List of wealthiest historical figures
List of wealthiest historical figures
The list of the wealthiest historical figures is an attempt to gather and compare the net worths and fortunes of historical figures against one another. This is more art than science, as inflation and other factors devalue currency over time and economies of different regions and time periods valued goods and other commodities at different prices, making it difficult to accurately compare the fortunes of persons from different decades, centuries and millennia. Also, because several individuals and families never had their financial records revealed publicly, nor had any contemporary estimates of their worth, several persons may be noticeably missing from the list due to a lack of written accounts of their wealth.
While reading this list, the terms nominal and real value are used repeatedly, so it is important that a person unfamiliar with these terms understand their differences. The nominal value of a person’s net worth reflects the price in its day, without adjustments for inflation and other factors. The real value of a person’s net worth reflects an attempt to adjust and correct a fortune’s worth against economic factors that usually devalue a currency, and thus better reflect the buying power of that wealth.
Historic figures and wealth
Marcus Licinius Crassus
One of the leading politicians of Rome in his day, Marcus Licinius Crassus, along with Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, comprised the First Triumvirate. Crassus, born into a wealthy political family, inherited a fortune of 7 million sesterces after the death of his father in 87 BC. Political rivalries eventually led to the state seizing Crassus’s wealth. After several years of exile, Lucius Cornelius Sulla regained a position of power in Rome, and Crassus as a loyal and valued supporter found himself in charge of Sulla’s proscriptions. In such a position, Crassus was able to rebuild his family fortune by seizing the property of executed criminals for himself, and there is evidence that shows Crassus sometimes executed innocent individuals simply to obtain their vast estates and wealth.
Crassus also expanded his wealth by trading in slaves and by purchasing whole neighborhoods of Rome as they burned at drastically below market value. At the time, Rome had no formal way of battling fires and they usually were left to burn themselves out, which meant several estates and fortunes were lost in the process. Crassus employed a firefighting brigade of some five hundred men and, after he negotiated the purchase of the burning building and the surrounding estates in danger, the brigade would collapse the home that was ablaze to extinguish the fire before it could spread.
Crassus was known in Rome as Dives, meaning “The Rich” or “Moneybags”. Plutarch describes how Crassus’s relationship with a Vestal Virgin came into question at one point, for which the punishment was death. Crassus was acquitted after claiming that he merely courted the woman in an attempt to acquire her villa at below market cost and that carnal lusts never came to mind. Wishing to gain both political and military fame during the slave uprisings led by Spartacus, Crassus offered to equip, train, and lead two new legions of soldiers into battle at his own expense in an impressive show of personal wealth. In 53 BC, while again attempting military fame, Crassus was killed during a parley with a Parthian general; Lucius Cassius Dio tells that he thereupon had molten gold poured into his mouth to satiate his unyielding thirst for wealth.
It is believed that Crassus expanded his personal fortune to a remarkable 170 million sesterces, while Pliny the Elder surpised his fortune to be valued even higher, at 200 million sesterces. This would place Crassus’s net worth equal to the total annual budget of the Roman treasury. While it is difficult to determine the real value of his fortune, Crassus is held to be the wealthiest man in Roman history and is likely to be the richest man in all history, though some historians argue other figures whose wealth was never fully valued or made public may have had greater fortunes.
Musa I, Mansa of Mali, more commonly referred to simply as Mansa Musa, ascended to the throne of the wealthy Mali Empire in 1312. The emperors were fairly obscure figures outside of Western Africa, but Musa’s religious Hajj in 1324 would bring great attention to the wealth and extravagance of his lands. The retinue that Musa traveled with included 60,000 men, in addition to 12,000 slaves, 500 of which marched before the mansa dressed in silken robes and golden staffs. There were eighty camels in the train that are said to have carried anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds each of gold dust. Musa spent so much gold, particularly in Egypt, that the price of the rare metal was devalued and caused the economy of that nation to be devastated for years. Mansa Musa was reportedly quite pious and very generous to the common people upon his Hajj, such that the citizens of Cairo, Mecca and Baghdad told tales of his visit for generations.
The wealth of Mansa Musa is nearly legendary, the stories of his Hajj even being briefly dismissed in the past as fancy until historians cross-verified the journey in contemporary records. While the stores of his gold were known to be vast, no records have ever been produced to accurately determine exactly how the mansa held in his treasuries. Mansa Musa surely owned one of the greatest fortunes in all history based on what is known, and is the most probable contender against Marcus Licinius Crassus to be the wealthiest man in all of history.
