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Queen Isabel I of Castille

Vast coffers

Magazine compiles list of 10 wealthiest women in world history

By WITW Staff on February 8, 2016

“Women with huge personal wealth are a modern phenomenon,” Walter Scheidel, a professor of ancient history at Stanford University, told Money magazine. But that doesn’t mean history hasn’t seen some truly wealthy women throughout the ages. The personal finance magazine has assembled a list of the 10 wealthiest women of all-time, and because of the intricate methodology used, some names that might be expected to populate the list are not on it. British royals like Queens Victoria and Elizabeth I and Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, while very rich, didn’t make the cut — though some famous royals did. Similarly, neither did modern day women billionaires like Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Holmes, the CEO of the beleaguered biotech company Theranos. Those that made the list had their net worths compared to global gross domestic product (GDP) — or economic output — of the times in which they lived. Also excluded from the list are people like the Walton women, heiresses to the Walmart fortune, who largely inherited their wealth. Some of the highlights on the list are:

– Germany’s richest woman Susanne Klatten who ranks No. 8 on the list. She’s worth $17.4 billion and much of her wealth comes from her stake in automaker BMW. Plus she’s proven herself a savvy investor with the profits she reaps from BMW.

– Spain’s Queen Isabel I of Castile clocked in at No. 5 on the list. She died in 1504 at age 53, but her overall net worth at one point reached a full one percent of the global GDP. When she died, her monarchy was pulling in an annual income of about 1.45 million ducats, Spain’s currency at the time.

Cleopatra of Egypt, though one of the shrewdest political manipulators in world history, only comes it at No. 4 on the list. She was mega-wealthy because she used her influence as Egypt’s Pharaoh to control the country’s top industries at the time, like wheat and papyrus, and her net worth swelled to 2.6 percent of the global GDP. Perhaps, though, her lack of fiscal responsibility prevented her from cracking the top three on Money’s list.

See the complete list of the world’s richest women at Money.