Mansa Musa and his empire of gold
Many ancient empires are known for their love of gold, but the Mali Empire in Africa may be one of the most interesting. The ruler of the empire in the early 14th century was Mansa Musa. He played an integral role in gold history, for his use of gold was so lavish that it caused the precious metal's value to decrease in Egypt.
Mansa Musa is most famed for his pilgrimage to Mecca. The pilgrimage is said to have included 100 camel-loads of gold that weighed 300 pounds each and 50 slaves who each carried a 4 pound gold staff, according to accounts from 14th century Arab historian Al-Umari.
Although Mansa Musa helped promote commerce, education and trade in Mali, his outrageous spending habits and luxurious taste for gold caused him to run out of money and take high interest loans. The source suggests that he gave so much gold away that the value of gold decreased in Egypt for over a decade.
Al-Umari provides much of the information known about Mansa Musa to scholars today, as he kept a written record of his visit to Cairo in 1324, according to the Boston University African Studies Center.
"This man [Mansa Musa] flooded Cairo with his benefactions. He left no court emir nor holder of a royal office without the gift of a load of gold. The Cairenes made incalculable profits out of him and his suite in buying and selling and giving and taking. They exchanged gold until they depressed its value in Egypt and caused its price to fall," wrote Al-Umari.
The story of Mansa Musa illustrates the emphasis placed on gold in the ancient world. The human love affair with the precious yellow metal spans the centuries and continues to this day.