List of wealthiest historical figures
The list of the wealthiest historical figures is an attempt to gather and compare the net-worth and fortunes of historical figures against one another; it does not include living billionaires. The single most important measure in this list is gauging the wealth as a percentage of the GDP of the USA in that respective period. The figures shown are at the same percentage of the current GDP. Inflation and other factors devalue currency over time; economies of different regions over time periods; and economies' produced goods, commodities, and services over time. These fluctuations increase difficulty when accurately assessing and comparing fortunes from different decades, centuries, and especially millennia for the economy of any given State or region. Also, because several individuals and families never had their financial records revealed publicly and there are no contemporary estimates of their net-worth, several people could be omitted due to a lack of citable estimates of their net-worth. Some estimates of personal wealth are based upon ownership of capital and stock in a company or many companies, the value of which is always changing.
This list includes both nominal and real wealth. The nominal value of a person's net-worth reflects the price in that person's time without adjustments for inflation or other factors. The real value of a person's net-worth reflects an attempt to adjust a fortune's worth against economic factors that usually devalue a currency and thus reflect the buying power of that wealth as a stable figure comparable across historical periods.
- 1 Wealth in Europe
- 2 Wealth in the Americas
- 3 Wealth in Asia
- 4 Antique historical figures with legendary wealth
- 5 See also
- 6 References
Wealth in Europe
Nathan Mayer Rothschild
Net worth: $450 billion
Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777 – 1836), was one of five sons of the second generation of the Rothschild banking dynasty. Helped finance the British and other countries during the Napoleonic Wars and his family's bank became the largest in the world.
Net worth: $277 billion
Jacob Fugger (1459 – 1525), German merchant, mining entrepreneur and banker. Referred to as "Fugger the Rich".
Net worth: $155 billion
Alan Rufus (c. 1040 – 1093), 1st Lord of Richmond, was a relative and companion of William the Conqueror (Duke William II of Normandy) during the Norman Conquest of England. By 1086 he had become one of the richest and most powerful men of England.
Wealth in the Americas
American entrepreneurs have often amassed the largest nominal fortunes in history. However, due to the effect of inflation, many of these fortunes have actually accumulated smaller real value than some historical figures.
Net worth: $372 billion
Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Steel Company, which was the most extensive integrated iron and steel operations in the United States; in 1901, Carnegie sold his company for US$480 million to JP Morgan, who then merged his company into U.S. Steel. Capitalized at US$1.4 billion at the time, U.S. Steel was the first billion dollar company in the world. In his final years, Carnegie's net worth was US$475 million, but by the time of his death in 1919 he had donated most of his wealth to charities and other philanthropic endeavors and had only US$30 million left to his personal fortune. Carnegie's hundreds of millions accounted for about 0.60% of the U.S. annual GDP and has a real value estimated at about US$75 billion adjusted for the late 2000s.
John D. Rockefeller
Net worth: $374 billion
On September 29, 1916, John D. Rockefeller became the second person ever to reach a nominal personal fortune of US$1 billion. Rockefeller amassed his fortune from the Standard Oil company, of which he was a founder, chairman and major shareholder. By the time of his death in 1937, estimates place his net worth in the range of US$392 billion to US$663.4 billion in adjusted dollars for the late 2000s. When considering the real value of his wealth, Rockefeller is widely held to be the wealthiest American in history.
Net worth: $188 billion
Henry Ford was an American automotive engineer, entrepreneur, and founder of the Ford Motor Company. Through his designing of the Model T Ford and employing the assembly line means of rapid production, he was able to lower the base price of his product in order to reach a wider market. As production increased, Ford further reduced prices and increased salaries to reduce worker turnover. This resulted in a rapid increase in output, with Ford production rising from roughly 18,000 cars in 1909 to over 1 million cars in 1920. Despite Ford stating that his focus was increasing Ford Motor Company's benefit to society and to its employees, even at one point being sued by the Dodge brothers based on this premise, his company was massively profitable. His highest earnings were recorded at age 57 and he died at the age of 83 in 1947 at a net worth of US$188.1 billion (inflation-adjusted value in 2008 dollars).
