Musa depicted holding a gold coin in the 1375 Catalan Atlas.
|Mansa of Mali|
|Reign||c.1312– c.1337 (c. 25 years)|
|Died||c. 1337 (aged 56–57)|
Musa I (c. 1280 – c. 1337), or Mansa Musa, was the tenth Mansa (a military title meaning "conqueror" or "emperor") of the Mali Empire, an Islamic West African state. He has been described as the wealthiest individual of the Middle Ages.
At the time of Musa's ascension to the throne, Mali in large part consisted of the territory of the former Ghana Empire, which Mali had conquered. The Mali Empire consisted of land that is now part of Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia and the modern state of Mali. During his reign, Musa held many titles, such as "Emir of Melle", "Lord of the Mines of Wangara", and "Conqueror of Ghanata".
Musa conquered 24 cities, along with their surrounding districts. During Musa's reign, Mali may have been the largest producer of gold in the world, and Musa has been considered one of the wealthiest historical figures. However, modern commentators such as Time magazine have concluded that there is no accurate way to quantify Musa's wealth.
Musa is generally referred to as "Mansa Musa" in Western manuscripts and literature. His name also appears as "Kankou Musa", "Kankan Musa", and "Kanku Musa". Other names used for Musa include "Mali-Koy Kankan Musa", "Gonga Musa", and "the Lion of Mali". He was a patron of science, the arts, literature and architecture and the empire flourished culturally during his reign.
Lineage and accession to the throne
What is known about the kings of the Malian Empire is taken from the writings of Arab scholars, including Al-Umari, Abu-sa'id Uthman ad-Dukkali, Ibn Khaldun, and Ibn Battuta. According to Ibn-Khaldun's comprehensive history of the Malian kings, Mansa Musa's grandfather was Abu-Bakr Keita (the Arabic equivalent to Bakari or Bogari, original name unknown − not the sahabiyy Abu Bakr), a nephew of Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Malian Empire as recorded through oral histories. Abu-Bakr did not ascend the throne, and his son, Musa's father, Faga Laye, has no significance in the History of Mali.
Mansa Musa came to the throne through a practice of appointing a deputy when a king goes on his pilgrimage to Mecca or some other endeavor, and later naming the deputy as heir. According to primary sources, Musa was appointed deputy of Abubakari Keita II, the king before him, who had reportedly embarked on an expedition to explore the limits of the Atlantic Ocean, and never returned. The Arab-Egyptian scholar Al-Umari quotes Mansa Musa as follows:
The ruler who preceded me did not believe that it was impossible to reach the extremity of the ocean that encircles the earth (meaning Atlantic), and wanted to reach that (end) and obstinately persisted in the design. So he equipped two hundred boats full of men, as many others full of gold, water and victuals sufficient enough for several years. He ordered the chief (admiral) not to return until they had reached the extremity of the ocean, or if they had exhausted the provisions and the water. They set out. Their absence extended over a long period, and, at last, only one boat returned. On our questioning, the captain said: 'Prince, we have navigated for a long time, until we saw in the midst of the ocean as if a big river was flowing violently. My boat was the last one; others were ahead of me. As soon as any of them reached this place, it drowned in the whirlpool and never came out. I sailed backwards to escape this current.' But the Sultan would not believe him. He ordered two thousand boats to be equipped for him and for his men, and one thousand more for water and victuals. Then he conferred on me the regency during his absence, and departed with his men on the ocean trip, never to return nor to give a sign of life.
Musa's son and successor, Mansa Magha Keita, was also appointed deputy during Musa's pilgrimage.
Islam and pilgrimage to Mecca
–Mahmud Kati, Chronicle of the Seeker
Musa was a devout Muslim, and his pilgrimage to Mecca made him well known across northern Africa and the Middle East. To Musa, Islam was "an entry into the cultured world of the Eastern Mediterranean". He would spend much time fostering the growth of the religion within his empire.
Musa made his pilgrimage between 1324 and 1325. His procession reportedly included 60,000 men, all wearing brocade and Persian silk, including 12,000 slaves, who each carried 1.8 kg (4 lb) of gold bars, and heralds dressed in silks, who bore gold staffs, organized horses, and handled bags. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals. Those animals included 80 camels which each carried 23–136 kg (50–300 lb) of gold dust. Musa gave the gold to the poor he met along his route. Musa not only gave to the cities he passed on the way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but also traded gold for souvenirs. It was reported that he built a mosque every Friday.
