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November 29, 2022

Happy International Accounting Day!

Luca Pacioli, the Father of Accounting

It was on this date in 1494 that homie to Leonardo da Vinci, Venetian mathematician, and “Father of Accounting” Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli published Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (or “everything about arithmetic, geometry and proportion”), making November 10 the day we celebrate…accounting.

Despite its importance to the history of counting, Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita was not particularly groundbreaking and in fact, as the name implies, it was essentially a summary of everything we knew about math at that time. Making him an excellent figurehead for accounting, really.

The work gives a summary of the mathematics known at that time although it shows little in the way of original ideas. The work studies arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry and, despite the lack of originality, was to provide a basis for the major progress in mathematics which took place in Europe shortly after this time. Summa was not addressed to a particular section of the community. An encyclopaedic work (600 pages of close print, in folio) written in Italian, it contains a general treatise on theoretical and practical arithmetic; the elements of algebra; a table of moneys, weights and measures used in the various Italian states; a treatise on double-entry bookkeeping; and a summary of Euclid’s geometry. He admitted to having borrowed freely from Euclid, Boethius, Sacrobosco, Fibonacci, Prosdocimo de’ Beldamandi, and others.

Although it lacked originality, the Summa was widely circulated and studied by the mathematicians of the sixteenth century.

It’s important to note that while Pacioli is often credited with the development of double-entry bookkeeping, he did not invent the method and is instead considered the first person to describe the method already used by Venetian merchants in literature. If you want to get really technical about it, Benedetto Cotrugli is probably the first person to mention double entry bookkeeping in his 1458 work Book on the Art of Trade making me wonder why Fra Luca gets all the credit?

If you are interested in accounting history (of course you are), we recommend Jacob Soll’s The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations.

Happy International Accounting Day 2022! 🍕 Now get back to work.

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