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The early development of accounting dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, and is closely related to developments in writing, counting and money and early auditing systems by the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. By the time of the Roman Empire, the government had access to detailed financial information.
In India Chanakya wrote a manuscript similar to a financial management book, during the period of the Mauryan Empire. His book "Arthashasthra" contains few detailed aspects of maintaining books of accounts for a Sovereign State.
The modern profession of the chartered accountant originated in Scotland in the nineteenth century. Accountants often belonged to the same associations as solicitors, who often offered accounting services to their clients. Early modern accounting had similarities to today's forensic accounting. Accounting began to transition into an organized profession in the nineteenth century, with local professional bodies in England merging to form the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in 1880.
Accounting records dating back more than 7,000 years have been found in Mesopotamia, and documents from ancient Mesopotamia show lists of expenditures, and goods received and traded. The development of accounting, along with that of money and numbers, may be related to the taxation and trading activities of temples:
"another part of the explanation as to why accounting employs the numerical metaphor is [...] that money, numbers and accounting are interrelated and, perhaps, inseparable in their origins: all emerged in the context of controlling goods, stocks and transactions in the temple economy of Mesopotamia."
The early development of accounting was closely related to developments in writing, counting, and money. In particular, there is evidence that a key step in the development of counting—the transition from concrete to abstract counting—was related to the early development of accounting and money and took place in Mesopotamia
Other early accounting records were also found in the ruins of ancient Babylon, Assyria and Sumeria, which date back more than 7,000 years. The people of that time relied on primitive accounting methods to record the growth of crops and herds. Because there was a natural season to farming and herding, it was easy to count and determine if a surplus had been gained after the crops had been harvested or the young animals weaned.
Between the 4th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC, the ruling leaders and priests in ancient Iran had people oversee financial matters. In Godin Tepe (گدین تپه) and Tepe Yahya (تپه يحيی), cylindrical tokens that were used for bookkeeping on clay scripts were found in buildings that had large rooms for storage of crops. In Godin Tepe's findings, the scripts only contained tables with figures, while in Tepe Yahya's findings, the scripts also contained graphical representations. The invention of a form of bookkeeping using clay tokens represented a huge cognitive leap for mankind.
During the 2nd millennium BC, the expansion of commerce and business expanded the role of the accountant. The Phoenicians invented a phonetic alphabet "probably for bookkeeping purposes", based on the Egyptian hieratic script, and there is evidence that an individual in ancient Egypt held the title "comptroller of the scribes". There is also evidence for an early form of accounting in the Old Testament; for example the Book of Exodus describes Moses engaging Ithamar to account for the materials that had been contributed towards the building of the tabernacle.
By about the 4th century BC, the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians had auditing systems for checking movement in and out of storehouses, including oral "audit reports", resulting in the term "auditor" (from audire, to hear in Latin) importance of taxation had created a need for the recording of payments, and the Rosetta Stone also includes a description of a tax revolt.
By the time of Emperor Augustus (63 BC - AD 14), the Roman government had access to detailed financial information as evidenced by the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Latin: "The Deeds of the Divine Augustus"). The inscription was an account to the Roman people of the Emperor Augustus' stewardship, and listed and quantified his public expenditure, including distributions to the people, grants of land or money to army veterans, subsidies to the aerarium (treasury), building of temples, religious offerings, and expenditures on theatrical shows and gladiatorial games, covering a period of about forty years. The scope of the accounting information at the emperor's disposal suggests that its purpose encompassed planning and decision-making.
The Roman historians Suetonius and Cassius Dio record that in 23 BC, Augustus prepared a rationarium (account) which listed public revenues, the amounts of cash in the aerarium (treasury), in the provincial fisci (tax officials), and in the hands of the publicani (public contractors); and that it included the names of the freedmen and slaves from whom a detailed account could be obtained. The closeness of this information to the executive authority of the emperor is attested by Tacitus' statement that it was written out by Augustus himself.
