Accounting and Power Under Napoleon’s Occupancy of the Ferrara Municipality

41 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2010

See all articles by Laura Maran

Laura Maran

University of Ferrara - Faculty of Economics

Enrico Bracci

University of Ferrara

Date Written: September 17, 2010


The Napoleon’s rise to power in Europe (1796-1815) emphasized the passage from the Ancien Régime to the modern State that started with the French Revolution (1789). From an administrative point of view, that period was of particular interest as some characteristics of the Napoleonic re-organization of the administrative organs affected the development of the modern public administration. According to various Authors (Peters, 2008, Rouban, 2008, Spanou, 2008 and Ongaro, 2008), the Napoleonic tradition in the public administration’s rules of functioning continued to influence contemporary administrative reforms privileging the role of the public administration as the first and most important “executive arm” of the Government.

The Napoleonic Empire expanded in Italy from 1796 to 1815 and marked a deep change in the public administration’s organization, accounting and accountability practices, at both the central and peripheral levels.

Different patterns of accounting literature explained the emergence of practices and tools in terms of economic efficiency (e.g. Fleishman and Parker, 1991 about the emergence of competitive pressures, Johnson and Kaplan, 1987 about the definition of market prices in no-market and public contexts). In contrast to those paradigms, Ezzamel (1987) and Hopwood (1990) linked the rise and functioning of accounting practices to a power/knowledge framework, that was traced with reference to Foucault’s perspective (1977). For instance, Ezzamel (1997) related the accounting techniques to their potential of control at a distance and accountability. Hopwood (1990) pointed out that accounting was able to give visibility to certain activities and organizational actors, giving them particular meanings and significance within an administration. Thus, the social importance of the accounting enabled some social values and classes to emerge as legitimised areas/ actors of rational economic action.

The aim of the present work is to explore the interrelationship between the new public administration’s accounting rules and the political values of the Napoleonic Cisalpina Republic in Italy. The interrelationship is explored with reference to the different administrative levels, included the peripheral Ferrara Municipality.

The technicalities of local public accounting are studied in relation to their potential of both conveying the new political values to the administrative actors and making visible activities and new administrative classes. Thus, the analysis encompasses the Municipality accountability towards the State levels and it tries to give insights over the sources of legitimacy of the Napoleonic peripheral apparatus.

The present study adopts a narrative method (Parker, 1999, Carnegie and Napier, 1996) and it benefits from primary sources about the accounting of the Napoleonic period (1797-1801) contained in the Historical State Archives of the town.

The analysis intends to contribute to the literature debate on the administration’s changes introduced by Napoleon, having a focus on the Municipalities’ management and accounting systems. The study is articulated in the following sections: the first one will frame the history of Napoleonic domination in Italy and in Ferrara, the second one will describe the model of State adopted in the Cisalpina Republic, clarifying the administrative and territorial divisions and the reciprocal financial relationships in light of the original normative and accounting documents. The third section will illustrate the most important accounting innovations for the Ferrara Municipality and the forth one will define the role of the different accounting books, the rules of recording and their inter-relationships within the accounting system. The fifth section will enlighten functions and evolution of the administration of the Municipality concerning the accountability towards the State. The concluding remarks will point out the contribution of the present study on development of accounting and the State.

Keywords: Accounting History, Napoleon, Foucault, Power

Suggested Citation

Maran, Laura and Bracci, Enrico, Accounting and Power Under Napoleon’s Occupancy of the Ferrara Municipality (September 17, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Laura Maran

University of Ferrara - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Via Voltapaletto, 11
Ferrara, 44121
0532 455092 (Phone)

Enrico Bracci (Contact Author)

University of Ferrara ( email )

Via Voltapaletto, 11
Via Voltapaletto, 11
Ferrara, Ferrara 44121

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