Richest man of all time? Try king of Timbuktu

Bill Gates may be the richest man alive. But he's not the richest man in history. In fact, he barely makes the top 10.

According to a comparison of wealth across history done by Money, Gates—net worth $78.9 billion—ranked ninth on the list of the richest people of all time, just ahead of Genghis Khan (10th) and just behind Alan Rufus, better known as "Alan the Red" of England, who helped his uncle William the Conqueror in the Norman conquest.

Musa depicted holding a gold nugget from the 1375 Catalan Atlas.
Source: Wikipedia
Musa depicted holding a gold nugget from the 1375 Catalan Atlas.

Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, America's first billionaire, ranked seventh.

But the richest man in history, according to Money, is Mansa Musa, the king of Timbuktu, who lived between 1280 and 1337. Timbuktu was the largest producer of gold at a time when gold was in huge demand, the magazine said.

While numbers are scarce, Musa liked his gold—he had a gold staff, gold cup, gold crown and once loaded a caravan of camels with hundreds of pounds of gold.

Of course, determining the richest man in history is somewhat subjective.

Should the measure be simple inflation-adjusted wealth, or should it be wealth relative to gross domestic product? Since currency is a fairly modern invention, how should ancient assets be valued? And should it be economic "influence" rather than pure cash?

Money used the benchmark of "economic power," comparing an individual's wealth to the country's GDP, using research from Measuring Worth. But previous lists using a similar methodology ranked Rockefeller first in the U.S., with Andrew Carnegie second. But in the new Money list, Carnegie tops Rockefeller.

As Money's Jacob Davidson wrote: "The governing rule of lists like these is to not let the perfect become the enemy of good, or at least the enemy of fun."

To see the full Money list, click here.

(CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the publication's name.)