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November 8, 2022 29 mins

Mansa Musa is often considered to be the richest man who ever lived. And, in the 14th century, he set out on a hajj to show his wealth and power to the world.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to Noble Blood, a production of I Heart Radio
and Grim and Mild from Aaron Mankey listener discretion advised.
Hey guys, this is Danishwards, the host of the podcast
Noble Blood. First, just thank you so much for listening.
Before the episode, just a few quick announcements. I have

(00:21):
a book coming out in February called Immortality a Love Story.
It's a sequel to my last book, Anatomy a Love Story,
which is about a young woman who's a surgeon in
eighteen hundred Scotland. And if you like this podcast, I
really think you would like it, check it out, and please,
if you're at all interested, pre order Immortality a Love Story.

(00:41):
All the links are in the episode description, along with
links to official Noble Blood merch and the Noble Blood Patreon,
where I post episode scripts and have access to monthly
bonus episodes. But as always, the best support is just
listening to the show. I am so grateful we've officially
made a hundred episodes of the show and it just

(01:02):
feels so surreal. So thank you so much for your
interest in history and for joining me on this journey,
and let's do a hundred more. In July of the

(01:23):
year thirteen twenty four, the citizens of Cairo were waiting.
For weeks. Conversation in the city had been dominated by
the imminent arrival of one man, though by this point
man heartily seemed inadequate enough term to encompass a figure
as impressive as the fabled Melian Sultan Mansa Musa. Tales

(01:48):
of his exploits had started as simple rumor singular whispers
carried over desert roads by merchants and scholars, each story
eventually stitched together in ports of trade until their subject
became more myth than man. He was said to be
passing through Cairo on his way to complete Hajj, or

(02:12):
pilgrimage to Mecca, as required by the Islamic faith. This
typically would have been news enough, though oddly speculation surrounding
his arrival had much less to do with his destination
and more to do with the methods in which he
decided to travel. Had you been walking through Cairo's market

(02:33):
place that summer, as you examined the countless wares from
all over the continent or even beyond, each vendor likely
would have regaled you with their own sliver of gossip
that they had gleaned from their time on the road.
I hear he travels with ten thousand men, One of
the vendors might have said, only for another merchant across

(02:57):
the way to cut in ten No. I heard it
was at least fifty, if not sixty thousand to others.
The size of his party likely mattered little compared to
the treasures said to have made the trip along with him.
Upwards of eighty camels were rumored to have been brought
for the sole purpose of transporting a combined total of

(03:20):
seventeen tons or over thirty four thousand pounds of gold. This,
of course, was in addition to the five hundred enslaved
workers who were each tasked with carrying a gold staff
for the duration of the over four thousand mile trek
from Molly on the western coast of Africa to Mecca

(03:42):
in what is today Saudi Arabia. Now, when considering the
vast distance Mansa Musa had to travel in order to
complete the Hajj, it makes sense that he and his
party would need ample resources and manpower to reach their destination.
But at the same time, you and hardly reason that
the transport of eighty camel loads of gold and sixty

(04:05):
thousand men were for the sole purpose of practicality, and
just as the resources Musa acquired for his journey were
not necessarily essential to complete the journey. If the whispers
in the streets of Cairo were anything to go by,
his hajj was likely not the sole reason for his

(04:26):
pilgrimage across the African continent. Religious piety may have been
the impetus for his travels, but it's clear through the
level of extravagance by which he chose to travel then
Mansa Musa's much anticipated stay in Cairo had one goal
above all else. He wanted to make a statement, and

(04:50):
so as the iconic red silk banners of monts A
Musa's caravan finally crested the western horizon, the citizens of
Kai Eurow waited with bated breath and a gold hungry
glint in their eyes to see exactly what type of
statement he would make. I'm Dani Schwartz and this is

(05:14):
noble blood. Now, before we get started, I want to
take a moment to speak to the importance of oral
histories in the African tradition. Today, when we tend to
think of history, our minds are often pulled toward images
of dusty libraries filled top to bottom with heavy leather

(05:36):
bound tons. But the truth is this image is something we,
as a largely Eurocentric culture, have been conditioned to believe
is the quote right way to record history. It's true
that there are not many written records of monts Amusa's reign,
at least not from medieval West African sources, but that

(05:58):
is largely because the history of West Africa was passed
down through oral tradition rather than written tradition. There's a
harmful misconception that quite honestly, was likely perpetuated by many
of the institutions behind a fair number of the subjects
of this podcast that histories passed down through spoken word
are quote inferior or less civilized than that of written record.

