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Mansa Musa: The richest man who ever lived (bbc.co.uk)
124 points by m-i-l 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments





"But he is by no means the richest man of all time. That title belongs to Mansa Musa, the 14th Century West African ruler who was so rich his generous handouts wrecked an entire country's economy."

How can anyone, let alone the BBC, make this claim? There aren't any records or any legitimate evidence to seriously compare wealth between eras. But even without records, we can safely say that mansa musa wasn't anywhere near the richest man in the 14th century where the khanates of the mongol empire, the holy roman empire, ottoman empire, etc reigned supreme.

Why make a claim as if it was a statement of fact when it is a conjecture at best?

And is a website called "Celebrity Net Worth" really anything that the BBC should be sourcing? What's the point of this article? It's not news. It's not history. Why did I spend a few minutes reading this article?

The first time I heard of mansa musa was years ago on reddit's TIL, but even there, it was ridiculed as being clickbait nonsense. Now the BBC is at it?


[flagged]


"Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Fun list, but it is pretty impossible to compare riches across history. Augustus personally owned Egypt, the breadbasket of the Mediterranean at that time. How to you even assign a dollar amount on that? How do you compare the purchasing power over time, when some valuables like gold or salt have become much more abundant, and other things like slaves cannot legally be traded anymore?

Even the ownership is a very relative term. Once I meet a homeless man who owned the whole universe, but the liquidity if this asset was nearly 0 as his ownership wasn't recognized by anyone.

Then you've got people like Joshua Norton who fall somewhere in between:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_Norton


And, of course, when some things we now take for granted wouldn't simply not have been available to even the richest of people. Say, air travel.

Air travel is a luxury compared to the availability of antibiotics, and not getting plague.

Antibiotics I believe would best be valued as "magic/miracle" in the distant past.

Plague like epidemics are coming back due to the anti-vax movement. Fully preventable too.

Off topic much?

No. Parent talking about how they didn't have plagues. Just a note that we're moving back in that direction.

Nobody has ever been vaccinated against plague in developed countries (where the antivax are an issue) and plague hasn't been eradicated through vaccination but prophylaxis. So the gp is both off topic and factually wrong.

Plague-like epidemics.

Please: plague epidemics were massive outbreaks that lasted a somewhat short amount of time. No diseases of this kind had ever been prevented by vaccination (you just don't have time to develop/distribute a vaccine, think Ebola last time).

Vaccines aren't made for epidemics: they are for _endemic_ diseases, and especially the ones which target children. Vaccines are good for things like polio, smallpox and Measles. But plague, Cholera, SARS, etc. are delt with emergency measures: quarantine, not vaccines.

The problem (and there is indeed a problem) with antivaxs, is child mortality, not «plague-like epidemics».


Comparing riches across history is precisely what Branko Mlianovic did: The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality

Really clever stuff: looking at the amount of labor one could buy, etc.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0047T869M/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?...


Maybe a good KPI is:

What’s the share of people living that work for you?


That ignores the productivity of these people. Generally speaking the BBC list seems to be quite silly because of this fact.

Productivity could be treated as constant, every 10 yrs or so? Maybe even 100 yrs in earlier times

Was Crassus not the wealthiest Roman ever?

depending on how you count, likely yes: as far as private property accrued trough commerce he would.

the issue is figure of power in history accumulated wealth based on their domains, so while their treasure was a separate entity from their national treasure, the lines get progressively blurred as the political structure gets more totalitarian and the difference between state and dominion vanishes.


And Truman didn't have a penny to his name though headed the US at the top of its might and unleashed more firepower on its ennemies than any army in history. It doesn't mean much.

Wasn’t Truman the reason that US presidents received a pension after leaving office?

That was Grant. Grant finished his memoirs on his deathbed so that his widow would be provided for by money from their sale. He was also a damn good writer and Mark Twain published it which didn't hurt.

While Grant was financially troubled, the pension wasn't passed until Truman was destitute in 1958.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Former_Presidents_Act


This brings up a question: does Trump own the American Treasury? I see the PM of my country at Starbucks sometimes and he looks like any other office drone but he makes billion euro decisions every day.

No?

I mean, there are countries where the President personally controls the Treasury, and you can usually spot them by the enourmous statutes and portraits of the Leader.


> does Trump own the American Treasury

No, Congress controls that, and they're elected by the American people, who ultimately own it.