Records of cash, commodities, and transactions were kept scrupulously by military personnel of the Roman army. An account of small cash sums received over a few days at the fort of Vindolanda circa AD 110 shows that the fort could compute revenues in cash on a daily basis, perhaps from sales of surplus supplies or goods manufactured in the camp, items dispensed to slaves such as cervesa (beer) and clavi caligares (nails for boots), as well as commodities bought by individual soldiers. The basic needs of the fort were met by a mixture of direct production, purchase and requisition; in one letter, a request for money to buy 5,000 modii (measures) of braces (a cereal used in brewing) shows that the fort bought provisions for a considerable number of people.
The Heroninos Archive is the name given to a huge collection of papyrus documents, mostly letters, but also including a fair number of accounts, which come from Roman Egypt in 3rd century AD. The bulk of the documents relate to the running of a large, private estate is named after Heroninos because he was phrontistes (Koine Greek: manager) of the estate which had a complex and standardised system of accounting which was followed by all its local farm managers. Each administrator on each sub-division of the estate drew up his own little accounts, for the day-to-day running of the estate, payment of the workforce, production of crops, the sale of produce, the use of animals, and general expenditure on the staff. This information was then summarized as pieces of papyrus scroll into one big yearly account for each particular sub-division of the estate. Entries were arranged by sector, with cash expenses and gains extrapolated from all the different sectors. Accounts of this kind gave the owner the opportunity to take better economic decisions because the information was purposefully selected and arranged.
When medieval Europe moved towards a monetary economy in the 13th century, sedentary merchants depended on bookkeeping to oversee multiple simultaneous transactions financed by bank loans. One important breakthrough took place around that time: the introduction of double-entry bookkeeping, which is defined as any bookkeeping system in which there was a debit and credit entry for each transaction, or for which the majority of transactions were intended to be of this form. The historical origin of the use of the words "debit" and "credit" in accounting goes back to the days of single-entry bookkeeping, which had as its chief objective keeping track of amounts owed by customers (debtors) and amounts owed to creditors. Debit in Latin means "he owes" and credit in Latin means "he trusts".
Double-entry bookkeeping was pioneered in the Jewish community of the early-medieval Middle East. Jewish bankers in Old Cairo, for example, used a double-entry bookkeeping system which predated the known usage of such a form in Italy, and whose records remain from the 11th century AD, found amongst the Cairo Geniza. It has been hypothesized that Italian merchants likely learned the method from their interaction with medieval Jewish merchants from the Middle East, however this question remains an area for further research. The earliest extant evidence of full double-entry bookkeeping appears in the Farolfi ledger of 1299-1300. Giovanno Farolfi & Company, a firm of Florentine merchants headquartered in Nîmes, acted as moneylenders to the Archbishop of Arles, their most important customer. The oldest discovered record of a complete double-entry system is the Messari (Italian: Treasurer's) accounts of the city of Genoa in 1340. The Messari accounts contain debits and credits journalised in a bilateral form and carry forward balances from the preceding year, and therefore enjoy general recognition as a double-entry system.
Ragusan economist Benedetto Cotrugli's 1458 treatise Della mercatura e del mercante perfetto contained the earliest known manuscript of a double-entry bookkeeping system. His manuscript was first published in 1573.
Luca Pacioli's Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalità (early Italian: "Review of Arithmetic, Geometry, Ratio and Proportion") was first printed and published in Venice in 1494. It included a 27-page treatise on bookkeeping, "Particularis de Computis et Scripturis" (Latin: "Details of Calculation and Recording"). Pacioli wrote primarily for, and sold mainly to, merchants who used the book as a reference text, as a source of pleasure from the mathematical puzzles it contained, and to aid the education of their sons. His work represents the first known printed treatise on bookkeeping; and it is widely believed[by whom?] to be the forerunner of modern bookkeeping practice. In Summa de arithmetica, Pacioli introduced symbols for plus and minus for the first time in a printed book, symbols which became standard notation in Italian Renaissance mathematics. Summa de arithmetica was also the first known book printed in Italy to contain algebra.
Ragusan economist Benedetto Cotrugli's 1458 treatise Della mercatura e del mercante perfetto contained the earliest known manuscript of a double-entry bookkeeping system, however Cotrugli's manuscript was not officially published until 1573. In fact even at the time of writing his work in 1494 Pacoili was aware of Cotrugli’s efforts and credited Cortrugli with the origination of the double entry book keeping system.
