According to most scholars, the Malian ruler Mansa Musa was born in 1312. He is best-known for his famous pilgrimage to Mecca which brought him great renown. His rule brought prosperity to Timbuktu and increased its importance as a trading center as well as a cultural center. He famously built a university as well as many mosques. An important Muslim emperor, Mansa Musa helped spread Arabic advancements to his kingdom of Mali.
Mansa Musa obtained the throne of Western Africa’s Malian Empire due to his position as deputy ruler. When the former king of the empire failed to return from his pilgrimage, Mansa Musa became king. The empire was situated on the Mandinka Plateau between the Senegal and Niger Rivers. While Mali owned several important trade routes, Mansa Musa expanded the empire’s holdings. Historians believe he was one of the wealthiest rulers of his time. Mansa Musa is also noted for his deep religious beliefs and was known to be enamored of the Eastern Mediterranean’s rich culture.
Prompted by his strong religious beliefs, Mansa Musa made his famous pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. According to historical sources, he left Mali with roughly sixty thousand men as well as twelve thousand slaves. He provided food for the entourage’s people and animals. He also brought massive amounts of gold which he spread to such cities as Cairo and Medina along his way. In Egypt, Mansa Musa famously interrupted the economy as his gold flooded the market inadvertently devaluing it. This and the wealth of his great entourage made him famous throughout the Middle East and Europe.
Mansa Musa brought various skilled architects and scholars back with him from Arabia to begin constructing great works across his empire, particularly in Niani, his capital, and Timbuktu. He had a magnificent palace built, but it has not survived. Mali grew to contain many important urban centers that were culturally rich. In Timbuktu he also had the Djinguereber Mosque built which is still in existence today. Mansa Musa’s university also still exists today.
The ruler’s death has been debated by scholars, but most accept 1337 as the year of his death. Mansa Musa is also remembered for his religious tolerance. Though he was a devout Muslim, he allowed the majority of his people, the Mandinka, to practice their own beliefs. He is also remembered for his great generosity giving away gold and souvenirs on his pilgrimage to Mecca. Mansa Musa’s contemporaries wrote that he was widely respected. His rule later came to be associated with culture, learning, and decadence.