(06:24):
But it simply isn't true. In fact, in West Africa,
oral historians were often prized scholars also known as griots,
who were expressly forbidden from physically recording historical moments so
as to prove their intellect when recalling the moment back
to be passed down for future generations. And if for

(06:46):
some reason you need further proof that oral traditions are
not some signifier of quote uncivilized culture. Just think of
the Odyssey or the Iliad, both of which were passed
down through oral tradition for hundreds of years before ever
being put to paper. Or if you want a more
relevant example, this very podcast and by extension, podcasting as

(07:08):
a whole, could be considered a certain kind of oral history.
All this is to say, though these oral histories may
lack specificity in terms of dates and times the way
we might expect from written history, I think it's important
to analyze the lens by which we've traditionally been taught
to understand events from the past in the first place.

(07:29):
It's also important to recognize the benefits to oral histories
that written histories often lack. In the case of Mansa, Musa,
the inherent mythos around the Hajjs you went on, as
well as his empire's incredible riches, would, for better or worse,
go on to shape Molly for generations after Musa's passing.

(07:52):
Now back to our story. It's unclear exactly when Mussa
was born or the specific year he him into power,
but historian degree, he became Manta or sultan around thirteen twelve,
likely when Musa was in his early to mid twenties.
Though perhaps more interesting than his age was the circumstances

(08:15):
by which Musa was given the throne in the first place.
In an account recorded by the scholar al Umari, Musa
made it clear that he was never meant to have
inherited the throne. When he did, his unlikely rise was
thanks to a previous sultan's interest in exploration. Quote. The
king who was my predecessor did not believe that it

(08:36):
was impossible to discover the furthest limits of the Atlantic Ocean.
The sultan is quoted saying to the governor of Cairo,
well before the couplet in Columbus sailed the ocean Blue,
ever came into relevance leaders around the world, we're already
looking to the horizons off their coastlines, ready to discover
possible worlds unknown. This is evidenced by the ex lauration

(09:00):
of figures like the Chinese mariner Janghay, who, under the
guidance of the Ming dynasty in the late fourteenth and
early fifteenth centuries, would travel as far as East Africa.
It's also evidenced by Arab, Indian and East African explorers. However,
unlike Janghay, or Christopher Columbus for that matter. Montsa, Musa's predecessor,

(09:23):
would never be highlighted in history for his maritime exploration.
In his first attempt, Musa's predecessor sent out two hundred
ships into the Atlantic with enough gold and provisions to
last years and directions quote not to return until they
reached the end of it or their provisions and water
gave out end quote in the end. Out of the

(09:46):
two hundred ships, only one returned, stating that the rest
of the ships had gone on without them. But this
answer did not satisfy the Sultan. In fact, the loan
surviving ship inspired Musa's predecessor to prepare an additional two
thousand ships, half of which were to be filled with
provisions for their travels and the other to carry the men,

(10:10):
this time with the Sultan himself among their ranks. Though
before he was set to depart, the Sultan appointed Musa
to lead while he was out at sea. Quote, he
left me to deputize for him, and embarked upon the
Atlantic Ocean with his men Mantsa. Musa would eventually recount
to the Governor of Cairo quote that was the last

(10:31):
we saw of him and all those men who were
with him, And so I became king in my own
right end quote. To this day, no one knows for
sure exactly what happened to Musa's predecessor. Many historians assume
he simply got lost at sea, though some revisionist historians
believe he could have potentially made it to the America's Regardless,

(10:55):
the fact remained that Musa's predecessor never returned to Molly,
therefore bestowing Musa himself with the title history would forever
remember him by Manza Musa. As a young ruler, Montsa
Musa had inherited a similarly young empire. He was only
the ninth Manza to take the throne, and as such

(11:18):
he was eager to establish not only himself but Molly
as a nation on a global scale. And so, with
a young empire under his command, and which surely must
have felt like the eyes of the entire world watching
his next move, Mantsa Musa chose to give those watching
him something to look at. If the eighty cameloads of

