The beginning of time and the universe are generally accepted as a singular event which took place 15 billion years ago, give or take a year. Stephen Hawkins theories are well presented and accepted by the majority of investors. Other schools of thought may have merit and the timeline may vary, but a singular event is conceded by all as the beginning.
Gold was already here, waiting for us in the ground when modern humans spread from Africa into Europe and Asia around 60,000 years ago. The Neolithic Revolution around 8,000 years BCE saw the development of agriculture, which drastically changed human lifestyle. Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments and has been identified as having inspired some of the most important developments in human history including the invention of the wheel, cursive script, astronomy, agriculture and for us at GoldSafe most importantly Mathematics. The basis of finance is the calculation of value and recording it.
The development of cities was synonymous with the rise of civilisation. Early civilisations rose first in lower Mesopotamia (3500BCE) followed by the Egyptian civilisation along the Nile (3000BCE). For nearly 3,000 years, ancient Egypt prospered as one the most progressive civilisations, characterized by advanced architecture, art and philosophy. Ancient Egyptians were fascinated by gold. In fact, Egypt’s association with gold reaches back more than 5,500 years, which makes the culture largely responsible for humans’ obsession with this precious metal.
Gold, chemical symbol Au (from the Latin aurum meaning ‘shining dawn’), is a precious metal which has been used since antiquity in the production of jewellery, coinage, sculpture, vessels and as a decoration for buildings, monuments and statues. In South America, gold was similarly worked by the Chavin civilization of Peru around 1200 BCE and gold casting was perfected by the Nazca society from 500 BCE. It was catching on everywhere and long before we had global communications.
Gold does not corrode and so it became a symbol of immortality and power in many ancient cultures. Its rarity and aesthetic qualities made it an ideal material for ruling classes to demonstrate their power and position. First found at surface level near rivers in Asia Minor such as the Pactolus in Lydia, gold was also mined underground from 2000 BCE by the Egyptians and later by the Romans in Africa, Portugal and Spain.
There is also evidence the Romans smelted gold particles from ores such as iron pyrites. Easily worked and mixed with other metals such as silver and copper to increase its strength and change its colour, gold was used for a wide range of purposes.
The value and beauty of gold made it an ideal material for particularly important political and religious objects such as crowns, sceptres, symbolic statues, libation vessels and votive offerings. Gold items were often buried with the dead as a symbol of the deceased’s status, and the conspicuous (and non-profitable) consumption of such a rare and valuable material must surely have been designed to impress. Perhaps the most famous example is the so-called mask of Agamemnon found at Mycenae.
In the Inca civilization of Peru gold was considered the sweat of the sun god Inti and so was used to manufacture all manner of objects of religious significance, especially masks and sun disks. In ancient Colombia gold was similarly revered for its lustre and association with the sun and in powdered form was used to cover the body of the future king in a lavish coronation ceremony which gave rise to the legend of El Dorado.
As a decorative covering, gold plate and gold leaf have been used to decorate shrines, temples, tombs, sarcophagi, statues, ornamental weapons and armour, ceramics, glassware and jewellery since Egyptian times. Perhaps the most famous example of gold leaf from antiquity is the death mask of King Tutankhamun, unearthed early this century (1922) by British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, after over 3,200 years hidden from the light. The lustre of the gold was unchanged from the day the mask was crafted.
Gold, with its malleability and incorruptibility, has also been used in dental work for over 3000 years. The Etruscans in the 7th century BCE used gold wire to fix in place substitute animal teeth. As thread, gold was also woven into fabrics. Gold has also been used in medicine, for example, Pliny in the 1st century BCE suggests gold should be applied to wounds as a defence to ‘magic potions’.
In more modern times the wealth of the richest man on earth is linked to gold. He died in the fourteenth century circa 1337, and was called Mansa Musa and was the king of Timbuktu. His recorded wealth is difficult to place an accurate number on. In the worlds top 10 rich list Bill Gates would feature at position 9 and in front of him come J. D. Rockefeller, A. Carnegie, bad boy Joe Stalin, Emperor Shenzong who ruled and empire with 30% of world GDP at the time. The man sitting in second place is Augustus Caesar.
Augustus Caesar, in charge of an empire that accounted for 25% to 30% of the world’s economic output, and according to Stanford history professor Ian Morris, Augustus at one point held personal wealth equivalent to one-fifth of his empire’s economy. That fortune would be the equivalent of about $4.6 trillion in 2014. “For a while,” Morris said “Augustus personally owned all of Egypt.” That’s hard to top.
Musa did and by some distance. Mansa Musa, the king of Timbuktu, is referred to as the wealthiest person in history. According to Ferrum College history professor Richard Smith, Musa’s West African kingdom was likely the largest producer of gold in the world at the time. Just how rich was Musa? There’s really no way to put an accurate number on his wealth. Records are scarce, if non-existent, and contemporary sources describe the king’s riches in terms that are impossible for the time.
Some tales of his famous pilgrimage to Mecca—during which Musa’s spending was so lavish that it caused a currency crisis in Egypt—mention dozens of camels each carrying hundreds of pounds of gold. (Smith says one year of Malian gold production probably generated about a ton.) Musa’s riches were so immense that people struggled to describe them.
This is the richest guy anyone has ever seen. Trying to find words to explain that figure is hard. There are pictures of him holding a scepter of gold on a throne of gold holding a cup of gold with a golden crown on his head. Imagine as much gold as you think a human being could possess and double it, that’s what all the accounts try to communicate. When no one can even comprehend your wealth it means you’re rich.
As difficult as it is to adjust for accurate wealth perception so historically, it is the constant of gold in our assumption on monetary values that makes it possible for the historians and the accountants to all agree, the guy with the most gold was the richest. The purchasing power of his capital assets and his financial durability in his changing world was underpinned by the most secure form of monetary wealth known to man…GOLD