Here's a more interesting example: https://www.thecrownestate.co.uk/en-gb/resources/faqs/

> The Crown Estate belongs to the reigning monarch 'in right of The Crown', that is, it is owned by the monarch for the duration of their reign, by virtue of their accession to the throne. But it is not the private property of the monarch - it cannot be sold by the monarch, nor do revenues from it belong to the monarch.


> No, Congress controls that, and they're elected by the American people, who ultimately own it.

Trump is also elected by the American people, though, right?


So is the winner of American Idol, that doesn't mean he/she own the treasure either.

Trick question: he's elected by the Electoral College. Which is why he's president despite recieving fewer votes than the other candidate, because it's not a direct election but a delegate system.

For those haven't heard, there are plans underway to change that, too. Check out the National Popular Vote movement:

https://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

They're more than halfway there. I'm all in favor of the movement, and am holding out hope we'll see it click into place in the next decade or so.

Frondo 13 days ago [flagged]

FWIW, I am happily planning to expend my 3500 magic internet points promoting unions, worker's rights, and democracy in the strongly antidemocratic USA. In fact, I am looking forward to it.

You can't use HN primarily for political and ideological battle. This is in the site guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. The reason is that it destroys intellectual curiosity, which is what this site exists for.

We've warned you about this numerous times already. I don't want to ban you, but if you keep doing this we're going to have to.


I sincerely wish the site admins were as fastidious at minimizing ideology when it's pro-capitalist, but I also understand that this site functions largely as a promotional vehicle for a venture capital fund; it's never wise to bite the hand that feeds one.

Those are cheap and easy shots to take, with no burden of proof. But you actually don't know how hard we work for those things not to be true. Nor does it change the rules or the request that you abide by them.

States elect the president. The people vote on the electors who represent their state in the electoral college.

> does Trump own the American Treasury?

Depends on what you mean by "own". I would use "able to decide how it is used". So I would say that Mark Zuckerberg "owns" Facebook because he has a controlling interest (although he does not own 100% of the stock). I would say that Donald Trump does not "own" the US Treasury because our form of government contains checks and balances.


Still not applicable to Trump because the U.S. Congress has power of the purse, not the President.

Not true, the president can declare an 'emergency' and circumvent Congress.

Referring to no specific case in particular: that is not a circumvention but an application of the authority that Congress delegated to the President in the National Emergencies Act.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Emergencies_Act



"Mansa Abu-Bakr, ruled the empire until 1312, when he abdicated to go on an expedition. Abu-Bakr was obsessed with the Atlantic Ocean and what lay beyond it. He reportedly embarked on an expedition with a fleet of 2000 ships and thousands of men, women and slaves. They sailed off, never to return."

I wonder how America would have looked like if an African power could manage to establish colonies almost 200 years before Europeans. The technological superiority probably wasn't there but the presumed pandemics caused by the contact may still have provided the invaders an advantage. If nothing else, that would have provided the American natives some additional experience before facing the Europeans.


Well if Mali has 2000 ships, that would have been “technologically superior” to what the native Americans would have had, since they had boats, not ships.

But Mali also had guns so I’m not sure how Mali couldn’t have been seen as more technologically advanced. I’m asking out of actual curiosity.


"Reportedly" had 2000 ships. The whole article is full of "reportedly" whenever it comes to hard numbers. She appears to be cherry picking outlandish accounts that are not corroborated with other sources.

For comparison, the Spanish armada, in 1588, posing a major challenge to British rule of the seas, had 130 ships. From what I can tell, the distance from Dakkar, the Atlantic port that appears in the map from the article to Lisbon [Atlantic port in Iberic peninsula] is ~1700 miles, while the distance from Lisbon to London is ~1000 miles. A force more than 10 times larger than the Spanish Armada only twice as far should have been a sight to behold, and reckon by European nations. Heck, if Abu-Bakr had cross-Atlantic ambitions, his navy should have long reached Europe. Yet, the mighty Mali navy is mysteriously a footnote in [or absent from] contemporary European maritime accounts.

This belongs to click-bait sites [copiously cited in the article] like money.com, celebritynetworth.com or smartasset.com, and not on the BBC. How the mighty have fallen...


Not to argue with your arguments but it wouldn't had been so easy to sail from Dakar to Lisboa due to prevailing winds. Sailing to America would be much easier.

