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1 Accounting and accountability in ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt

Carmona 2007
2 Purpose
 Analyse and critique the growing literature on record-keeping practices in Mesopotamia and Ancient
 Focus only on the role of accounting practices in the processes of ancient accountability
3 Finding on Accountability
 Level
 Hierarchical (involving superiors and subordinates)
 Horizontal (involving two sides outside formal power structures, for example, two individuals
performing a lease contract of cattle)
 Self (rendering an account to self, emphasising notions of morality and identity)
 Sphere (階層)
 Individual-state
 State-individual
 Individual-individual
4 Our argument is that focusing on Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt has the advantage of contrasting accounting and
accountability in two civilizations that co-existed at similar historical eras, yet exhibited significantly different
socio-political and economic contexts.
5 Mesopotamia
Horizontal Accountability
6 Mesopotamia
 Largely private trade economy
 suitable to cattle husbandry
 lacked natural resources such as wood, stone, and precious metals – traded to acquire these resources
 Tokens, shaped into simple geometric forms, such as cones or spheres, were used for stewardship
purposes, inscribed in lists of personal properties in order to identify and secure a surplus for
maintenance of farming communities
 After 5000 BC city-states began to emerge with treasury functions, and the tokens were developed to
assist with tax and tribute assessment and collection exacted by the treasury
7 Mesopotamia (3700-2900 BC)
 increased agricultural efficiency (e.g., the plough), speeded up transportation (e.g., sailing boats), and
the use of better metal tooling (e.g., copper)
 Clay tablets with pictographic characters were used to record commercial transactions performed by the
8 Mesopotamia (Around 3250 BC)
 tokens began to be impressed onto the damp clay envelopes before enclosure
 later complex tokens were incised on the surface of envelopes with a stylus as a representation of the
items deposited inside them before being sealed
 the means of assuring the recipient of the sealed clay envelopes that the internal contents matched
exactly the record impressed or incised on the external surface
 providing a form of horizontal accountability
9 Mesopotamia (later development)
 Clay tablets replaced incised representations on external surfaces of sealed envelopes as a space on
which accounting entries were made
 Scribes kept tablets
 who were carefully trained to acquire the necessary literary and arithmetic skills
 were held responsible for documenting commercial transactions.
 Either had no market or notion of market price
 Absence of coinage
10 Keeping records of Commercial Transactions


 Sealed envelope containing tokens inside and impressions of the same tokens on the outside surface
 Function as a personal account of a steward etc
 Simple tokens – grain and cattle
 it was customary to call the scribe to the temple, palace, or private domain to record commercial
transactions, irrespective of their volume
 Written accounts of transactions were signed by the transaction parties, witnesses and the scribe
11 Monitoring Performance
 Had bookkeeping procedures
 Form of balancing entry
 Compared actual against theoretical amounts
 Nissen et al.(1993) suggested
 This checking of actual against theoretical was perhaps the most important accounting operation
introduced furing that period of time.
 Later, record labour performance and balancing it
12 Ancient Egypt
Hierarchical Accountability
13 Ancient Egypt
 Predominantly state-controlled economy
 the state played a major role in administration, the economy, civil life, and the military. Although
accounting and writing emerged at least two centuries before the unification of Egypt, it was not until
the emergence of Egypt as a centralized state that accounting practices began to be used on a more
systematic basis.
 Much of the economic activities belonged to the royal, or public, domain
 Although there was always some scope for private activities.
14 Ancient Egypt
 Pharaoh considered a god ruling on earth on behalf of other gods in the sky
 Bureaucracy with various layers of administrators
 Scribes who were trained in writing and arithmetic
 Economic domains of the state and temples oversaw large projects
 Building, renovating tombs, temples, palaces, and royal workshops, in addition to land cultivation,
bakeries and breweries, and the manufactory of textiles and metals
 Impost (or “tax”) was assessed and levied against crops
 collected by the scribes to be stored in granaries for use as future rations for the royal palace and to
the Pharaoh's subjects.
15 Ancient Egypt Economy
 The State as Redistributive system
 a centrally-based bureaucracy that collected from its subjects only to redistribute to them later
 Temple also important
 owned major economic resources
 Private sphere also exited
 individuals were able to make things
 Exchanged through semi-barter transactions with other goods in designated places that functioned as
local markets, at a mutually agreed price
 Scribes recorded these exchanges
 who also served as a witness to the transaction
 a money of account system functioned as a common denominator
 which converted baskets of different commodities into value equivalence and recorded these values
in accounting books.

16 Accounting for the public domain: the royal palace and the temples
 TWO influential institutions


 The royal palace

 the residence of the Pharaoh
 its central role in Egypt's redistributive economy.
 Temples
 Imposing role in the rituals of worship and death
 The accounts revealed the redistribution
 Co-ordinated the inflows and outflows of commodities
 Were kept on a daily basis, with separate columns for each type of commodity
 they matched daily supplies and provisions
 Linked sources of revenues and provisions to specific institutions
17 Role of Accounting
 In Public Domain
 Accounting played a key role in determining the precise allocations of provisions for every member
of temple staff and tracing the delivery of these provisions
 Private Domain
 Rare evidences
 Centered on the state
 Bakeries n household ??

18 Example
Land Production Record Keeping
 Ancient Egypt
 was performed on behalf of the state or temples
 ultimately the Pharaoh owned most the land
 Mesopotamia
 main concerned with private ownership