Praise Accountants For The Gift Of Writing

Ask any accountant and he will tell you that the history of accountancy is no less than the history of mankind. Apparently the development of writing, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, capitalism, banking and many more key features of society and history are due in large part to accountants. We can only murmur our admiration that these people managed to generally keep their names out of the history books at least until the Middle Ages, given the importance of their contribution to the culture of all mankind.
But we should not snipe or snort, because some of these claims do actually stand up to scrutiny. Some of the earliest recorded writings we have are the income ledgers from Mesopotamian temples. Then again, other Sumerian writings from Hammurabi’s reign detail the earliest known laws in all mankind, leading us to also assume that lawyers and accountants were already collaborating at the dawn of civilisation – collaborating on the development of writing, we are sure. For it must be noted that as far as we know, Sumerian was the world’s first written language.


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It was around this time that taxation became widespread, hence necessitating the keeping of financial records. It has been speculated also that the Phoenicians developed their own defence mechanism of writing when they realised they were hopelessly outmatched by the financially advanced Egyptian accountants and in danger of getting outwitted through lack of prudent fiscal planning. This seems reasonable enough. The Egyptian rulers certainly understood the importance of tax collection, and of knowing how much they had in the coffers. We had not even got into the A.D.s before the Rosetta Stone was created – untranslated until Champollion and the time of Napoleon – and it turns out that it is also largely to do with tax, who does and doesn’t owe tax to Ptolemy, who gets a tax freeze and who doesn’t have to pay any more tax. There are other bits of the Rosetta stone involving crucifying the enemies of Egypt and extra sundries but tax was indeed the main thrust.
Tongue-in-cheek comments aside, it does indeed seem that the earliest forms of writing and numeric systems were indeed inspired by accountancy. The old tallying methods were most likely instigated to make it much easier to keep domesticated animals accounted for. The old rulers, being the most powerful people around, would certainly want to keep proper tabs on their income and outgoings and had the means to get inordinately clever people to arrange it. It seems, upon examination, that accountants were after all highly influential in the development of one of mankind’s crowning glories.

Josh Billing is a financial advisor and has made a study of the history of accountancy. Having determined that the earliest accountant jobs were carried out on behalf of temples, he wrote this article on behalf of .

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