Five times accountants changed the course of history

The art of accounting has been around for a long time. During it's 7,000 year history it has influenced great leaders, events and movements - and inevitably it has been the invisible hand guiding some of the most monumental events in history. Here's a few:

1. Giving organised religion the upper hand.

Accounting records date back more than 7,000 years to Mesopotamia. The development of accounting is related to the taxation and trading activities of temples. This kind of complexity gave ‘religious’ institutions a monetary advantage in ancient society.

2. Leading the expansion of the Roman Empire

As Rome’s army grew – along with its aristocrats’ desire for wealth – leaders like Julius Caesar, and later Emperor Augustus and Trajan, understood that their costs and commodity needs were greater than Rome’s income. This meant expansion was crucial and this gave birth to the imperial expansion of Rome and thus the Roman rule of law, culture, language and ideology – all of which are fundamental to our current western civilisation.

3. Introducing the double-entry bookkeeping system

As Europe moved towards a monetary economy in the 13th century, Mediterranean merchants were able to assert their dominance by the sophistication of their financial dealings. Luca Pacioli’s treatise on double-entry bookkeeping from 1494 is testament to this culture. The amount of wealth generated and controlled by this area of the world was instrumental maintaining European supremacy throughout the Middle Ages.

4. Instigating the French Revolution

From 1776-1783 Jacques Necker was Finance Minister of France. In 1781 he published the Compte rendu au roi. In it, he summarized the royal accounts. This was the first-ever public record of royal finances. While meant to be educational, it led people to become more involved and proactive about the dire straits of the royal French finances. This was key in deepening the French financial crisis during the 1780s and the public mistrust, leading to the outbreak of revolution in 1789.

5. Labour’s 2010 election loss

As most of us now know, the famous note left by Liam Byrne (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) stated in no uncertain terms that “there is no money” in the public coffers. The historical importance of the shift towards the right in British politics is yet to manifest or be decided, but as economic policy gain political importance Mr. Byrne’s piece of ‘accounting’ might prove crucial.

Written on in Accounting