – and they are always men – is dominated by the so-called robber barons of 19th and early 20th century America.
Often cited as the richest person who ever lived, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller was the first person to have a net worth of more than $1bn in the money of the time. At the time of this death his estate was worth an estimated $340bn in today’s money, almost 2% of total US economic output.
With an estimated fortune of $310bn in today’s money, steel magnate and Rockefeller contemporary Andrew Carnegie sold his Carnegie Steel Company to JP Morgan for $480m in 1901, and later made his name with his philanthropic donations.
Automobile pioneer Henry Ford, who perfected the production line and has become a by-word for American entrepreneurship, had a fortune of around $199bn at the time of his death in 1947.