Although figures pertaining to the wealth of the Rothschild family have never been publicly available as records of their finances are not available or preserved, it is estimated that at its height, during the mid-19th century, the family’s assets would, in today’s terms, be counted in trillions (US$). Throughout the 19th century, they privately controlled by far the largest fortune in the world. Some sources say that not even John D. Rockefeller, the richest American in history, managed to come close to rivalling the scale of the Rothschilds’ wealth.
- Name: Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov)
- Age at highest earnings: 50
- Age at death: 50 (died July 17, 1918)
- Net worth: US$290.7 billion[not in citation given]
- Original net worth: US$ 881 million (1916)
- Origin: Russian Empire
- Main source of wealth: Monarchy—the Emperor and Autocrat of the Russian Empire (from the House of Romanov).
- Other achievements: Wealthiest monarch and wealthiest head of state. Wealthiest Saint (formerly a martyr)
The de’ Medici family of Florence is one of the most illustrious noble families in European history, and were the hereditary holders of the titles of Grand Duke of Tuscany, Duke of Florence and Duke of Urbino, and married into still more. Other family members held singularly prominent positions, namely Pope Clement VII, Pope Leo X, Ippolito Cardinale de’ Medici and Marie de’ Medici, Queen of France and of Navarre.
Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici founded the family’s bank and supported the return of the papacy to Rome, which occurred in 1410. He was awarded for his efforts with the position of personal banker to the papacy, several tax contracts and alum mines, all of which firmly established both the family’s fortune and political influence. His son Cosimo would expand the bank, allowing the family fortune to grow to ƒ122,669 by 1457. Cosimo’s influence had become so great that he acted as de facto ruler of Florence despite holding no elected office. However by 1481, city tax records show that the family fortune had plummeted to ƒ57,930 under the direction of Lorenzo, who made for a better politician and diplomat than banker.
Asaf Jah VII
- Name: Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII
- Age at highest earnings: 50
- Age at death: 80 (died February 24, 1967)
- Net worth: US$225.1 billion
- Original net worth: US$1.4 billion (1937)
- Origin: Hyderabad, India
- Main source of wealth: Monarchy—Nizam of Hyderabad
- Other achievements: Wealthiest non-American and non-European, wealthiest Asian, wealthiest Indian
A companion of William the Conqueror during the Norman invasion of Britain, Alan Rufus, who is also known as Alain le Roux or Alan the Red, received some 250,000 acres in land grants as a reward for his allegiance. His property stretched throughout Yorkshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and London. His investments in steel only furthered to expand his fortunes, totaling some £11,000 by the time of his death in 1093. This would make Alan Rufus the wealthiest Briton in all the history of England, Scotland and Ireland. His fortune was estimated to be equivalent to £81.33 billion, or roughly US$162.73 billion, in 2007.
Legendary figures and wealth
Croesus was a king of Lydia in the sixth century BC. His name in Greek and Persian cultures became a synonym for a wealthy man; in English, expressions such as “rich as Croesus” or “richer than Croesus” are used to indicate great wealth. Croesus himself is often credited with the invention of the first formalized currency systems and coinage.
While a historic figure, the wealth that was for a long time attributed to Mausolus was more romantic legend than fact. The misconception of his wealth centred around the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, a great tomb constructed by the king for himself and his wife that was considered a “Wonder of the World” by Greek historians and writers.
It survived into the fifteenth century until it was finally destroyed by earthquakes. After which, the carved stones and sculptures strewn across the landscape caused writers of the Renaissance to still tell tales of the wealth of a king who could afford such beautiful artistry in such great numbers, and much of the remains of the tomb were either plundered for their sculpture or used as an artificial quarry from which castles and fortifications were built over the proceeding centuries. Yet, discoveries during excavations of the region show that the tomb’s construction either directly bankrupted the treasury, or indirectly lead to the downfall of the kingdom as high taxation and strain on resources led to political instability which eventually emboldened neighboring states to invade the weakened kingdom. Many of the artisans and craftsman that were initially hired to construct the tomb continued to work without pay after the kingdom had been bankrupted, working solely for the glory and renown of their efforts.
