Blog Histories of Gold #1: How One Emperor Bankrupted Cairo

Histories of Gold #1: How One Emperor Bankrupted Cairo

For the inaugural edition of Garfield’s Histories of Gold, there’s nothing better to talk about than how one of the world’s wealthiest emperors caused the collapse of Cairo’s economy.

In 1307, Mansa Musa inherited the flourishing West African kingdom of Mali. The empire had already been affluent thanks to his predecessors, but king Musa of Mali I sought to greatly expand Mali’s global influence.

Perhaps his most notable action was a storied pilgrimage to Mecca. After nearly two decades in power, Mansa Musa departed on the 4,000-mile journey from his capital of Niani with a caravan of 60,000 men.

Some 12,000 of his procession were fully dressed in brocade—fabric woven with silver or gold thread—and 500 held gold-adorned staffs. To further display Mali’s prosperity, 80 camels followed behind with a total of 24,000 pounds of gold.

When Musa I of Mali traversed into Cairo, he poured so much gold into the economy that Cairo fell into an economic depression. Even though the value of gold hadn’t recovered over a decade later, the roughly 1 million inhabitants of the city continued to praise Mansa Musa’s generosity.

To learn more about Musa I of Mali’s reign, click here.