Fair enough, I'm not a maritime buff. Here's a bit more info to confirm your point [0]. I was thinking more of intermediate stops, specifically Canary islands and Morocco coast, which could have made the voyage easier, and allow the gradual development of navigational prowess in the first place.

Speaking of intermediate stops, you'd expect a fleet of 2000 ships sailing to Americas to be borne out of a maritime culture with a significant footprint. You'd expect said culture to leave some archeological traces in the Cape Verde islands, which are only 400 miles straight to the west of Dakkar. I have never heard of any hard evidence of massive Mali empire / West African fleets traveling to Cape Verde islands on a regular basis. According to Wikipedia:

> Before the arrival of Europeans, the Cape Verde Islands were uninhabited.[12] The islands of the Cape Verde archipelago were discovered by Genoese and Portuguese navigators around 1456.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevailing_winds

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Verde#History


Sailing west is easy with passat wind. Sailing North to Europe would require sailing far into the ocean in NW direction and turning East when you catch westerlies at 30 deg North. That would require lots of courage or prior navigational knowledge.

It is almost impossible to sail North along the coast of Africa even for ships that can go strong against the wind.

This is what most people misunderstand about Columbus. He did not discover America, he discovered the way to go there and back which required sailing first South looking for passat and returning by sailing North and then catching western winds.

Columbus knew that (from studying reports) before he left on his first voyage, he repeated this four times as all sailors who followed in his steps did for 300 years.


"This is what most people misunderstand about Columbus. He did not discover America, he discovered the way to go there and back which required sailing first South looking for passat and returning by sailing North and then catching western winds."

You seem to take for granted the presence of New World in the mind of Columbus and that the only problem to be solved was securing the access. That is wrong. Columbus was looking for India. He descended to India's latitude and went looking for it westward¹. I'm not aware of any initial plans to return back to Europe on a similar manner, i.e. (this is a mere speculation but I'm inclined to believe that) he could have returned back by some well-known route, to minimize risks if he could find an actual Indian trade post, or anything familiar, really. Given the "unknown part of India" he'd encounter, only later it became a safer bet to attempt sailing back north-eastward.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyages_of_Christopher_Columbu...


I hear you. What I meant is that Columbus had enough pieces of a puzzle to make that journey there and back possible. Based on earlier journeys of Portuguese sailors, on reading different accounts both contemporary and historical.

And that after his discovery this circular route became the only way to America and back used by other sailors. This is more of an achievement then placing flag on some piece of land.


"that would have been «technologically superior» to what the native Americans would have had, since they had boats, not ships"

Technological superiority as in "the air [or aura] of invincibility"¹ that conquistadors acquired in their campaigns. That required quite a difference in military capabilities and skill to leverage that superiority into an exploitable psychological effect. I'm sure there were plenty of technological advantages over native Americans, but I'm not so sure that those were enough to have the same impact as that had for the later Spanish conquest force.

"Mali also had guns so I’m not sure how Mali couldn’t have been seen as more technologically advanced"

I doubt that gunpowder had at that time a significant use in Middle East², let alone in some far western parts of Africa. That use was initially reduced to casted-on-the-spot direction-fixed heavy bombards, used in fortress sieges, not against dispersed groups of infantry. It took time for technology to be developed into hand-wielding guns like the Arquebus. Add to that it would have been a stretch for some attacking force accustomed to dry weather to rely on gunpowder in (probably unexpected) tropical/equatorial wetlands.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cajamarca

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunpowder#Middle_East


It certainly might have been possible for them to reach Brazil, if they had set off in the right direction and could weather any storms.

I wonder, though, if Mali would have found the place as hostile as Vikings found North America.


If you want to play with these ideas a little, the excellent game Crusader Kings 2 (https://www.paradoxplaza.com/crusader-kings-ii/CKCK02GSK-MAS...) has a $5 DLC called Sunset Invasion that's worth picking up. It causes your session playing through 700 years of medieval European history to be interrupted at a random point by an cross-Atlantic invasion of Aztec conquistadors, who bring with them their own religion and strange new diseases.

The game disables this invasion by default, so you don't have to worry about it wrenching your playthrough in weird new directions unless you want it to. But it's a fun little way to shake up the usual with a bit of alternate history.


> The technological superiority probably wasn't there but the presumed pandemics caused by the contact may still have provided the invaders an advantage.

Assuming there would've been a clash at all. The kingdom of Cusco (precursor to the Incan empire) didn't start its huge expansion until 1438 under the command of Sapa Inca [1]. The Aztecs didn't found their capital until 1325. The Mayas were already past what seems to have been the peak of their civilization [3].