The Bible contends that King Solomon held a fortune that dwarfed any and every person that lived before him, making him the wealthiest man in the world. Each year, Solomon received 25 tons of gold. This did not include income derived from business, trade, nor the annual tribute paid to him by all of the kings and governors of Arabia. King Solomon’s throne was coated in pure gold and inlaid with ivory. It had 6 stairs, 12 lion statues (1 on either side of each step) and a solid gold foot stool. Two larger lion statues stood on either side of the throne. Artist Rendering of King Solomon’s Throne
All of the goblets and household articles in Solomon’s palace were pure gold. King Solomon was reportedly so rich, that during the years of his reign over Jerusalem, his immense wealth caused silver to be considered of little value and as common as rocks. As such, nothing in Solomon’s palace was made of silver. The same devaluation was noted of ceder wood; a lumber which, at the time, was considerd to be of great value and signifigance, both monetarily and non, for many societies throughout the region and beyond.
American industrialists and entrepreneurs have often held the distinction of being the wealthiest men in the world since the beginning of the industrial age, however such wealth is mostly nominal. As far as real value and buying power, the American fortunes are only fragments of the historic figures that preceded them.
John D. Rockefeller
On 29 September 1916, John D. Rockefeller became the first man to ever reach a nominal personal fortune of US$1 billion. Rockefeller amassed his fortune from the Standard Oil company, of which he was a founder, chairman and major shareholder. By the time of his death in 1937, his net worth had grown to US$1.4 billion. Adjustments place his net worth in the range of US$392 billion to US$663.4 billion in adjusted dollars for the late 2000s, and it is estimated that his personal fortune was equal to 1.53% of the total U.S. economy in his day. When considering the real value of his wealth, Rockefeller is widely held to be the wealthiest American in the history of the United States.
Cornelius Vanderbilt gained his fortune from shipping and railroad. His net worth of US$105 million in 1877 was equal to 1.15% of the U.S. economy in his day. With a real value estimated somewhere between US$143 billion and US$178.4 billion adjusted for the late 2000s, Vanderbilt is perhaps the second wealthiest American in the history of the country.
- Age at highest earnings: 57
- Age at death: 83 (died April 7, 1947)
- Net worth: US$194.9 billion[not in citation given]
- Original net worth: US$1.0 billion (1920)
- Origin: United States
- Main source of wealth: Ford Motor Company
Founder of the Carnegie Steel Company, which was the most extensive integrated iron and steel operations in the United States, Andrew Carnegie merged his company into U.S. Steel and sold his share for US$492 million in 1901. Capitalized at US$1.4 billion at the time, U.S. Steel was the first billion dollar company in the world. In his final years, Carnegie’s net worth was US$475 million, but by the time of his death in 1919 he had donated most of his wealth to charities and other philanthropic endeavors and had only US$30 million left to his personal fortune. Carnegie’s hundreds of millions accounted for about 0.60% of the U.S. economy and has a real value estimated at anywhere from US$75 billion to US$297.8 billion adjusted for the late 2000s.
John Jacob Astor
After emigrating to the United States, John Jacob Astor began trading in furs and later in real estate and opium. By 1800 his nominal wealth was some US$250,000, and by the time of his death in 1848 his fortune had grown to US$20 million. Equal to 0.93% of the national GDP, Astor has a real wealth estimated at some US$116 billion when adjusted for the late 2000s.
Bill Gates has singularly amassed the largest nominal fortune in all of history through his computer technology corporation Microsoft, peaking at US$101 billion in 1999. By 2007, his net worth had dropped to US$82 billion, and by 2009 his worth was valued at US$40 billion. In terms of real value, Gates is likely one of the ten wealthiest Americans in history, though his continuing fluctuation in net worth makes it difficult to pinpoint his exact position.
Forbes list of billionaires
Carlos Slim Helú (Mexico)
Bill Gates (United States)
Warren Buffett (United States)
Mukesh Ambani (India)
Lakshmi Mittal (India)
Forbes list of billionaires (2010)
The following list is Forbes ranking of the world’s richest billionaires as of February 12, 2010, and does not reflect changes since then. United States currently has the most billionaires amongst the world’s top 10 but India is expected to soon overtake the United States to gain more billionaires among the world’s top 10 than any other country.
|▬||Has not changed from the list for 2009.|
|▲||Has increased from the list for 2009.|
|▼||Has decreased from the list for 2009.|
List of wealthiest non-inflated historical figures
- For a comparison of the real value of wealthy historical figures, please see List of wealthiest historical figures.
