The 20 richest people of all time
20. Heshen – peak net work: $132 Billion (£92bn)
No doubt the wealthiest government official in history, Heshen, who was born in 1750, was an administrator of the Qing Dynasty and a favorite of the emperor, which allowed him to get away with stealing tax revenues on an industrial scale. When he died in 1799, the corrupt official was found to have stockpiled a personal fortune of $132 billion (£92bn) in today’s money.
19. Bill Gates – peak net worth: $144 billion (£100bn)
Though uber-philanthropist Bill Gates is worth a relatively paltry $75 billion in 2016, although this still makes him the richest person in the world, the Microsoft founder’s personal fortune hit $101 billion for a short time in 1999. Adjusted for inflation, this brings his peak net worth up to $144 billion (£100bn).
18. William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey – peak net worth: $146 billion (£102bn)
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 (£102bn).
17. John Jacob Astor – peak net worth: $168 billion (£117bn)
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 (£117bn) in today’s money.
16. Alan Rufus, 1st Lord of Richmond – peak net worth: $195 billion (£135bn)
This medieval aristocrat amassed a huge fortune during his lifetime thanks to the patronage of William the Conqueror (later King William I of England), his ridiculously rich uncle and close companion. According to historian William Rubenstein, Rufus was worth £11,000 ($15,000) when he died in 1093, around 7% of England’s GDP at the time, which is the equivalent of $195 billion (£135bn) in 2016.u
15. Henry Ford – peak net worth: $200+ billion (£139+bn)
The founder of the hugely profitable Ford Motor Company revolutionized vehicle manufacturing and brought the car to the mass market, selling over one million vehicles in 1920. It’s no surprise then that, upon his death in 1947, Ford was worth the equivalent of $200 billion (£139bn) in today’s money, and then some.
14. Cornelius Vanderbilt – peak net worth: $202 billion (£140bn)
Born in 1794 to a struggling family in Staten Island, Vanderbilt went from rags to riches during his lifetime, building up a colossal fortune in the railroad and shipping industries, and giving much of it away later on in life. At his peak, Vanderbilt is thought to have been worth $202 billion (£140bn) in today’s money.
13. Muammar Gaddafi – peak net worth: $212 billion (£147bn)
In 2011, Libyan officials estimated that deposed leader Colonel Gaddafi squirreled away $200 billion in secret bank accounts, shady investments and dubious real estate deals during his dictatorship, stolen from the country’s massive oil revenues. Adjusted for inflation, this is the equivalent of $212 billion (£147bn) in 2016.
12. William the Conqueror – peak net worth: $228 billion (£159bn)
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 (£159bn) 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.
11. Jakob Fugger – peak net worth: $277 billion (£193bn)
Fittingly dubbed ‘Jakob the Rich’, this banker, merchant and mining pioneer was Europe’s richest man during the early 16th century. 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.
10. Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII– peak net worth: $230 billion (£160bn)
The last ruler of Hyderabad in India, Khan was 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 (£160bn) today.
9. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia – peak net worth: $300 billion (£209bn)
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. Not one to redistribute his wealth, a 1916 estimate of the tsar’s personal fortune equates to $300 billion (£209bn) in today’s money.
8. Andrew Carnegie – peak net worth: $337 billion (£235bn)
From humble beginnings in Scotland, Andrew Carnegie led the massive expansion of the US steel industry in the late 19th century, amassing a personal fortune economists estimate would be worth $337 billion (£235bn) nowadays. A full-on philanthropist, Carnegie gave away 90% of his fortune to various charities and educational establishments during the last years of his life.
7. John D. Rockefeller – peak net worth: $367 billion (£256bn)
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 (£256bn) in today’s money.
6. Mansa Musa I of Mali – peak net worth: $415 billion (£289bn)
Musa I is easily one of the richest people in history, amassing the equivalent of $415 billion (£289bn) during his 25-year reign from 1312-1327. The King of Timbuktu and Malian emperor, who controlled a huge empire which 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.
5. King Solomon of Israel – peak net worth: $2.2 trillion (£1.53trn)
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 (£1.53trn) in today’s money.
4. Augustus Caesar – peak net worth: $4.63 trillion (£3.22trn)
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 (£3.22trn) 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.
3. Akbar I – peak net worth: $21 trillion (£14.6trn)
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 (£14.6trn) today.
2. Emperor Shenzong of Song – peak net worth: $30+ trillion (£21+trn)
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 wasn’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.
1. Genghis Khan – peak net worth: $100s trillions (£100s of trillions)
The fearsome Mongol leader conquered a mind-blowing 12 million square miles of land between 1206 and his death in 1227, more than anyone else in history. 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.