The history of wealth shows today's titans are mere minnows in the richest of all time list. Here are six stories of incredible wealth.
There is so much wealth about today it’s easy to think people like Bill Gates from Microsoft, Elon Musk from Tesla and Jeff Bezos from Amazon must be the richest people in history.
Incredibly they aren’t. They aren’t even the wealthiest people since the industrial revolution.
That title goes to John D Rockefeller who – using his wealth as a percentage of US GDP – was worth an incredible $400 billion.
But it’s before the industrial revolution that almost unimaginable wealth was held by a few. These were the kings, the conquerers and a lone female emperor.
Before I tell you their story, I have to point out that wealth has not always been measured the same way through the ages. A lot of early wealth was tied to land and personal fortunes were often entwined with ruling an empire.
Then there’s the record keeping. There are plenty of legends but it is often hard to substantiate the precise number.
That said, it’s a fun exercise and I have to acknowledge the work of the people at VisualCapitalist.com for their research on this topic.
So let’s kick off and a little reminder, these people’s wealth is measured, not in billions or even hundreds of billions.
The starting point is the equivalent of $1 trillion USD.
Position six on the list goes to Genghis Kahn. He’s arguably the most famous conqueror and military strategist in history. His Mongol Empire covered 22% of all the land area on earth.
Despite the spoils of victory he never built palaces or temples or tombs. He distributed most of his $1 trillion wealth to soldiers and their families.
Next is another legendary figure – King Solomon. He ruled for 39 years from 970 - 931 BC for 39 years and is reputed to have received 25 tons of gold, every year as tribute from his subjects. His wealth is estimated at $2.2 trillion
Then there is a big jump to Augustas Caesar – the first Roman Emperor. He was so rich, the entire country of Egypt was considered his private property. A the time Egypt counted for at least 25% of global GDP which gave him wealth of $4.6 trillion.
Now we get into the trio of truly rich!
That starts with the only female emperor in China’s history.
Empress Wu is considered the richest woman of all time. She ruled for 15 years after convincing her son to abdicate. On taking the throne she commenced the Tang Dynasty and controlled 22% of global GDP. She was worth an estimated $21 trillion.
In second place is Akbar the Great. He ruled over much of the Indian subcontinent known as the Mughal Empire from 1556 until 1605. During that time he tripled its wealth and has been described as "very effective at extracting wealth from the population". That efficiency allowed him to accumulate a $23 trillion dollar fortune!
And now to the richest person in history.
Emperor Shenzong, the ruler of China from 1048 -1085 was reputedly extremely diligent in collecting taxes!
The Song Dynasty during which he ruled was a highly centralised operation with enormous control vesting in his court. They allegedly pioneered the use of paper money and were the first to use gunpowder.
Force and fiat currency allowed Shenzong to accumulate an estimated wealth of $28 trillion!
Some incredible tales and most have one thing in common. They used force, coercion and taxes to make themselves incredibly rich.
It’s no surprise the wealthiest of them all, centralised power so they could have more control.
History is a great teacher. So next time you’re considering the request for a government to make more decisions, take more responsibility or simply to do more…understand that history shows that process rarely benefits the people.
I suspect that things today are not much different.