Primary Source

Al-Umari’s Account of Mansa Musa’s Visit to Cairo

Annotation

Mansa Musa was the leader of the Mali empire in the fourteenth century and reportedly the wealthiest person – allegedly ever. The empire covered modern-day Mali and parts of Guinea, Senegal, Mauritania, and the Gambia, and Mansa Musa expanded the territorial claim to include Gao and Timbuktu. There are a number of written sources about Mansa Musa from the Arabic world and he was the ruler at what is considered the peak of the Mali empire. 

Mansa Musa made a famous visit to Cairo, Egypt while he went on hajj, or a pilgrimage, to Mecca between 1324 and 1325. He sought to increase the empire's ties to the Muslim world. His spending was so extravagant with his spending and gift-giving in Cairo that contemporary writers such as Al-Umari noted that his trip affected the value of gold, which is what this primary source document discusses. 

This source, written by Al-Umari, an Arab historian from Damascus, is one of the more well-known sources related to Mansa Musa and his hajj. Students can read this translated excerpt to gain an understanding of a large, prominent African empire from sub-Saharan Africa and the larger Muslim world during the post-classical period. 

This virtual source can be found at this link. 
 

Text

This account of Mansa Musa's visit to Cairo in 1324 was written by Al-Umari, an Arab historian:

From the beginning of my coming to stay in Egypt I heard talk of the arrival of this sultan Musa on his Pilgrimage and found the Cairenes eager to recount what they had seem of the Africans’ prodigal spending. I asked the emir Abu…and he told me of the opulence, manly virtues, and piety of his sultan. “When I went out to meet him {he said} that is, on behalf of the mighty sultan al-Malik al-Nasir, he did me extreme honour and treated me with the greatest courtesy. He addressed me, however, only through an interpreter despite his perfect ability to speak in the Arabic tongue. Then he forwarded to the royal treasury many loads of unworked native gold and other valuables. I tried to persuade him to go up to the Citadel to meet the sultan, but he refused persistently saying: “I came for the Pilgrimage and nothing else. I do not wish to mix anything else with my Pilgrimage.” He had begun to use this argument but I realized that the audience was repugnant to him because he would be obliged to kiss the ground and the sultan’s hand. I continue to cajole him and he continued to make excuses but the sultan’s protocol demanded that I should bring him into the royal presence, so I kept on at him till he agreed.

When we came in the sultan’s presence we said to him: ‘Kiss the ground!’ but he refused outright saying: ‘How may this be?’ Then an intelligent man who was with him whispered to him something we could not understand and he said: ‘I make obeisance to God who created me!’ then he prostrated himself and went forward to the sultan. The sultan half rose to greet him and sat him by his side. They conversed together for a long time, then sultan Musa went out. The sultan sent to him several complete suits of honour for himself, his courtiers, and all those who had come with him, and saddled and bridled horses for himself and his chief courtiers….

This man [Mansa Musa] flooded Cairo with his benefactions. He left no court emir nor holder of a royal office without the gift of a load of gold. The Cairenes made incalculable profits out of him and his suite in buying and selling and giving and taking. They exchanged gold until they depressed its value in Egypt and caused its price to fall.” …

Gold was at a high price in Egypt until they came in that year. The mithqal did not go below 25 dirhams and was generally above, but from that time its value fell and it cheapened in price and has remained cheap till now. The mithqal does not exceed 22 dirhams or less. This has been the state of affairs for about twelve years until this day by reason of the large amount of gold which they brought into Egypt and spent there. …

Credits

"Mansa Musa's Visit to Cairo," from Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History, Edited by Nehemiah Levtzion & J. F. P. Hopkins (Cambridge University Press, 1981) pp. 269-273. Sourced from Digital History at the University of Houston, 2021, https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/1492/mansa_musa_visit.cfm

How to Cite This Source

"Al-Umari’s Account of Mansa Musa’s Visit to Cairo," in World History Commons, https://worldhistorycommons.org/al-umaris-account-mansa-musas-visit-cairo [accessed February 24, 2024]