15 Historical Figures That Amassed Fortunes That Dwarf Modern Billionaires

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The wealthiest people in history built huge fortunes that still amaze us today. They conquered lands, created new ideas, and made smart business deals. Adjusted for inflation, their net worth is staggering, surpassing the wealth of entire countries and modern billionaires. These 15 historical figures left a lasting legacy of power and influence. 

Emperor Shenzong of China (1048-1085)

Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D./Openverse

Emperor Shenzong ruled China during the Song Dynasty, a time of economic prosperity. He extended trade, increased agricultural production, and established a strong centralized government. Historical records show he had a well-funded treasury and vast resources, ruling the empire with about 25% to 30% of the global GDP. 

Akbar I of India (1542-1605)

Akbar the Great-Mughal Emperor/Facebook

Also known as Akbar the Great, Akbar I was the third Mughal emperor of India. The empire represented a quarter (25%) of the global economy. He enlarged the empire, established a strong administrative system, and encouraged trade and commerce. His government led to the development of the Mughal architecture style. Akbar I is considered one of the wealthiest historical figures in Indian history.

Empress Wu of China (624-705)


The Empress Wu Zetian was the only woman to rule China in her own right. She rose to power through her relationships with various emperors and eventually declared herself emperor. Emperor Gaozong’s wealth was equivalent to 22.7% of the global GDP. Her rule was marked by military expansion and economic growth, trading silk and tea.

Genghis Khan of the Mongolian Empire (1162-1227)


He united various nomadic tribes and grew his influence through conquests. Military campaigns and strategic alliances gave him an established vast trade network. Khan’s vast fortune was rooted in his extensive territorial conquests and vast land possessions. Generous distribution of wealth was a hallmark of his leadership, as he shared spoils with soldiers and commanders alike.

Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire (1280-1337)

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One of the wealthiest empires in African history was the Mali Empire, ruled by Mansa Musa I. He enlarged the nation’s trade networks, established a strong centralized government, and encouraged Islamic scholarship. Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca was famous for its extravagance, which was so grandiose that it was considered “incomprehensible” by contemporary accounts.

Cleopatra (69 – 30 BC)

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At the age of 18, Cleopatra was crowned co-regent alongside her 10-year-old brother Ptolemy XIII, sharing the throne and responsibilities of ruling Egypt. Cleopatra was not Egyptian; she was born in Egypt and was of Macedonian Greek ancestry. Her beauty wasn’t her biggest asset, and she was more renowned for her intellect than her appearance. Cleopatra’s net worth is estimated to be around $96 billion.

Augustus Caesar of Rome (63BC-14AD)

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Octavian, as he was also called, was the first emperor of Rome. He established the Principate, Rome’s imperial system, and extended the empire’s borders through military campaigns. Augustus Caesar’s empire is estimated to have had an economic output equivalent to roughly 25-30% of global GDP, which in 2024 would be approximately $7.3 trillion, give or take.

Joseph Stalin of the USSR (1878-1953)


As the leader of the Soviet Union during World War II and the early Cold War era, Joseph Stalin controlled a vast communist state and its wealth. Estimating the Soviet Union’s GDP in 2024, if it still existed, would be approximately $11.4 trillion, representing 9.6% of the global GDP. Stalin expanded the Soviet empire, established a strong centralized government, and encouraged industrialization and collectivization. 

Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796)

Alexander Roslin/Wikipedia

Born as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst in Prussia, she was later named Catherine II when she became the Empress of Russia. She expanded the empire’s borders through military campaigns and established a strong centralized government. Catherine the Great controlled 5% of global GDP. Catherine encouraged the progress of trade, commerce, and culture, which made Russia a major European power.

John D. Rockefeller of the United States (1839-1937)

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Son of a con man and a bigamist, John D. Rockefeller grew to become a businessman and philanthropist. He founded Standard Oil, which dominated the oil industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As one of the wealthiest Americans in history, he had an estimated net worth of $340 billion in today’s money.

Andrew Carnegie of the United States (1835-1919)


Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist who made his fortune in the steel industry. He sold his company, Carnegie Steel, to J.P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901, equivalent to $372 billion today’s money. Carnegie donated most of his wealth to charitable causes, establishing over 2,500 libraries and other institutions.

Alan Rufus (a.k.a. Alan the Red) of England (1040-1093)

MS. Lyell 22/Wikipedia

Known as one of England’s richest and most powerful men, Alan Rufus had an income of £1,100 in the year of his death. His net worth is around $194 billion in today’s money. Alan donated large sums to several religious houses and founded, with King William II, the Benedictine St Mary’s Abbey in York in early 1088.

Marcus Licinius Crassus of Ancient Rome (115 BCE – 53 BCE)

Sergey Sosnovskiy/Wikipedia

Marcus Licinius Crassus was a successful Roman general and politician known for his wealth, valued at around 170 million sesterces, which is $210 million in today’s money. As a member of the First Triumvirate, Marcus Crassus helped transform the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Cosimo de Medici of Italy (1389-1464)


An Italian merchant and banker known for his vast wealth and influence, he would be worth between $300 and 400 billion in today’s economy. He was a prominent Renaissance patron who significantly shaped European art and culture through extensive financial support.

Jakob Fugger of Germany (1459-1525)

Albrecht Dürer/Wikipedia

This German merchant and banker was known for his vast wealth and influence. Jakob Fugger was a major financier of the Habsburg dynasty and played a key role in developing European trade and commerce. His net worth is around $400-500 billion today.

Written by Devin J