Mansa Mūsā’s Pilgrimage to Mecca Sparks Interest in Mali Empire Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The large entourage that accompanied Mansa Mūsā, emperor of the prosperous Mali Empire, during his famous pilgrimage to Mecca and the lavish wealth he distributed along the way left a lasting impact on North Africa and the Mediterranean. The pilgrimage prompted widespread interest in Mali’s riches and placed it on the map of the medieval world.

Summary of Event

Mansa Mūsā is best known for the famous hajj (pilgrimage) he made to Mecca in 1324-1325. In preparation for the pilgrimage, the emperor levied special contributions from every trading town and every province in his prosperous Mali Empire. [kw]Mansa Mūsā’s Pilgrimage to Mecca Sparks Interest in Mali Empire (1324-1325) [kw]Mūsā’s Pilgrimage to Mecca Sparks Interest in Mali Empire, Mansa (1324-1325) [kw]Mecca Sparks Interest in Mali Empire, Mansa Mūsā’s Pilgrimage to (1324-1325) [kw]Mali Empire, Mansa Mūsā’s Pilgrimage to Mecca Sparks Interest in (1324-1325) Mali Mūsā, Mansa Mecca;Mūsā, Mansa[Musa, Mansa] Africa;1324-1325: Mansa Mūsā’s Pilgrimage to Mecca Sparks Interest in Mali Empire[2700] Government and politics;1324-1325: Mansa Mūsā’s Pilgrimage to Mecca Sparks Interest in Mali Empire[2700] Religion;1324-1325: Mansa Mūsā’s Pilgrimage to Mecca Sparks Interest in Mali Empire[2700] Sumanguru Sundiata Mansa Uli Mansa Mūsā Mansa Maghan I Mansa Sulaymān Ibn Baṭṭūṭah

According to contemporary Arab writers, Mansa Mūsā traveled with an immense entourage consisting of sixty thousand porters, preceded by five hundred slaves, each carrying a staff of gold weighing about 6 pounds (3 kilograms). Each of the one hundred baggage camels carried about 300 pounds (135 kilograms) of gold.

Mansa Mūsā is said to have built a new mosque every Friday on his way to Egypt. His visit was long remembered in Cairo as one of the major events in the city’s history. His gifts of gold in Cairo were so lavish that their infusion into the economy reportedly depressed the value of gold in Egypt for several years. Travel by land;Mansa Mūsā[Musa, Mansa]

The splendor exhibited by Mansa Mūsā’s traveling party awakened the world to the riches of Mali and the greatness of its emperor. As early as 1375, European cartographers depicted the Sudan with a portrait of Mansa Mūsā holding a gold nugget. North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, including the Italian city-states, took an increasing interest in Mali and its gold. Trans-Saharan trade reached a new dimension with the European and North African demand for Mali’s resources. Commercial and cultural interaction between Mali and other nations was greatly stimulated by Mansa Mūsā’s visit to the Middle East.

Approaching Mecca.

(G. T. Devereux)

After his visit, Mansa Mūsā pursued a vigorous policy to Islamize Mali. He brought back with him many books and religious scholars and encouraged Islamic learning by opening madrasas (Islamic schools) throughout the empire. Timbuktu in particular developed into one of the foremost centers of Islamic learning, attracting scholars from all over the Muslim world. The architects Mansa Mūsā brought from the Middle East built splendid palaces and mosques and introduced a new architectural style in the Western Sudan. Islam;Mali Mali;Islam

It would be helpful at this point to summarize Mali’s place in the history of West Africa and how it came to be the wealthy empire Mansa Mūsā ruled at the time of his pilgrimage.

The collapse of the West African kingdom of Ghana in the eleventh century led to rivalry among its former vassal states, who vied for control of the upper Niger valley and its connections with the lucrative trans-Saharan trade. By 1200, the Susu warrior Sumanguru Sumanguru had subdued various small chiefdoms and had welded together the Susu kingdom Susu kingdom , which included much of the area once controlled by Ghana.

Sumanguru’s hegemony was challenged by Sundiata Sundiata , a chief of the Mande-speaking people who led a successful rebellion. After killing Sumanguru at the Battle of Kirina (1235) Kirina, Battle of (1235) , Sundiata united the Susu with other chieftaincies and forged the Mandinka state, which now is better known as the Mali Empire. Sundiata established his capital city at Niani and declared himself overall mansa (Malinke for king of kings or emperor). Royal authority was vested in the Keita clan, which established itself as the ruling dynasty of the burgeoning empire. Sundiata’s companions and generals constituted the provincial governing elite.