The list of the wealthiest non-inflated historical figures is given in U.S. dollars for simple comparison purposes, and lists the peak net worth of an individual in nominal dollars, that is listed as the true and total sum possessed by the individual without any adjustments for inflation or other economic factors.
Wealthiest persons by peak net worth
|Photo||Name||Date of birth||Peak net worth in U.S. dollars||Date of peak net worth||Birth place||Residence||Source of wealth|
|Bill Gates||28 October 1955||$101.0 billion||5 April 1999||Seattle, United States||Medina, United States||Founder of the multinational computer technology corporation Microsoft.|
|Carlos Slim Helú||28 January 1940||$69.8 billion||18 October 2007||Mexico||Mexico||Telmex|
|Ingvar Kamprad||30 March 1926||$69.2 billion||4 April 2004 ||Sweden||Switzerland||IKEA|
|Lakshmi Mittal||15 June 1950||$69.1 billion||5 June 2008 ||India||London, United Kingdom||Arcelor-Mittal|
|Warren Buffett||30 August 1930||$66.1 billion||10 December 2007 ||United States||United States||Berkshire Hathaway|
|Mukesh Ambani||19 April 1957||$60.7 billion||14 January 2008 ||India||India||Reliance Industries|
|Lawrence Joseph Ellison||17 August 1944||$59.5 billion||1 September 2000||United States||United States||Oracle Corporation|
|Anil Ambani||4 June 1959||$59.3 billion||14 September 2008||India||India||Reliance – Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group|
|Hassanal Bolkiah||15 July 1946||$55.6 billion||1997 ||Brunei||Brunei||Monarchy|
|K. P. Singh||15 August 1931||$45.4 billion||14 January 2008 ||India||India||DLF Universal Limited|
|Paul Allen||21 January 1953||$40.0 billion||2000||United States||United States||Co-founder of the multinational computer technology corporation Microsoft, as well as investments through his company Vulcan.|
|Li Ka-shing||29 July 1928||$33.4 billion||30 November 2007 ||China||Hong Kong||Hutchison Whampoa|
|Rinat Akhmetov||21 September 1966||$31.1 billion||1 July 2008 ||Ukraine||Ukraine||President and founder of SCM Holdings, as well as other business ventures.|
List of college dropout billionaires
This list of college dropout billionaires is based (where not otherwise noted) on an annual ranking of the world’s wealthiest people compiled and published by Forbes magazine on March 11, 2009. The listed net worth represents the estimated value of assets less debt as of February 13, 2009. The list does not include heads of state whose wealth is tied to their position (see List of heads of state and government by net worth). College dropout refers to a person who has dropped out from a college or university before completing his/her degree. Some of the world’s most famous and richest billionaires (including the second richest man of the world, Bill Gates) are college dropouts. The combined net worth of these dropouts is USD 246 billion. This list is not exclusive.
List of college-dropout billionaires
- Bill Gates 
- Mark Zuckerberg 
- Lawrence Ellison 
- Eike Batista 
- Paul Allen 
- Steve Jobs 
- Michael Dell 
- Marc Rich 
- Gautam Adani
- Mukesh Jagtiani
- Azim Premji
- Subhash Chandra
- Roman Abramovich
- Li Ka-shing
- Richard Branson
- Sheldon Adelson
- Amancio Ortega
- Carl Icahn
- Kirk Kerkorian
- Donald Newhouse
- François Pinault
- Jack Taylor
- YC Wang (High-school dropout)
- Joaquín Guzmán Loera (Mexican drug lord)
- Dawood Ibrahim (Indian crime-boss)
- Hasan Ali Khan (Money-launderer)
- Madhu Koda (Politician)
- David Geffen
- David Murdock
- Dean Kamen
- Ted Turner
- Henry Fok
- Ralph Lauren
- Micky Arison
- Isaiah “Joey” Concepcion
Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are also technically college dropouts because they dropped out from their PhD programmes but they are not included officially in this list because this list only includes those persons who have not even completed a Bachelor’s degree.
Famous college-dropout billionaires from history
- John D. Rockefeller – American oil-magnate
- Pablo Escobar – Colombian drug lord
- Dhirubhai Ambani – Indian business-tycoon
- Adnan Khashoggi – Saudi-Arabian arms-dealer