Although Luca Pacioli did not invent double-entry bookkeeping, his 27-page treatise on bookkeeping contained the first known published work on that topic, and is said to have laid the foundation for double-entry bookkeeping as it is practiced today. Even though Pacioli's treatise exhibits almost no originality, it is generally considered[by whom?] as an important work, mainly because of its wide circulation; it was written in the vernacular Italian language, and it was a printed book.
Pacioli saw accounting as an ad-hoc ordering system devised by the merchant. Its regular use provides the merchant with continued information about his business, and allows him to evaluate how things are going and to act accordingly. Pacioli recommends the Venetian method of double-entry bookkeeping above all others. Three major books of account are at the direct basis of this system:
Pacioli's treatise gave instructions on recording barter transactions and transactions in a variety of currencies – both of which were far more common than today. It also enabled merchants to audit their own books and to ensure that the entries in the accounting records made by their bookkeepers complied with the method he described. Without such a system, all merchants who did not maintain their own records were at greater risk of theft by their employees and agents: it is not by accident that the first and last items described in his treatise concern maintenance of an accurate inventory.
Accounting as it developed in Renaissance Europe also had moral and religious connotations, recalling the judgment of souls and the audit of sin.
The development of joint-stock companies (especially from about 1600) built wider audiences for accounting information, as investors without first-hand knowledge of their operations relied on accounts to provide the requisite information. This development resulted in a split of accounting systems for internal (i.e. management accounting) and external (i.e. financial accounting) purposes, and subsequently also in accounting and disclosure regulations and a growing need for independent attestation of external accounts by auditors.
Modern Accounting is a product of centuries of thought, custom, habit, action and convention. Two concepts have formed the current state of the accountancy profession. Firstly, the development of the double-entry book-keeping system in the fourteenth and fifteenth century and secondly, accountancy professionalization which was created in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The modern profession of the chartered accountant originated in Scotland in the nineteenth century. During this time, accountants often belonged to the same associations as solicitors, and the latter solicitors sometimes offered accounting services to their clients. Early modern accounting had similarities to today's forensic accounting:
In July 1854 The Institute of Accountants in Glasgow petitioned Queen Victoria for a Royal Charter. The Petition, signed by 49 Glasgow accountants, argued that the profession of accountancy had long existed in Scotland as a distinct profession of great respectability, and that although the number of practitioners had been originally few, the number had been rapidly increasing. The petition also pointed out that accountancy required a varied group of skills; as well as mathematical skills for calculation, the accountant had to have an acquaintance with the general principles of the legal system as they were frequently employed by the courts to give evidence on financial matters. The Edinburgh Society of accountants adopted the name "Chartered Accountant" for members.
By the middle of the 19th century, Britain's Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and London was the financial centre of the world. With the growth of the limited liability company and large scale manufacturing and logistics, demand surged for more technically proficient accountants capable of handling the increasingly complex world of high speed global transactions, able to calculate figures like asset depreciation and inventory valuation and cognizant of the latest changes in legislation such as the new Company law, then being introduced. As companies proliferated, the demand for reliable accountancy shot up, and the profession rapidly became an integral part of the business and financial system.
To improve their status and combat criticism of low standards, local professional bodies in England amalgamated to form the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, established by royal charter in 1880. Initially with just under 600 members, the newly formed institute expanded rapidly; it soon drew up standards of conduct and examinations for admission and members were authorised to use the professional designations "FCA" (Fellow Chartered Accountant), for a firm partner and "ACA" (Associate Chartered Accountant) for a qualified member of an accountant's staff. In the United States the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants was established in 1887.
Double-entry accounting made it possible to calculate profit and capital and for managers, investors, and authorities to verify books. But at the time, it also had a moral implication. Keeping one’s books balanced wasn’t simply a matter of law, but an imitation of God, who kept moral accounts of humanity and tallied them in the Books of Life and Death. [...] Accounting was closely tied to the notion of human audits and spiritual reckonings.