We are obsessed with wealth. Virtually everyone in this country is familiar with the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Forbes magazine always garners attention with its list of the richest people in the world (https://www.forbes.com/sites/kerenblankfeld/2016/03/01/forbes-billionaires-full-list-of-the-500-richest-people-in-the-world-2016/#3de9d98d1897). But who has been the wealthiest of all time?
As you might imagine, compiling such a list requires quite a bit of calculating, especially if you include all of human history. The concept of wealth can vary from culture to culture, and there is a small matter of inflation. Nevertheless, there have been attempts to quantify amassed wealth through the ages.
Wikipedia’s “List of Wealthiest Historical Figures” divides the human adventure into three epochs — Early Modern to Modern, Middle Ages, and Antiquity.
- John D. Rockefeller is listed as wealthiest in the first category, with an inflation-adjusted fortune of $336 billion (2010 dollars). His riches came from the Standard Oil monopoly, and he is considered the wealthiest American ever.
- In the Middle Ages, the richest man (possible in all of history) was someone few have heard of — Musa I of Mali. Also known as Mansa Musa, he made his fortune by exploiting Mali’s salt and gold production. A devout Muslim, when he made his pilgrimage to Mecca, he reportedly spent so much gold he ruined the economies of Cairo, Medina and Mecca. Wikipedia lists his worth at $400 billion, although others claim there is no accurate method to estimate his wealth. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musa_I_of_Mali.)
- Identifying the wealthiest in Antiquity gets a bit flaky. Wikipedia lists the Roman Marcus Licinius Crassus first. He amassed his fortune in a variety of ways — inheritance, seizing the property of executed convicts, trading in slaves, and buying property at drastically reduced prices during fires. One clue is his name morphed into the English word crass. Some estimate his net worth as equal to the total annual Roman budget. But Augustus Caesar also deserves consideration, especially if you credit him with owning Egypt.
By the way, none of our modern billionaires received a mention.
Read the entire list at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wealthiest_historical_figures .