That's not to say there weren't powerful city-states in the region, and they probably would've unified under a shared enemy. If contact with Europeans is any indication, at least some natives would've opted to ally with the newcomers and Mansa Abu-Bakr probably would've done best accepting diplomacy.

If at all. Depending on where they land, they might've encountered land outside the influence of a powerful city-state (and empire). Assuming they would've tried to keep contact with Mali, and so open a permanent route, this could've been huge.

> If nothing else, that would have provided the American natives some additional experience before facing the Europeans.

If going for the theory above, where they settle a colony, perhaps skrimkish and go to war a cuploe of times, but are able to hold their ground, make a couple of allies and keep contact with Africa, they would've introduced the locals to a wealth of new knowledge, technology, and goods. And vice-versa, they would've learned a lot too.

Would it have meant Europeans caught wind of the American continent earlier, and thus colonization would've happened sooner? The black death happened from 1347 to 1351 so Europans at large were busy. The 100 year war between France and England happened from 1337 to 1453. There doesn't seem to have been much happening in Spain in the 14th century [6], but they weren't a single, unified kingdom until the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon [7] in the 15th century. I wonder if the separate kingdoms would've had the political/economic capital to fund a full-fledged expedition to the Americas.

Portugal was relativley stable, but still seemingly having some quarels with the Spanish kingdoms [8]. In any case, they formed their royal navy in 1317, so they do sound like the country that could've (and would've) jumped to an expedition across the Atlantic soonest had they caught wind of the new world. Except, of course, Africans and Portuguese/Spanish were at war. In fact, Islam and Christianity at large were at war. Would they have caught wind? Would they have believed it? Would Mali had been able to stop them from establishing long-lasting colonies in the Americas?

I guess we'll never know and this comment is already getting too long, but it's interesting to think about nonetheless. The world would probably be a very different place for sure though.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inca_Empire#Kingdom_of_Cusco

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztecs#Mexica_migration_and_fo...

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_civilization#Postclassic_...

[4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death

[5]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Years%27_War

[6]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Spanish_history#14...

[7]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabella_I_of_Castile#Birth_of...

[8]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portugal_in_the_Middle_Ages#Af...


So he was 32 when his brother handed over the throne. His brother was presumably older, I'm guessing under 45 though. The brother is the king, has everything, probably realizes he is getting old, and purposely heads out on a final adventure to see for himself what lies on the other side of the ocean. That is pretty epic.

>A hundred camels were in tow, each camel carrying hundreds of pounds of pure gold.

Or around $1bn in gold assuming 500 pounds per camel at current exchange rates. As a percent of the then global GDP, this was likely well above the modern super rich, but as a head of state, his pilgrimage would have been perhaps comparable to a mid-sized war for that time period given the number of troops and total expense.


Interesting article but Jakob Fugger the Rich was estimated to be worth 400 billion Euro at the time of death and he's missing from the list. How accurate might the rest of the list be then?

I think they forgot the standard of first checking Wikipedia [1]. Though they might just have cherry-picked people for their comparison list.

(not that Wikipedia is always correct, but it usually more likely to be correct than most sources)

Though it is an interesting read on Mansa Musa.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wealthiest_historical_...


Wait, the Fuggers were real? I thought that name and family were just an invention of Stephenson's in the Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.!

They are, indeed, real. And they make appearances in Stephenson's Baroque cycle as well, IIRC.

Extra History did 5 episodes on the empire of Mali, where episode 3 is about Mansa Musa:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-Un2xx6Pzo&list=PLhyKYa0YJ_...


Based on their chart, "incomprehensible" is a bigger number than "incalculable" and both are larger than $4.6 trillion.

No. Incalculable is less than 4.6 TUSD.

If you mean literally, mentioning the result of the calculation or estimation ($4.6 trillion) certainly disqualifies it from being "incalculable".

Incomprehensible on the other hand is slightly more realistic as most humans can't really comprehend such high values. They understand them as a number but not the extent of it. Which is why when large numbers are involved you'll surely find some equivalences: "as heavy as 1000 747s", "1000 times taller than the Empire State Building", etc.


Did you read the article?

They literally put $4.6 Trillion on an entry between wealth entries lableed "incomprehensible" and "incalculable".


That's why you gotta switch to using a long.