(11:46):
gold and sixty thousand person traveling party or any indicator,
it should come as no surprise that the Hajj of
Montsa Musa was by far the defining moment of his reign,
though it should be noted an undertaking of this magnitude
wasn't accomplished overnight. In reality, most historians agree Musa likely

(12:07):
began planning for the Hajj not long after he was
put on the throne, meaning he would have been orchestrating
this truck for at least a decade before ever setting
foot on the road. Historian Michael A. Gomez estimates quote,
if ten years are allowed for preparations, some six thousand
persons would have been captured per annum for this purpose

(12:30):
end quote, a statement that is supported by the scholar
Alumari saying of Montsa Musa quote, the king of this
country wages a permanently holy war on the pagans of
the Sudan, who are his neighbors end quote. On top
of the quote, slaving campaigns Musa orchestrated in order to
create an infrastructure by which to support the Hajj she

(12:53):
was determined to complete. The eighty camel's worth of gold
didn't appear overnight by the time Manta Musa reached Cairo.
Rumors as to where exactly the gold came from had
fully taken on lives of their own. The most common
fallacy was the rumored gold plant, which, separate from Musa,

(13:15):
had been circulating as early as the tenth century during
the reign of the Ghanaian Empire. The gold plant varied
in description depending on the source, one source saying it
quote grows in the sand as carrots do and quote well,
Musa himself spread the notion it grew quote in the

(13:35):
spring and blossomed after the rains in open country and quote. Unfortunately,
as thrilling as the discovery of a medieval West African
gold plant would no doubt be for geologists and jewelers everywhere,
the reality of the gold's origin is likely a little

(13:55):
less exciting. Well, there's no way to tell for sure
where exactly gold came from. Most historians pose it the
production and export of copper, as well as the trade
of salt, could have been the source of the majority
of Musa's fortune. And for those confused as to why
anyone would trade copper or let alone salt for something

(14:17):
as valuable as gold, I think it's important to remember
gold as a metal has significantly less useful properties than copper,
which could be made into a variety of tools or salt,
which is quite literally necessary for human survival. Meanwhile, gold's
primary uses were either as a type of cosmetic adornment or,

(14:39):
more importantly, for Mansa Musa, a form of currency. And
even though Mussa did not shy away from the lower
that in Mali, gold basically grew on trees or in
the ground like carrots. For him to amass as much
wealth as he did was no small feet. Considering the
substantial time and energy reserved solely for the preparations for

(15:03):
the Hajj, it's worth asking why Mansa Musa chose to
pursue a traveling caravan of this scale in the first place.
Had he purely been wanting to complete the pilgrimage for
the sake of his own religious practice, he could have
easily traveled with a much smaller party that required a
fraction of the resources. But clearly Musa had ulterior motives

(15:28):
when preparing for his journey. The first motive might have
had to do with Mansa Musa's claim to the throne.
The line of succession for the early Malian Empire remains
a point of contention with medieval West African historians. There
was no clear path of inheritance the way we've become
familiar with inheritance within the context of European monarchies. This

(15:52):
could have been for a host of different reasons, though
I think one of the most important to consider would
be the simple fact that the Malian Empire as a
whole was, for lack of a better term, young, and
considering the untraditional methods by which Musa himself was left
with a kingdom in his charge, he likely chose to

(16:13):
use the Hajj as a way to exhibit his power
and solidify his possibly precarious hold on the throne. In
addition to securing his power as Molly's ruler, the Hajj
also offered Musa ample opportunity to expand Molly's borders and
influence far beyond the reaches of West Africa. It's clear

(16:36):
through the preparations made for his journey, Mussa meant to
project a certain image as he made his way across
the African continent, though in all likelihood, the seventeen tons
of gold eighteen tons of you include the gold staffs
held by the enslaved workers in his caravan spoke for
themselves as citizens of the cities he passed through Gaul.

