Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa, died 1337, ruler of the Mali empire (1312-37). A Muslim, he brought the Mali empire to its greatest height. During his reign Timbuktu became a center of Muslim culture and scholarship. His pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324-25 brought Mali fame throughout the world; the emperor traveled with an immense entourage, preceded by 500 slaves carrying staffs of gold. His gifts of gold in Cairo were so lavish that the metal was devalued in Egypt.
Mansa Kankan Musa was the tenth mansa or emperor of the Mali Empire during its height in the 14th century. He ruled as mansa from 1312 to 1337. Musa is most noted for his 1324 hajj to Mecca and his role as a benefactor of Islamic scholarship.


Mansa Musa's birth date is not known. Oral histories recount he was the grandson of Mansa Abubakari I, Sundiata Keita's half-brother. Musa's father was a prince named Faga Laye, who never attained the title of mansa.


In the 14th year of his reign (1324), he set out on his famous pilgrimage to Mecca. It was this pilgrimage that awakened the world to the stupendous wealth of Mali. Traveling from his capital of Niani on the Upper Niger River to Walata (Oualâta, Mauritania) and on to Tuat (now in Algeria) before making his way to Cairo, Mansa Musa was accompanied by a caravan consisting of 60,000 men including a personal retinue of 12,000 slaves, all of whom were clad in brocade and Persian silk. He also brought with him 80 to 100 camels loaded with 300 pounds of gold each. The emperor rode on horseback and was directly preceded by 500 slaves, each of whom carried a four-pound staff of solid gold.

Musa's lavish clothing and the exemplary behavior of his followers created a favorable impression among the peoples his carvans encountered. The Cairo that Mansa Musa visited was ruled over by one of the most powerful of the Mamluk sultans, Al-Malik an-Nasir. The emperor's noted civility notwithstanding, the meeting between the two rulers might have ended in a serious diplomatic incident, for so absorbed was Mansa Musa in his religious observances that he was only with difficulty persuaded to pay a formal visit to the sultan.

The historian al-'Umari, who visited Cairo 12 years after the emperor's visit, found that the inhabitants of this city - with a population that approached one million residents - still spoke in reverential tones about Mansa Musa. So lavish was the emperor in his spending that he flooded the Cairo market with gold, thereby causing such a decline in its value that, some over a decade later, the value of specie had still not fully recovered.

Later reign

During his long return journey from Mecca in 1325, Musa heard news that his army 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.

Construction in Mali

Musa embarked on a large building program, raising mosques and madrassas in Timbuktu and Gao. In Niani, he built the Hall of Audience, a building communicated by an interior door to the royal palace. It was "an admirable Monument" surmounted by a dome, adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The windows of an upper floor were plated with wood and framed in silver foil, those of a lower floor were plated with wood, framed in gold. Like the Great Mosque, a contemporaneous and grandiose stucture 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 the Mali Empire, especially in comparison with the relative backwardness of much of Europe. Sergio Domian, an Italian art and architecture scholar, wrote the following about 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."

There are no records about the death of Musa. However, it is generally believed that he died in the decade of the 1330s.

Mansa Musa became known throughout Africa, Europe, and Central Asia for his wealth and generous ways. As king of the West African empire of Mali, Musa controlled the gold-producing regions of Senegal and Bour? During his rule, both learning and the arts increased in his kingdom. Musa became best known over the centuries for his show of wealth during his pilgrimage, or religious trip, to Mecca in what is today Saudi Arabia.
    Little is known about the early life of the person who became known as Mansa Musa. The term mansa means "king" or "lord." Historians do know that Musa inherited the title mansa and the kingdom of Mali from his father in about 1307. Years before, Musa's grandfather, Sundiata, founded the kingdom of Mali, after conquering the Ghana Empire around 1230. Under Musa's father, Uli, trade centers, such as Timbuktu and Djenn? became important places of culture.
Ghana Empire
    Musa enlarged the kingdom of Mali into an empire. The Mali Empire included most of western Africa. These lands include the present-day countries of Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and parts of Burkina Faso, Maureitania, and Niger.
Mali Empire
    As king, Musa encouraged agriculture, industry, and trade. The empire gained most of its wealth through its control of the trade routes that passed through its territory. Gold and salt were the most important products that moved along the routes. Because of the wealth of the Mali Empire, a large army was needed to protect the empire from attack. This army also made sure that traders and merchants were safe during their journeys through the lands of the empire.
    Musa was a Muslim, or follower of Islam. During his rule, he spread the religion of Islam throughout the entire Mali Empire. Nevertheless, he did not force citizens to accept the religion.
    As a religious duty of Islam, a Muslim is expected to make a pilgrimage, or hajj, to the city of Mecca. In 1324, Musa began his famous pilgrimage to Mecca. He took with him a caravan, or group of travelers. This caravan contained 60,000 people, including 12,000 slaves. All the travelers were dressed in fine clothes made of silk. Musa rode on horseback, led by a group of 500 workers. Also in the caravan were 80 camels, each carrying part of Musa's baggage and 300 pounds of gold.
    Musa's show of wealth and generosity to other Muslims gained him fame during his journey. During his pilgrimage, Musa gave away gold to people in need. In Mecca, Musa asked the Muslim architect Abu Ishaq as-Sahili to design mosques, or Muslim houses of worship, in the Mali cities of Gao and Timbuktu. The Gao mosque remained an important center of worship as late as the seventeenth century. The Sakore mosque in Timbuktu became a center of learning where Muslim religion, history, and laws were studied.
    Musa invited many of the finest poets, scholars, and artists from Africa and central Asia to live in Timbuktu. Under Musa's rule, Timbuktu and the Mali Empire continued to develop into an important place for trade and culture. Because of the empire's wealth and support of learning, it soon became known as one of the most powerful empires in the world.
    Musa died around 1337. He had ruled over the Mali Empire for about 30 years. After Musa's death, his son Mansa Maghan I became ruler of the empire. By the late fourteenth century, weak leaders lost control of much of the Mali territory.
Mansa Musa became known throughout Africa, Europe, and Central Asia for his wealth and generous ways. As king of the West African empire of Mali, Musa controlled the gold-producing regions of Senegal and Bour? During his rule, both learning and the arts increased in his kingdom. Musa became best known over the centuries for his show of wealth during his pilgrimage, or religious trip, to Mecca in what is today Saudi Arabia.

Popular culture

Mansa Musa is featured as the leader for the Mali Empire in Civilization IV. His leader traits are Financial and Spiritual. The capital of the Mali Empire is Timbuktu.



  • Bell, Nawal Morcos. ""The Age of Mansa Musa of Mali: Problems in Succession and Chronology." The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 5, No. 2(1972), 221-234.
  • Niane, D.T. Recherches sur l’Empire du Mali au Moyen Âge. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1975, 112 pages.

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