Alos half baked stuff like taking the highest estimate of Libya's sovereign wealth fund as Gaddafi's personal fortune.

Am I the only one who primarily reacts to Gaddafi's inclusion? I knew the crazy geezer was rich, but richer than Bezos and Gates rich?

Here's a critical breakdown of where that number came from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwindurgy/2011/10/25/did-moamm...

TLDR: The $200 Billion number comes from the value of property and assets owned by the Libyan government and sovereign wealth fund. And while Gaddafi had zero qualms about using tax money to directly fund his lavish lifestyle, treating government property as his own and using the sovereign wealth fund as his personal trust fund, he never made any moves towards actually seizing the assets or principal of the wealth fund for himself, so technically it shouldn't count towards his wealth.


> using tax money to directly fund his lavish lifestyle

I am trying to find references for this lavish lifestyle claim. His Wikipedia entry says

"His home and office at Azizia was a bunker designed by West German engineers, while the rest of his family lived in a large two-story building. Within the compound were also two tennis courts, a soccer field, several gardens, camels, and a Bedouin tent in which he entertained guests. In the 1980s, his lifestyle was considered modest in comparison to those of many other Arab leaders."

I guess it's hard to say whether this amounts to a "lavish lifestyle" for a dictator.


I am trying to find references for this lavish lifestyle claim

First relevant looking link I found on Google:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-gaddafi-homes/aband...


Yes, there are several of those. I'm not very sure of their reliability though, as it is customary to paint in the worst possible light the people you've been waging war against.

That seems like a weird definition of wealth. Is Bill Gates relatively poor by the same argument because his enormous investment in assets he ultimately controls dwarfs his personal consumption? If you have $100 million sitting in a bank account you never touch you still own at least $100 million.

It's like Bitcoin:

If you had 3 million BTC, you couldn't sell them all without the value of BTC plummeting.


There's ~16 million BTC in circulation. If you had 3 million you'd be trying to sell ~20% of the total supply. Whereas Gaddafi allegedly had $200 billion in assets, which against the approximate world wealth of $300 trillion is around 0.05%.

This figure is disputed, and it's not clear what happened to it after his death. Despite a large campaign to seize it.

On the other hand, Libya earns about $20bn a year in oil exports. Subtract cost of production and then consider how much of that could have been taken by Gaddafi personally.


The $200 billion gaddafi wealth was part of the psy-op to take down gaddafi a few years ago. I remember seeing it all over social media and the news before gaddafi was taken out.

Interestingly enough, guess who else has $200 billion?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/20...

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/31/financier-bill-browder-says-...

I'm sure they did a study to determine what wealth value was believable and anger inducing? Was $100 billion too low for people to care and $300 billion too high for anyone to take seriously? It'll be interesting to find ou thow they settled on $200 billion.

If I was maduro, I'd look for places to hide if the psy-ops start to mention his $200 billion or starts to focus on his wealth.


I've read this or a similar article before; the main thing is when a person's personal fortune is mixed with that of a country. If you'd consider idk, the value of the US and Trump to be one and the same, he'd have hundreds of trillions of USD (based on the US's $20 trillion / year GDP).

That's silly in the US case because the president doesn't even have the power to decide how to spend the money in the treasury much less the accumulated wealth of the companies and people... In the case of a dictatorship mixing the wealth of both makes sense at least a bit because they can directly control a lot of it (and are often embezzling the shit out of everything too so they actually 'own' a lot of wealth).

If you liked this, you may also want to read about Howqua, a Chinese merchant who was the richest man in the world in the 19th century.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howqua


There is a character in the James Clavell book, Tai-Pan that bears some resemblance to Howqua. I wonder if he was based on him.

Quite likely. Clavell's novels are fiction but they were inspired by real people and real events.

Most of the story is ripped from the Wikipedia article. But then...

> Lucy Duran of the School of African and Oriental Studies in London

It's the School of Oriental and African Studies - SOAS. Not SAOS.

Yikes.



Jeez, the numbers thrown around in the article are insane!

Sample:

The king reportedly paid the poet 200 kg (440lb) in gold

A hundred camels were in tow, each camel carrying hundreds of pounds of pure gold.

If this wasn't BBC, I'd have thought I was reading The Onion :P

The later arrival of Europeans in the region was the final nail in the empire's coffin.

:( Of course


> The later arrival of Europeans in the region was the final nail in the empire's coffin.

