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Richest men in history: Vladimir Putin, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett aren't even close

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 14-08-2017 Shawn Langlois

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Vladimir Putin’s wealth, even with the most generous calculations, pales in comparison. In fact, throw in the vast riches of Microsoft’s (MSFT) Bill Gates, Warren Buffett (BRK) and Amazon’s (AMZN) Jeff Bezos, and their combined fortune doesn’t even approach some of history’s wealthiest.

Take Augustus Caesar, for example. The first Roman emperor tops the list, according to the Visual Capitalist blog. The adopted son of Julius Caesar controlled much of the world’s most powerful states — including Egypt — as part of his estimated $4.6 trillion net worth. Egypt made up at least 25% of global GDP at the time.

Then there’s King Solomon, who was said to receive some $40 billion in gold each year as tribute. That helped bring his fortune up to $2.2 trillion.

Of course, determining the wealth of centuries past is hardly an exact science — one study actually claims Habsburg Dynasty banker Jacob Fugger was the richest of all time. However, this detailed chart from Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals (click here for a bigger version), puts Fugger well behind the king of Timbuktu and only about $49 billion ahead of William the Conqueror:

© Provided by Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Why is it so difficult to get a clear picture on historical riches?

The Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins explained how much of the wealth in the early periods was tied to land or entire empires, as was the case with Genghis Khan and Akbar the Great. Hard to get accurate calculations on that.

Also, records are often exaggerated or based on oral history, and good luck figuring out how to convert “200 million sesterces” into U.S. dollars (DXY)

“Keep in mind that it is mostly for fun – and that the list of the wealthiest people in history changes depending on who you ask,” Desjardins wrote.

Shawn Langlois is an editor and writer for MarketWatch in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @slangwise.

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