The royals of history are renowned for their astonishing levels of wealth and opulence. Many of their greatest legacies, some of the most beautiful palaces and castles in the world, are glittering examples of the spectacular riches they enjoyed during their reigns. 

It’s common to associate such extravagance and splendor with the kings and queens of medieval Europe, or the Eastern emperors and empresses that have presided over their vast empire territories. 

Or perhaps the idea of the richest royals of history calls to mind the enormous, almost incomprehensible wealth enjoyed by the Russian Tsars and their glamorous Tsarinas as they ruled over their immense realms. 

From the opulent kings and queens of the Middle Ages, to the prosperous Emperors and Empresses of the African, Oriental and Moghul lands, to the bountiful sovereigns of the Renaissance, and the staggeringly wealthy Russian Tsars – it’s intriguing to wonder, who were the richest royals in history? 

Mansa Musa – Ruler Of The Mali Empire

Mansa is an Arabic word that translates as ruler, king, sultan or emperor, and Mansa Musa, the 14th-century ruler of the Mali Empire, is believed to have been the richest royal of all time. 

Mansa Musa sitting on a throne and holding a gold coin
Mansa Musa sitting on a throne and holding a gold coin – Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Though it is impossible to calculate the precise value of this African Emperor’s riches in terms of modern money, it is estimated that his wealth equated to around $400 billion, which is over three times the estimated fortune of today’s wealthiest individual (currently Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.) 

In an attempt to convey the enormity of this level of wealth, experts often refer to it as incomprehensible or indescribable – equating to amounts and value that are impossible to fathom, even in modern times when the general public have unprecedented insights into the lives and lifestyles of the rich and famous. 

Along with the legacy of being the richest royal in history, the story of Mansa Musa includes an inspiring aspect of altruism. It’s believed that he was incredibly generous with his vast riches, renowned for his lavish gift-giving, both to his own people and whilst traveling to other lands. One story claims that he gifted so much gold during one sojourn through Egypt that his largesse impacted the local economy and affected the price of gold for over a decade. 

Augustus Caesar – The First Roman Emperor

When imagining the might and splendor of the Roman Empire, it’s easy to believe that the rulers of this legendary realm enjoyed great wealth and riches, and historians believe this to be the case, citing the very first official Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, as one of the richest royals of all time. 

Known as Octavia, this key figure from Ancient Rome was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar, one of history’s greatest characters, and went on to become his adoptive son and the heir to his great power and political assets when Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. 

Although Augustus Caesar is largely renowned for the vast wealth of the Roman Empire and the lavish lifestyles of those in power in Ancient Rome, one of his most inspiring legacies is that of a centuries-long period of peace known as Pax Romana. 

Alongside this reputation as a peaceful warrior, another of his enduring legacies and contributions to the world is perhaps even more valuable than the vast wealth and riches and the things that they can buy, because the entire month of August was named in honor of this historic Emperor. 

Nicholas II – The Last Tsar Of Russia

While it seems that being the first emperor of a vast empire is a route to stupendous wealth, it is also the case that being the last in a line of Great sovereigns can also result in becoming one of the richest royals in history. 

Photograph of Nicholas II
Photograph of Nicholas II – Unknown author (originally uploaded to Wikimedia Commons on 22 August 2012 by Peruanec), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Nicholas II – or to give him his full official title in his native tongue; Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, Emperor of Russia, King of Congress Poland and Grand Duke of Finland – was the last Tsar of the Russian Empire. He is commonly regarded as one of the wealthiest emperors of all time, with his fortune and assets believed to have been worth around $300 billion in today’s money. 

Much of this wealth is no doubt largely comprised of the immense and sumptuous palaces that litter the Russian landscape, the homes of the glamor Tsars and Tsarinas of the centuries, glittering golden temples of opulence, designed to represent the absolute might and sovereignty of the Russian Empire. 

While Nicholas II may have enjoyed the lavish lifestyles that the wealthiest royals of all time would be familiar with, his story is ultimately one of controversy and tragedy. His abdication in 1917 brought about the end of the great Romanov dynasty. This was followed by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia which culminated in the brutal execution of the erstwhile Tsar, along with his wife and children. 

Having lost their power and wealth and subsequently their lives, the Romanov family did nevertheless bequeath the world an enduring legacy. The imperial family were immortalized when they were recognised as martyrs and later canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. 

Nicholas II may have begun his life destined for spectacular wealth and political greatness, only to have his story cut short by tragic events. Yet he achieved a legacy and status that few are able to match, regardless of their financial might – today the former Russian Tsar and ruler of the legendary Russian Empire is recognised as Saint Nicholas the Passion Bearer, in reference to the nature of his death and what he represented. 

These epic characters of history are just three of the richest royals of all time. They ruled over diverse territories and cultures – the African lands, the great Russian Empire, and the mighty regions of Ancient Rome – and they each left their distinct marks on history, incorporating peace and power, sacrifice and sainthood. 

For all their vast wealth, these opulent royals were individuals, men born into roles they were destined to fulfill, and while these may not have ensured the happiest of endings, there is no doubt that their stories played out against the sumptuous backdrops of some of the greatest displays of wealth that the world has ever seen.