> :( Of course

We're talking here about an empire that tracked 12,000 slaves both ways across the Sahara. Most regions the Europeans colonized were plenty capable of inflicting the suffering on their people that the Europeans managed, the Europeans just industrialized the practices.


I think we can all agree that you don't have to go back very far in time for virtually everyone to appear like giant jerks (to put it mildly) when seen with modern eyes. Industrialization of exploitation has its own particular sinister aspect as opposed to just plain exploitation, though.

I do get sad sometimes that Europe bulldozered over virtually everything, not from a "better or worse" perspective, or "right or wrong" (because how am I to be a judge of that?), but from the perspective of curiosity as to where the Mali, or Inca, etc., would have been today if that hadn't happened.


There's some anthropological research that basically says that remote communities are generally more backwards than bigger communities. Some examples of this being the populations of the Americas, compared to the ones from the Old World; or the one in Tasmania, which managed to lose the use of tools their forebears in Australia were using.

Of course, extrapolating is super hard and risky, but the impression I get is that at least for the Americas, the local populations would be less competitive than the ones in the Old World.


Tenochtitlan had about 150,000-200,000 people at its height. That was larger than any city in Western Europe save Paris, and definitely far larger than any city that most of the conquistadors would have seen. The Spanish capital at Toledo was maybe 40,000-60,000 people.

I think you're misunderstanding what I'm saying.

The same people that lived in Tenochtitlan hadn't yet discovered iron or had an alphabet.

By most objective measurements, their civilization was in an earlier stage than say, Ming China.

A part of this was due to lower competition levels in the New World (fewer people - and cultures - overall) and a part of it was environmental. For example they didn't have wheeled vehicles because they didn't have horses or oxen.

And regarding your city comparison, Ur had 100.000 people in 2100 BC (!), Carthage had 0.5M in 300 BC, Rome had 1.2M in 200 AD, Baghdad had 0.9M in 900 AD and Beijing had 1M in 1500 AD. So? :)


> By most objective measurements, their civilization was in an earlier stage than say, Ming China.

Yeah, Tenochtitlan had a meritocratic system of governance, universal primary education, ...

History doesn't work according to a Civilization-style tech tree. A lot of the technological development is driven by the needs of the immediate area. Maize, the staple crop of the Mesoamerica, is actually a superior crop to rice in terms of caloric yield per acre (and the genetic engineering it took to turn teosinthe into maize is amazing--far more involved than the domestication of wheat or rice). Tenochtitlan didn't use wheeled vehicles because it was built on a large lake bed and you could use flat boats to move a large amount of goods.

The New World was probably more populated in 1492 than you think it was, and newer archaeological evidence is starting to show that what we thought were "empty" lands of people were actually fairly densely populated--say, the Amazon rainforest. Pre-Columbian Americas are usually now figured at about 100 million people, which would be more than contemporaneous Europe and North Africa in population.


> Yeah, Tenochtitlan had a meritocratic system of governance, universal primary education, ...

So did various places in the Old World. Were those systems you mention for Tenochtitlan universal in the New World?

> History doesn't work according to a Civilization-style tech tree. A lot of the technological development is driven by the needs of the immediate area. Maize, the staple crop of the Mesoamerica, is actually a superior crop to rice in terms of caloric yield per acre (and the genetic engineering it took to turn teosinthe into maize is amazing--far more involved than the domestication of wheat or rice). Tenochtitlan didn't use wheeled vehicles because it was built on a large lake bed and you could use flat boats to move a large amount of goods.

Yes, and I even mentioned that there were various factors involved in the whole thing. Still, at the end of the day, if I have 100 coins and you only have 20, you're poorer than I am. Some things we can measure objectively, and civilizations are rated on a scale. Otherwise the Stone Age would be considered as developed as the Bronze Age and the Bronze Age would be as developed as the Iron Age and... Yet things don't work like that.

> The New World was probably more populated in 1492 than you think it was, and newer archaeological evidence is starting to show that what we thought were "empty" lands of people were actually fairly densely populated--say, the Amazon rainforest. Pre-Columbian Americas are usually now figured at about 100 million people, which would be more than contemporaneous Europe and North Africa in population.

Yes, but the Old World was much bigger in sheer size plus the main population centers were China and India, which you conveniently skip over :)


> Some things we can measure objectively, and civilizations are rated on a scale.

No, they aren't.