(17:00):
At his overt displays of wealth, it should be noted
that while the impressive caravan was no doubt used to
bolster his reputation, it did serve a practical purpose as well.
After over a decade spent acquiring enough manpower and gold
to make the impact he was seeking. When Montsa Musa

(17:21):
finally began the Hajj in earnest, he used a fair
amount of his gold and manpower to erect mosques as
he went before all else. Monts A Musa was a
devout Muslim and sought to spread the teachings of Islam
as he set out to complete the Hajj he had
so long prepared for. In this way, a good portion

(17:43):
of the young Sultan's funds and slave labor went to
the construction of mosques, which is also why reports as
to exactly how many people and how much gold he
brought on his journey very so wildly. It's likely that
Musa began his pilgrimage with far more resources than he
ended it with, but then again that was by design.

(18:07):
The construction of mosques on Musa's truck across the African
continent not only served as a way to parade his affluence,
but more importantly, as a non violent expansion of his empire.
Dissimilar to his slaving campaigns. Even for those who did
not practice Islam, the mosques were more than just a

(18:28):
space for religion. As Montsa Musa continued his travels, word
began to spread about the wealth and prosperity of the
Malayan Empire. As such, the mosques attracted scholars and merchants
from outside Molly's borders, making what began as villages and
towns evolve into urban marketplaces, ultimately stimulating Molly's economic growth.

(18:54):
And as the chain of mosques left in the wake
of his pilgrimage grew, word about the wildly rich and
powerful Mansa Musa continued to spread east across the African
continent until July thirteen, twenty four, when, finally, after weeks
of waiting, the fabled Malian Sultan approached the city of Cairo.

(19:19):
Even after funding a trail of mosques behind him, Musa
still had plenty of gold and men to make the
impact he wanted in Cairo. Upon his entrance in the city,
monts AMusA immediately began spending exorbitant amounts of gold, resupplying
his provisions, but also undoubtedly trying to flex his abundance

(19:43):
to the dazzled crowd. One scholar is quoted as saying, quote,
when monts AMusA first arrived in Cairo, he and his
followers bought all kinds of things. They thought their money
was inexhaustible, and quote so extravagant was his spend ending
that in the end, Mansamusa would inevitably cause such mass

(20:04):
inflation within Cairo that their economy would need a decade
before it could fully recover. As the city attempted to
gain some control over Musa's runaway inflation, the Malaean Sultan
would leave Cairo to continue on to Mecca to complete
his Hajj. It wouldn't be until Monsa Musa eventually returned

(20:25):
to Cairo on his way home that the Sultan would
be faced with a seemingly impossible truth. The money that
he had once spent as if it were inexhaustible was gone,
and he now had no means of funding his return home.
When Mansa Musa met the city limits of Cairo for

(20:48):
the second time, his reception was far more subdued than
the parade his initial arrival. Had been. One scholar reported
that after reaching Mecca and completing his pilgrimage, when he
attempted to begin the journey back to Molly quote, many
of his followers and camels perished from cold, so that

(21:08):
only a third of them arrived in Cairo with him
end quote. After a few wrong turns proved fatal for
a significant portion of Musa's traveling party. The sultan was
left not just shorthanded, but underfunded as well. In the
wake of the Sultan's extreme spending that had essentially flooded

(21:31):
Cairo's market with gold, Montsa Musa suddenly found himself with
empty pockets, while the straits he had paraded down just
months before glittered with the riches once carried by his
now significantly smaller caravan. In order to return home, Mussa
was forced to take out loans in the market that

(21:52):
he himself had caused to massively inflate. Despite the Sultan's
sudden hardships, Cairo's money unders were more than happy to
extend lines of credit to the now penniless monts AMusA
with steep interest rates. Of course, now, due to the
nature of the sources surrounding these stories, there are some

(22:13):
discrepancies as to if or when these loans were repaid.
Some claim Montsa AMusA basically cheated the lenders in Cairo
out of the substantial interest his loan would have, no
doubt accrued by paying back everything he owned in its
entirety as soon as he stepped back on mille and soil,
while other sources claim that they never received any sort

(22:35):
of repayment at all. It's impossible to say exactly what
happened to the money after he left Cairo for the
second time, but the fate of his loans ultimately made
a little difference to the whole of monts Amusa's legacy.
Even though Mussa's reign would end just thirteen years after
his hajj and thirteen thirty seven, the ripple effects of

(22:59):
his actions as Molly Sultan would be felt for countless
generations to come. To this day, Montsa Musa is estimated
to be the richest person to have ever lived, with
a roughly estimated net worth of over four hundred billion dollars.
I should note that due to the discrepancies and exactly

