Speaking about the richest man in the world, countless fortunes have been won and lost throughout modern and ancient history. People have built massive amounts of wealth in a variety of ways such as through blood, through the crown, savvy investing, or building incredibly powerful businesses. Today, it seems as though many of the world’s richest have built their wealth through business ventures or inheritance, but throughout history, things are a bit more violent.
Here is the list of wealthiest individuals of all time according to research done by Lovemoney, Celebrity Net Worth, and Showbiz cheatsheet. It is important to note that there are likely figures missing, as numbers do tend to get lost or disappear as time goes on.
There are likely many historical figures — like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, King Solomon, numerous Roman emperors, Egyptian pharaohs— who have controlled huge fortunes; yet there is no real way to put a dollar figure on those fortunes.
William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey – peak net worth: $146 billion
This 11th-century Norman nobleman was England’s number one real estate mogul of his time. According to the Domesday Book survey of 1086, de Warenne owned land in 13 English counties, including the prestigious Rape of Sussex, as well as manors and castles in Norfolk, Suffolk, Yorkshire, and Essex, worth the modern-day equivalent of $146 billion (£104bn).
John Jacob Astor – peak net worth: $168 billion
America’s first multimillionaire, the German-born merchant was the first prominent member of the Astor family. He made his fortune trading in furs and built a powerful monopoly in the early 19th century, controlling the trade in the US and Canada.
At the time of his death in 1848, Astor was worth $20 million, around 1/107 of US GDP, which translates to $168 billion (£119bn) in today’s money.
Alan Rufus, 1st Lord of Richmond – peak net worth: $195 billion
Alan Rufus is a close companion of William the Conqueror. According to historian William Rubenstein, Rufus was worth £11,000 when he died in 1093, around 7% of England’s GDP at the time, which is the equivalent of $195 billion (£138bn) today. Coming in part from the 250,000 acres (“the Land of Count Alan”) conceded to him in Yorkshire in 1071 by the King for his cooperation in the invasion. This figure puts him as one of the richest people in human history.
Alan Rufus was a major employer of skilled labour to build abbeys, castles, and manor-houses across Norman England. Some of which remain in evidence today. As an example, the original manor house of Costessey Hall in Norfolk still stands on the north side of the river Tud in Costessey Park. Beneath Richmond Castle, Alan founded the beautiful town of Richmond, North Yorkshire.
Henry Ford – peak net worth: $199 billion
One of the major figures in American business history, Henry Ford was able to put together a net worth totaling just under $200 billion. Ford, of course, is known for founding Ford Motor Co. and bringing automobiles to the masses, selling over one million vehicles in 1920.
A transportation revolutionary, he also was a trailblazer in industry and business, instituting higher wages for his workers and developing the concept of the assembly line, which allowed for the manufacture of inexpensive goods that the masses could afford.
Muammar Gaddafi – peak net worth: $200 billion
One person who most readers are likely familiar with is Muammar Gaddafi, the recently deceased and overthrown ruler of the northern African country of Libya.
Gaddafi is said to have controlled a vast fortune of $200 billion, amassed during his 42-year rule over Libya. A highly controversial and divisive politician and ruler, Gaddafi was famously overthrown in 2011 during the Libyan civil war when he was dragged into the streets and killed by revolutionaries.
Cornelius Vanderbilt – peak net worth: $202 billion
One of the most famous names in American history was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt, a man who came to fortune through the building of railroads and shipping lines during the 1800s.
He is also the founder of Vanderbilt University, and his family name still carries much clout today.
During his heyday, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s wealth reached an approximate $185 billion, most of it accumulated later in life as he expanded his railroad empire following the Civil War.
Jakob Fugger – peak net worth: $221 billion
Fittingly dubbed ‘Jakob the Rich’, this banker, merchant, and mining pioneer was Europe’s richest man during the early 16th century
Fugger lived from 1459 until 1525.
The Fugger fortune was made through textile trading in Italy mostly, but also through the mining of silver and gold in Hungary and Bohemia.
His enormous wealth enabled him to influence the politics of the time, funding the rise of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, as well as bankrolling the Spanish King Charles V.
William the Conqueror – peak net worth: $228 billion
The first Norman ruler of England who famously invaded the kingdom in 1066, William the Conqueror seized lands and plundered treasures from Sussex to Yorkshire that would be worth $228 billion (£162bn) in today’s money.
He spent his lavish riches on everything from tapestries to castles, including the iconic White Tower at the Tower of London.
William the Conqueror’s wealth has been estimated to be between $209 billion and $229 billion.
William reigned from 1066 until 1087.
He led the final successful invasion of England, becoming a monarch after setting out to dispose of one.
He was also known as William the Bastard and is thought to have been a descendant of Viking invaders from years before, which explains where he got his knack for invasion.
Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII– peak net worth: $230 billion
The last ruler of Hyderabad in India, Khan was an absolute leader of the princely state from 1911 and 1948, and for a good part of the 20th century, he was known as the richest man in the world with an estimated fortune of $2 billion by the early 40s. This is the equivalent of 2% of the US economy or around $230 billion (£163bn) today.
