History of accounting may not sound as noble or interesting as the history of other professions, however, accounting may surprise you. It has been an essential career for centuries, with the basic need for accounting in daily life stretching back even to Mesopotamia. In the remotest period of human civilization, our earliest struggle, did we still find the need to have accountants?
Read on for a brief guide on how accounting began. You will find that despite the perceived mundanity of the work, the history of the craft mirrors all of human time. We have always needed accountants. Unless we manage to create a Star Trek-esque utopia any time soon, we always will.
The Earliest Accountants
Over 7,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, it seems that humans had the need for an accountant, of sorts. Records have been excavated detailing crop growth and herd counts, tables of value for people who owned and harvested them. The accounting strategies they used to discover how much they sowed and reaped and whether this year was a deficit or a surplus, formed the foundation for the techniques we still use today. Thus, accounting seems to fulfill a basic human need.
History of Accounting: The Transition Years
The Roman Empire made great use of accounting by way of Emperor Augustus’ obsession with making deals. His grants to people in the form of money and land, his building projects, religious charity, and event funding needed to be tracked. To plan these events in the arenas and the temples and decide how to allocate imperial funds, Augustus used accounting techniques.
Accounting was still not a job, however. Pacioli wrote an arithmetic treatise in Italy that detailed his premises on calculating and recording financial gains and losses. This book, Details of Calculation and Recording, remains a well-trafficked teaching text for accounting practice. It also represents the first instance of double-entry bookkeeping ever recorded. This system, still in use today, tracks debit and credit by creating tables of values, balanced correspondingly.
Accounting Today: Same Methods, Different Technology
Accounting thus spread from intellectuals to the trading practices of merchants throughout the Middle Ages. Today, accountants follow standards of practice based on Pacioli and others to remain ethical when auditing their clients’ financial situations. Whole economies can rest on the expertise of accountants since many of the leading corporations employ one for everything from basic profit calculations to forecasting developments over decades.
History of Accounting: The Takeaway
The history of accounting stretches back as far as human history. In Mesopotamia, the ancients used basic accounting techniques to calculate their gains and plan for the next harvest. Throughout history, these techniques evolved. People like Pacioli transcribed principles that we still use today on the practice and ethics of accounting.
In television shows, accounting is a stereotypical “boring” career, often playing the punchline. While it may not seem fascinating at face value, the world turns through planning, development, and financial awareness. For better or worse, accountants provide essential services that determine, one account at a time, the fate of the next century in the developed world.