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February 1, 2023

TIL: Ancient Greeks Used Slaves as Auditors So They Could Be Beaten When They Screwed Up

I've had Jacob Soll's book The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations sitting in my bag forever, always intending to go up on the rooftop deck on a nice summer day with a cigar and a few beers to finish reading it. Of course, that never happens (usually because I drink all the beer before I can make it up to the rooftop deck and pass out on top of half a dozen cats).

Seeing as I'm in NYC this week and therefore spending quite a bit of my time on the subway or otherwise lazily wandering through the city, I've had a chance to get through more of the book and am really enjoying it. For those of you who nerd out on the history of accounting (some of which is way more interesting than what you do all day), this is a must read.

Check out this interesting bit we find in the first chapter:

The passage reads:

In ancient Athens, accounting was seen as connected to political accountability. From the beginning, a complex system of bookkeeping and public auditing was at the heart of democratic government. The Athenian treasury was considered sacred and kept at Delos under the watchful eyes on its treasurers. Humble citizens and slaves were educated and employed as bookkeepers. For the most part, Athenians preferred public slaves as comptrollers and auditors because they could be tortured on the rack and freemen could not.

So next time you are whining about how you are a slave to public accounting, fondly recall the history of your profession where actual slaves were used to do what would evolve into your job. Oh, and they got the shit beaten out of them if they screwed up (take note: PCAOB).

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