Sundiata was succeeded by Mansa Uli, Uli, Mansa who continued his father’s conquests and incorporated considerable areas of the Sahel region. However, the most famous of the Keita rulers was Mansa Mūsā, who carried out further campaigns of imperial expansion and consolidation. During his reign, Mali’s realm extended in the north to the salt deposits of Taghaza on the fringes of the Sahara Desert and in the south to the gold country on the southern fringes of the savannah. To the west it reached as far as the Gambia and the lower Senegal valley, and to the east it controlled the copper mines and caravan center of Takedda.

The Songhai capital of Gao Gao on the middle Niger and Timbuktu Timbuktu upstream were also incorporated into the empire. Mali controlled many sources of copper, salt, and gold, as well as the caravan trails between them. Complex networks of caravan routes crisscrossed the whole of the Sudan, and the numerous cities that grew along the routes flourished, becoming important centers of commerce, trade, religion, and learning.

The empire of Mali consisted of provinces and vassal kingdoms. The mansa controlled important provinces and major towns through directly appointed governors. At the time of Mansa Mūsā’s reign, the empire had twelve provinces, each with a number of subdivisions mostly based on clan units. Mansa Mūsā’s army was said to number over one hundred thousand.

With its many gold Gold;trade in mines, Mali was the largest producer of precious metals in the medieval world. The mansa had an exclusive right to gold nuggets. In addition, valuable imports such as horses and metals were the monopoly of the mansa. The mansa’s commercial agents were found in all the major trading centers, including the southern termini of the Saharan trade routes. They levied duties on imports of salt, copper, and other merchandise. Command over such enormous resources enabled Mali to maintain effective security over an area the size of Western Europe.

Mansa Mūsā was succeeded by his son Mansa Maghan I Maghan I, Mansa , whom he had already appointed as a deputy during his pilgrimage to Mecca. However, Maghan was soon overthrown by Mansa Mūsā’s brother, Mansa Sulaymān, Sulaymān, Mansa who as the eldest male in the family contested the succession. From the accounts of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah Ibn Baṭṭūṭah , the Moroccan traveler who visited Mali during this time, it appears that Sulaymān maintained the empire in all its splendor. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah wrote admiringly of the prosperity, security, and justice that prevailed throughout the empire. The period after Sulaymān’s reign was, however, marked by a slow decline of the empire.


At the peak of its power, the empire of Mali under Mansa Mūsā extended from the Atlantic coast in the west to Hausaland in the east. An orderly system of law and government was established throughout this immensely diverse empire. Its highly developed metropolitan cities such as Timbuktu, Walata, Gao, and Jenne (Djenné) gave birth to a sophisticated urban society that actively promoted trade and crafts as well as learning and high culture.

Mansa Mūsā’s impressive pilgrimage to Mecca boosted Mali’s international fame and prestige and further stimulated the empire’s political, cultural, and economic development. Mali’s legacy continued to influence succeeding West African states such as Songhai.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Falola, Toyin. Key Events in African History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. Discusses the rise of Islam beginning in the seventh century and includes the chapter, “Kingdoms of West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, a.d. 1000-1600.” Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hamdun, Said, and Noel King, trans. and eds. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah in Black Africa. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Wiener, 1994. A selection of the writings about Mali by Ibn Baṭṭūṭah. Illustrations, maps, bibliographical references, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Insoll, Timothy. “Trade and Empire: The Road to Timbuktu.” Archaeology 53, no. 6 (2000). Valuable information on the trans-Saharan trade routes, camel caravans, and the rise of commerce in medieval Mali.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lange, Dierk. “From Mande to Songhay: Towards a Political and Ethnic History of Medieval Gao.” Journal of African History 35 (1994). Although its focus is on the Mande group who occupied Gao, this essay provides an excellent survey of the overall ethnic identity of the West African region and explores the common features of the medieval West African kingdoms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levtzion, Nehemia. Ancient Ghana and Mali. New York: Africana, 1980. A standard work on the evolution of the Mali Empire. Particularly useful for the early phase of the history of Mali.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Niane, D. T. “Mali and the Second Mandingo Expansion.” In General History of Africa: Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century. Vol. 4. New York: UNESCO, 1984. A well-researched history of Africa that includes a discussion of the rise of the Mali Empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Niane, D. T. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Translated by G. D. Pickett. 1965. Reprint. Harlow, England: Longman, 1994. An account of the rise of Sundiata, the founder of the Mali Empire, based on local oral tradition.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thobhani, Akbarali. Mansa Mūsā: The Golden King of Ancient Mali. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1998. An account of the life and times of Mansa Mūsā, particularly suitable for younger readers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yamba, C. Bawa. Permanent Pilgrims: The Role of Pilgrimage in the Lives of West African Muslims in Sudan. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995. Although this book focuses on modern pilgrimage, it is valuable for its discussion of the history and significance of pilgrimage to African Muslims from the Sudan, Mansa Mūsā’s homeland. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.

Categories: History