Who had how 2 Make Money money, John D. It’s a simple question with a very difficult answer. This ranking of the richest people of all time is based on hours of interviews with academic economists and historians. To read more about how the order was determined despite the difficulty of comparing wealth across a wide range of time periods and economic systems, read this. But for now, suffice to say that the following is a rigorous but highly debatable attempt to list the wealthiest historical figures in order of their economic influence.
Mansa Musa, the king of Timbuktu, is often referred to as the wealthiest person in history. According to Ferrum College history professor Richard Smith, Musa’s west African kingdom was likely the largest producer of gold in the world—at a time which gold was in especially high demand. There’s really no way to put an accurate number on his wealth. Records are scarce, if non-existent, and contemporary sources describe the king’s riches in terms that are impossible for the time. Some tales of his famous pilgrimage to Mecca—during which Musa’s spending was so lavish that it caused a currency crisis in Egypt—mention dozens of camels each carrying hundreds of pounds of gold. Smith says one year of Malian gold production probably generated about a ton. Others said Musa’s army consisted of 200,000 men, including 40,000 archers—troop numbers even modern superpowers would have a difficult time bringing to the field.
But to get caught up in the king’s exact wealth is to miss the point. As Rudolph Ware, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan, explains, Musa’s riches were so immense that people struggled to describe them. They’re trying to find words to explain that. There are pictures of him holding a scepter of gold on a throne of gold holding a cup of gold with a golden crown on his head. Imagine as much gold as you think a human being could possess and double it, that’s what all the accounts are trying to communicate.
When no one can even comprehend your wealth, that means you’re pretty darned rich. Stanford history professor Ian Morris, Augustus at one point held personal wealth equivalent to one-fifth of his empire’s economy. The empire’s wealth came from both its technological innovations and extreme skill at tax collection, which Edwards says was hundreds of years ahead of European governments. The professor also noted the Song Dynasty’s government was highly centralized, meaning the emperor held enormous control over the economy. The greatest emperor of India’s Mughal dynasty, Akbar controlled an empire that accounted for about one-fourth of global economic output. That assertion that India’s elite class was wealthier than their counterparts to the west is backed up by data from economist Branko Milanovic, whose research shows the Mughal Dynasty was one of the most effective empires of all time at extracting wealth from the population. Wealth: Complete control of a nation with 9.
Stalin is an uncommon figure in modern economic history: a dictator with absolute power who also controlled one of the largest economies in the world. While it is virtually impossible to separate Stalin’s wealth from the wealth of the Soviet Union, his unique combination of economic might and complete control of the USSR lead multiple economists to nominate him as one of the richest people of all time. You can easily see their logic. Data from the OECD shows that in 1950, three years before Stalin’s death, the USSR made up roughly 9. While that money didn’t belong directly to Stalin, he had the ability to leverage Soviet economic might for any reason he chose. Liber, a professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
6th of the land surface of the planet without any checks or balances. Does that make Stalin rich in the traditional sense? Was he among the wealthiest men? I suppose if you want to stretch the definition of wealth, but it was not his wealth. He controlled the wealth of the country.
Even so, it’s hard not to include Stalin on a list of the most economically powerful people in history. His wealth might be uncertain, but there’s no question the premier’s personal economic influence is unrivaled in recent history. Andrew Carnegie standing on the steps of his estate, circa 1910s. Rockefeller gets all the press, but Andrew Carnegie may be the richest American of all time.
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