(23:21):
how much gold he had, as well as the not
exactly linear methods used to translate his supply of gold
into inflation adjusted dollar amounts. This figure is far from
what I would consider a solid number, but regardless, Montsa
Musa's wealth did not carry clout just because of whatever

(23:43):
dollar amount we place on it. The mosques he erected
across his pilgrimage spread the practice of Islam, but they
also worked to attract scholars and merchants from beyond Molly's borders,
making urban centers of education and trade available in previously remote,
isolated villages. Though Mousa may have ultimately lacked the funds

(24:06):
for his return home, his initial display of power and
affluence not only achieved his initial goal to solidify his
place on the Malian throne, but secured his legacy far
beyond the borders of West Africa. This is perhaps best
exemplified in one of the prime examples of medieval map making,

(24:27):
the Catalan Atlas, completed in thirteen seventy five. The Catalan
Atlas was created by a Jewish map maker, Abraham Crescis,
who had been commissioned by King John the First of
Arragon to create the map as a gift for King
Charles the fifth of France. When looking at the Atlas
from Afar. One of the most striking elements about the

(24:50):
piece is the amount of color used, and not just color,
but the all too familiar warm sheen of gold from
the MPUs on the first panel to flags denoting different nations.
Your eyes can't move a few inches before being caught
by the rich metallic adornment. However, the map's most interesting

(25:13):
use of gold is down at the bottom of the
first panel, where the image of a dark skinned royal
sits on a throne. A gold crown is painted atop
his head, while the man is holding a scepter in
one hand and a golden orb in the other. When
Mansa Musa inherited the throne, Molly was a thriving empire

(25:36):
in its own right, but its borders held itself back
from the rest of the world. Musa's inclusion in the
Catalan Atlas, a piece that was created over fifty years
after his legendary Hajj on an entirely different continent, exemplifies
the reach his rain had on a global scale. Considering

(25:57):
the lengths Massa Musa went to wire, the materials and
manpower to complete his Hajj, it almost makes sense that
Musa essentially put himself on the global map. That was
the story of Mansa Musa and his legendary hajj. But

(26:20):
stick around after a brief sponsor break to hear how
his legend continues to persist in popular culture today. In
these seven hundred years since his pilgrimage. Outside of Sid

(26:41):
Meier's Civilization video game franchise, Mansa Musa's name has largely
been kept out of our public consciousness. That is, unless
you know where to look. Now. There is no official
confirmation citing the inspiration for the scene, but if you
remember the beloved ninety ninety two Disney animated film Aladdin,

(27:02):
you may remember a certain song called Prince Ali. In
a bid to win the heart of Princess Jasmine, Aladdin
and the Genie concoct a plan to impress her by
making Aladdin appear to be a rich and powerful Prince
Ali a Babwa, a prince who proceeds to enter the
city of Agriba, a top an elephant led by perhaps

(27:24):
a familiar type of procession of men clearing the path
for his arrival. If you haven't connected the dots already,
allow me to direct you to some of the more
obvious comparisons such as Aladdin dressing as Prince Ali literally
flinging handfuls of gold coins from where he sits to
top his elephant from a seemingly endless pile of money,

(27:47):
or when Prince Ali's procession sings of all the riches
he brings, including seventy five golden camels, to which, of
course we all know Robin Williams as the genie parody
is being an announcer like get the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade,
saying don't they look lovely? June. Of course, Aladdin's golden

(28:08):
camels are camels made of gold, as opposed to Mansa
Musa's eighty camels, which were real live camels with gold
on their backs. But the inclusion of this lyric is
so specific that, at least in my opinion, it should
be considered maybe a nod to the Malian king, whose

(28:29):
legendary riches and affinity for showmanship continue to enthrall us
to this day. Noble Blood is a production of I

(28:52):
Heart Radio and Grim and Mild from Aaron Manky. Noble
Blood is hosted by me Danish Worts. Additional writing and
researching done by Hannah Johnston. Hannah's Wick, Mirra Hayward, Courtney Sunder,
and Laurie Goodman. The show is produced by rema Il Kali,
with supervising producer Josh Thaine and executive producers Aaron Manky,

(29:14):
Alex Williams, and Matt Frederick. For more podcasts from I
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