He became Nizam of Hyderabad after his father died in 1911 and reigned for 37 years, overseeing the expansion of education, electricity, and railroads in the region. He died in 1967, survived by his reported 149 children.
Tsar Nicholas II of Russia – peak net worth: $300 billion
Ill-fated Nicholas Romanov ruled over the Russian Empire from 1894 to 1917, during which time he had full access to the nation’s coffers, making him one of the richest monarchs in history.
Known as Tsar Nicholas II, Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov amassed $300 billion worth of wealth during his tenure.
Nicholas II is probably most famous for being the last emperor of Russia before the country fell during the Russian Revolution. Both he and his family were eventually executed in 1918.
Notably, Nicholas II became a saint recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church, and is known as the wealthiest saint in human history.
Andrew Carnegie – peak net worth: $310 billion
Andrew Carnegie, an incredibly wealthy and powerful industrialist, came to prominence during the mid-1800s by way of the steel industry.
Having been born in Scotland, Carnegie came from a very poor family that entered the United States in the late 1840s. After successfully investing in a number of ventures, Carnegie founded the U.S. Steel Corp., which earned him most of his $310 billion fortune.
He gave away 90% of his fortune to various charities and educational establishments during the last years of his life and is remembered as one of the world’s foremost philanthropists.
John D. Rockefeller – peak net worth: $367 billion
Widely regarded as the richest American who ever lived, John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil company in 1870 and ended up controlling around 90% of the US oil business.
Economist Peter Bernstein estimates that the industrialist-turned-philanthropist had a personal fortune of $367 billion (£260bn) in today’s money.
The Rockefeller name is deeply ingrained in American history, and John D. Rockefeller’s $367 billion fortune still stands today as nearly the largest the world has ever seen.
Born in 1839 in New York, he grew to prominence over his lifetime as the co-founder of Standard Oil. As one of the revolutionaries of the energy and petroleum industries, Rockefeller is also well known for his philanthropy, founding two colleges during his lifetime, the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University.
He died in 1937 at the age of 97.
Mansa Musa I of Mali – peak net worth: $415 billion
Musa I is easily one of the richest people in history, amassing the equivalent of $415 billion (£294bn) during his 25-year reign from 1312-1327.
The King of Timbuktu and Malian emperor, who controlled a huge empire that covered much of modern-day Mali and Ghana, had half of the world’s supply of gold at his disposal, which was traded with merchants from as far away as Venice, Genoa, and Egypt.
As the reigning emperor of the Mali empire, Musa commanded a fortune worth a jaw-dropping $415 billion. That’s worth more than four times the current richest person in the world, to put things in perspective.
Musa was born in 1280 and lived until 1337 as a devout Muslim, constructing numerous educational centers and mosques across Africa, one of which can be seen above, in Timbuktu. Being that Musa’s reign was so long ago, there are still varying reports about his death and abdication of the throne to his son.
However, no one has been able to come even close to the amount of wealth Musa presided over.
King Solomon of Israel – peak net worth: $2 trillion
According to the Bible, King Solomon ruled from 970 BC to 931 BC, and during this time he is said to have received 25 tons of gold for each of the 39 years of his reign, which would be worth billions of dollars in 2016.
Along with impossible riches amassed from taxation and trade, the biblical ruler’s personal fortune could have surpassed $2 trillion (£1.42trn) in today’s money.
Augustus Caesar – peak net worth: $4.63 trillion
The first Roman emperor, who ruled the vast empire from 27 BC until his death in AD 14, boasted a personal fortune equivalent to 20% of the entire empire’s economy, worth $4.63 trillion (£3.28trn) nowadays.
At one point Augustus even owned Egypt. It wasn’t to last, however.
Poor economic performance and a succession of military failures plagued his final years.
Akbar I – peak net worth: $21 trillion
Renowned for his lavish lifestyle and patronage of the arts, this emperor conquered hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory and ruled over much of the Indian subcontinent, known as the Mughal Empire from 1556 until 1605.
He controlled around 25% of the world’s GDP at the time, which would translate to a staggering $21 trillion (£14.9trn) today.
Emperor Shenzong of Song – peak net worth: $30+ trillion
Shenzong ruled China from 1067-1085 during the ‘Peaceful Prosperity’ and ‘Primary Abundance’ eras when he controlled around 30% of global GDP, the equivalent of $30+ trillion (£21+trn) today.
Adept at collecting taxes, the emperor’s administration didn’t all take, take, take, however. Its famous New Policies, which helped improve the lives of the poor, are seen as a forerunner of the modern welfare state.
Genghis Khan – peak net worth: $100s trillions
Mongol leader Genghis Khan (1162-1227) rose from humble beginnings to establish the largest land empire in history.
After uniting the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian plateau, he conquered huge chunks of central Asia and China.
His descendants expanded the empire even further, advancing to such far-off places as Poland, Vietnam, Syria, and Korea.
At their peak, the Mongols controlled between 11 and 12 million contiguous square miles, an area about the size of Africa.
But while his hordes pillaged their way through huge swathes of Eurasia (the combined continental landmass of Europe and Asia) – territory that is now worth trillions of dollars – Khan didn’t actually hoard his spoils, choosing to redistribute the stolen loot and territory among his subjects instead.