But even if they were, the best objective measure might be: given the choice of living within either of two different civilizations, which would people prefer? And from that standpoint, the New World was actually more advanced than Europe:

> I asked seven anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians if they would rather have been a typical Indian or a typical European in 1491. None was delighted by the question, because it required judging the past by the standards of today—a fallacy disparaged as “presentism” by social scientists. But every one chose to be an Indian. Some early colonists gave the same answer. Horrifying the leaders of Jamestown and Plymouth, scores of English ran off to live with the Indians.

Also:

> Back home in the Americas, Indian agriculture long sustained some of the world’s largest cities. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán dazzled Hernán Cortés in 1519; it was bigger than Paris, Europe’s greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gawped like hayseeds at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away. They had never before seen a city with botanical gardens, for the excellent reason that none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate. (Streets that weren’t ankle-deep in sewage! The conquistadors had never heard of such a thing.)

> Spaniards, who seldom if ever bathed, were amazed by the Aztec desire for personal cleanliness.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/03/1491/30...


1. Why do you folks keep moving the goalposts? You're the second person that replies to me almost the same way, primarily not reading my comments. I didn't say the New World vs Europe, I said the New World vs the Old World.

There were Asian cities of 1 million people at the time, there's plenty of Asian civilizations where people bathed, etc.

Plus saying that the Spaniards hadn't seen such a thing is not saying that much in a time where the average person would travel, on average, at most 20km from their hometown, throughout their entire lives. Even for the average conquistador, this was the trip of their lives. They'd better be impressed by what they see, now that they get to see thing thousands of km away from their home village! :)

2.

> No, they aren't.

Yes they are, I don't adhere to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_relativism. A civilization that has discovered antibiotics is better, all other things being equal, than one that hasn't.


> A civilization that has discovered antibiotics is better, all other things being equal, than one that hasn't.

What metric do you mean to use? If you want to measure by health outcomes, the most technologically advanced societies did not surpass paleolithic societies until about the 1950s. For 10,000 years, the healthiest people on the planet would have been "backwards" hunter-gatherer, non-agricultural societies. Even if you want to limit to comparisons between agricultural societies, the Aztecs were probably healthier than the Spaniards they encountered.

Technological advancement does not necessarily mean superiority. Another fun fact to point out is that early iron weapons were actually inferior to contemporary bronze weapons. (And the Spaniards' reaction to the Aztec macuahuitl was "ha ha, funny looking weapons… holy crap, those things are deadly dangerous"). If you try to actually start defining objective criteria, the assumption that Western society is/was superior is actually very shaky.


Horseback archers in open grasslands also retained a massive advantage over firearms until the Colt revolver.

The point is that not all other things are equal in the slightest. Referring to American Indian cultures as “backwards” is an arbitrary value judgment and a statement of opinion, not fact.

Mansa Munsa was head of an empire himself. It seems incongruent to show displeasure for it had been replaced by yet another empire, just because it was based in some European country.

Richest man in history and already unknown to most of the world, along with many others on the list. Just goes to show that legacy is not measured on a balance sheet.

Yes. Legacy is governed by controlling the narrative. That is the real lesson.

Another lesson - there is no one legacy, we each have our own context. Go overseas and they will know Mansa Musa better than our local legends. Sort of like you comparing your high school music playlist with a friend in college from another country and you're like...woah...never heard of these artists!


It would be interesting to see how well known he is in Africa. As westerners we have only a very limited view of history and we know only about people who were relevant to our own history.

[flagged]


The whole Rothschilds thing stinks of anti-Semitic slander and refusal of spendthrift bellicose nations to take responsibility. It isn't that the ruling classes were all greedy, inhumane and glory hungry that got into deep debt killing each other in petty squabbles for no lasting gain - it is our wealthy creditor's fault!

Especially since the two reason why jews were expelled were fundamentalism and avoiding paying their debts.


Though anti-Semitism is definitely either a contributing or complicating factor, it's human nature to blame lenders for the failures of creditors.

Do Rotschilds have a monopoly on being Jewish? They did make a fortune on wars and they did own the London Stock Exchange, those are historical facts and they have nothing to do with race - why are you trying to conflate pointing out some historical facts with "anti-semitism"?

Gaddafi was worth $200bn?!! What an ignominious way to go. It must have sucked particularly hard to be that rich and die the way he did... money != power I suppose, not always anyway.

No, it should be clear that however they're calculating wealth is obviously wrong. Augustus Caesar has the wealth of $4.6 trillion? There is simply no way that is true.



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