John Jacob Astor
Net worth: $120 billion
John Jacob Astor (1763 – 1848), after immigrating to the United States, Astor began trading in furs and later in real estate and opium. By 1801 his nominal wealth was some US$250,000, and by the time of his death in 1848 his fortune had grown to US$20 million, making him America's first multi-millionaire.
Wealth in Asia
Mir Osman Ali Khan
Net worth: $230 billion
Of the seven Nizams who governed Hyderabad State, India from 1720 to 1948, the richest was the last, Mir Osman Ali Khan, who was regarded as the wealthiest person on Earth – his portrait was on the cover of Time magazine in 1937. He had his own mint, printing his own currency, the Hyderabadi rupee, and had a private treasury that was said to contain £100m in gold and silver bullion, and a further £400m of jewels (in 2008 terms). Among them was the Jacob Diamond, valued at some £100m (in 2008 terms), and used by the Nizam as a paperweight. The net worth of the Nizam was ₹ 660 crores.
Antique historical figures with legendary wealth
As records are lost and fortunes often never fully tallied, sometimes only vague stories and grandiose legends are left as witnesses to the treasures held by individuals past. These tales are often believed to be fanciful or exaggerated, and some have even been discredited with new discoveries and evidence. Nevertheless, these fortunes were likely impressive, having remained in popular consciousness through the ages, even if only as legend.
Net worth: $4.6 trillion
Augustus Caesar (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD), founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor.
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Net worth: $2 trillion
One of the leading politicians of Rome in his day, Marcus Licinius Crassus, along with Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, comprised the First Triumvirate. Crassus, born into a wealthy political family, inherited a fortune of 7 million sesterces after the death of his father in 87 BC. Political rivalries eventually led to the state seizing Crassus's wealth. After several years of exile, Lucius Cornelius Sulla regained a position of power in Rome, and Crassus as a loyal and valued supporter found himself in charge of Sulla's proscriptions. In such a position, Crassus was able to rebuild his family fortune by seizing the property of executed criminals for himself, and there is evidence that shows Crassus sometimes executed innocent individuals simply to obtain their vast estates and wealth.
Crassus also expanded his wealth by trading in slaves and by purchasing whole neighborhoods of Rome as they burned, for drastically less than market value. At the time, Rome had no formal way of battling fires and they usually were left to burn themselves out, which meant several estates and fortunes were lost in the process. Crassus employed a firefighting brigade of some five hundred men and, after he negotiated the purchase of the burning building and the surrounding estates in danger, the brigade would collapse the home that was ablaze to extinguish the fire before it could spread.
Crassus was known in Rome as Dives, meaning "The Rich". Plutarch describes how Crassus's relationship with a Vestal Virgin came into question at one point, for which the punishment was death. Crassus was acquitted after claiming that he merely courted the woman in an attempt to acquire her villa at below market cost and that carnal lusts never came to mind. Wishing to gain both political and military fame during the slave uprisings led by Spartacus, Crassus offered to equip, train, and lead two new legions of soldiers into battle at his own expense in an impressive show of personal wealth. In 53 BC, while again attempting military fame, Crassus was killed in the Battle of Carrhae during a parley with a Parthian general. Lucius Cassius Dio tells that he thereupon had molten gold poured into his mouth to satiate his unyielding thirst for wealth.
It is believed that Crassus expanded his personal fortune to a remarkable 170 million sesterces, while Pliny the Elder surmised his fortune to be valued even higher, at 200 million sesterces. This would place Crassus's net worth equal to the total annual budget of the Roman treasury. He has been considered the wealthiest person in history, though this claim has been disputed. With increasing knowledge of Ancient Roman monetary values, most modern experts believe his wealth to be far less than contemporary historians claimed.
Musa I of Mali
Net worth: $400 billion
Musa Keita I (c. 1280 – c. 1337), also known as Mansa Kankan Musa, was the tenth emperor of the wealthy West African Mali Empire. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 and is reported to have brought several tonnes of gold. He is speculated to have possessed a 2015 equivalent net worth of $400 billion.
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