Musa's journey was documented by several eyewitnesses along his route, who were in awe of his wealth and extensive procession, and records exist in a variety of sources, including journals, oral accounts, and histories. Musa is known to have visited the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, Al-Nasir Muhammad, in July 1324. Because of his nature of giving, Musa's massive spending and generous donations created a massive ten year gold recession. In the cities of Cairo, Medina, and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal significantly. Prices of goods and wares became greatly inflated. This mistake became apparent to Musa and on his way back from Mecca, he borrowed all of the gold he could carry from money-lenders in Cairo at high interest. This is the only time recorded in history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean. Some historians[who?] believe the Hajj was less out of religious devotion than to garner international attention to the flourishing state of Mali. Al-Umari who visited Cairo shortly after Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca, noted that it was “a lavish display of power, wealth, and unprecedented by its size and pageantry". The creation of a recession of that magnitude could have been purposeful. After all, Cairo was the leading gold market at the time (where people went to purchase large amounts of gold). In order to relocate these markets to Timbuktu or Gao, Musa would have to first affect Cairo's gold economy. Musa made a major point of showing off his nation's wealth. His goal was to create a ripple and he succeeded greatly in this, so much so that he lands himself and Mali on the Catalan Atlas of 1375.
During his long return journey from Mecca in 1325, Musa heard news that his army had recaptured Gao. Sagmandia, one of his generals, led the endeavor. The city of Gao had been within the empire since before Sakura's reign and was an important − though often rebellious − trading center. Musa made a detour and visited the city where he received, as hostages, the two sons of the Gao king, Ali Kolon and Suleiman Nar. He returned to Niani with the two boys and later educated them at his court. When Mansa Musa returned, he brought back many Arabian scholars and architects.
Construction in Mali
Musa embarked on a large building program, raising mosques and madrasas in Timbuktu and Gao. Most notably, the ancient center of learning Sankore Madrasah (or University of Sankore) was constructed during his reign.
In Niani, Musa built the Hall of Audience, a building communicating by an interior door to the royal palace. It was "an admirable Monument", surmounted by a dome and adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The wooden window frames of an upper storey were plated with silver foil; those of a lower storey with gold. Like the Great Mosque, a contemporaneous and grandiose structure in Timbuktu, the Hall was built of cut stone.
During this period, there was an advanced level of urban living in the major centers of Mali. Sergio Domian, an Italian scholar of art and architecture, wrote of this period: "Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilization. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated."
Economy and education
It is recorded that Mansa Musa traveled through the cities of Timbuktu and Gao on his way to Mecca, and made them a part of his empire when he returned around 1325. He brought architects from Andalusia, a region in Spain, and Cairo to build his grand palace in Timbuktu and the great Djinguereber Mosque that still stands today.
Timbuktu soon became a center of trade, culture, and Islam; markets brought in merchants from Hausaland, Egypt, and other African kingdoms, a university was founded in the city (as well as in the Malian cities of Djenné and Ségou), and Islam was spread through the markets and university, making Timbuktu a new area for Islamic scholarship. News of the Malian empire's city of wealth even traveled across the Mediterranean to southern Europe, where traders from Venice, Granada, and Genoa soon added Timbuktu to their maps to trade manufactured goods for gold.
The University of Sankore in Timbuktu was restaffed under Musa's reign with jurists, astronomers, and mathematicians. The university became a center of learning and culture, drawing Muslim scholars from around Africa and the Middle East to Timbuktu.
In 1330, the kingdom of Mossi invaded and conquered the city of Timbuktu. Gao had already been captured by Musa's general, and Musa quickly regained Timbuktu, built a rampart and stone fort, and placed a standing army to protect the city from future invaders.
While Musa's palace has since vanished, the university and mosque still stand in Timbuktu today.
By the end of Mansa Musa's reign, the Sankoré University had been converted into a fully staffed University with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria. The Sankoré University was capable of housing 25,000 students and had one of the largest libraries in the world with roughly 1,000,000 manuscripts.
The death date of Mansa Musa is highly debated among modern historians and the Arab scholars who recorded the history of Mali. When compared to the reigns of his successors, son Mansa Maghan (recorded rule from 1337 to 1341) and older brother Mansa Suleyman (recorded rule from 1341 to 1360), and Musa's recorded 25 years of rule, the calculated date of death is 1337. Other records declare Musa planned to abdicate the throne to his son Maghan, but he died soon after he returned from Mecca in 1325. According to an account by Ibn-Khaldun, Mansa Musa was alive when the city of Tlemcen in Algeria was conquered in 1337, as he sent a representative to Algeria to congratulate the conquerors on their victory.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Musa I of Mali.|
- Ancient History Encyclopedia – Mansa Musa I
- History Channel: Mansa Moussa: Pilgrimage of Gold at archive.org
- Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa
| Mansa of the Mali Empire