Resource Library

ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY
ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

Mansa Musa (Musa I of Mali)

Mansa Musa (Musa I of Mali)

Mansa Musa (Musa I of Mali) was the king of the ancient empire of Mali in West Africa.

Grades

5 - 8

Subjects

Ancient Civilizations, Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, World History

Image

Timbuktu, Henrich Barth Painting

The fame of Mansa Musa and his phenomenal wealth spread as he traveled on his hajj to Mecca. Afterward, he put himself and his kingdom, West Africa's Mali, on the map, literally. Mali's Timbuktu was known for its schools and libraries.

Photograph by FL Historical 1D


Mansa Musa (Musa I of Mali) was the ruler of the kingdom of Mali from 1312 C.E. to 1337 C.E. During his reign, Mali was one of the richest kingdoms of Africa, and Mansa Musa was among the richest individuals in the world. The ancient kingdom of Mali spread across parts of modern-day Mali, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. Mansa Musa developed cities like Timbuktu and Gao into important cultural centers. He also brought architects from the Middle East and across Africa to design new buildings for his cities. Mansa Musa turned the kingdom of Mali into a sophisticated center of learning in the Islamic world.

Mansa Musa came to power in 1312 C.E., after the previous king, Abu Bakr II, disappeared at sea. Mansa Abu Bakr II had departed on a large fleet of ships to explore the Atlantic Ocean, and never returned. Mansa Musa inherited a kingdom that was already wealthy, but his work in expanding trade made Mali the wealthiest kingdom in Africa. His riches came from mining significant salt and gold deposits in the Mali kingdom. Elephant ivory was another major source of wealth.

When Mansa Musa went on a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca in 1324 C.E., his journey through Egypt caused quite a stir. The kingdom of Mali was relatively unknown outside of West Africa until this event. Arab writers from the time said that he travelled with an entourage of tens of thousands of people and dozens of camels, each carrying 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of gold. While in Cairo, Mansa Musa met with the Sultan of Egypt, and his caravan spent and gave away so much gold that the overall value of gold decreased in Egypt for the next 12 years. Stories of his fabulous wealth even reached Europe. The Catalan Atlas, created in 1375 C.E. by Spanish cartographers, shows West Africa dominated by a depiction of Mansa Musa sitting on a throne, holding a nugget of gold in one hand and a golden staff in the other. After the publication of this atlas, Mansa Musa became cemented in the global imagination as a figure of stupendous wealth.

After his return from Mecca, Mansa Musa began to revitalize cities in his kingdom. He built mosques and large public buildings in cities like Gao and, most famously, Timbuktu. Timbuktu became a major Islamic university center during the 14th century due to Mansa Musa’s developments. Mansa Musa brought architects and scholars from across the Islamic world into his kingdom, and the reputation of the Mali kingdom grew. The kingdom of Mali reached its greatest extent around the same time, a bustling, wealthy kingdom thanks to Mansa Musa’s expansion and administration.

Mansa Musa died in 1337 and was succeeded by his sons. His skillful administration left his empire well-off at the time of his death, but eventually, the empire fell apart. Well after his death, Mansa Musa remained engrained in the imagination of the world as a symbol of fabulous wealth. However, his riches are only one part of his legacy, and he is also remembered for his Islamic faith, promotion of scholarship, and patronage of culture in Mali.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Producer
Clint Parks
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact ngimagecollection@natgeo.com for more information and to obtain a license. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. She or he will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to him or her, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.

Media

If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.

Text

Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.

Interactives

Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources