Insights to Be Gained from the Study of Ancient Accounting History: Some Reflections on the New Edition of Finley's the Ancient Economy
Posted: 23 Sep 2002
Accounting historians have attempted to relate their knowledge of the variety of accounting practices at various points of time, and in various places, to wider questions of the role of accounting in reflecting and shaping not only business and management practice, but also economic and social organisation more generally. Finley's classic The Ancient Economy, which analysed the embeddedness of ancient economic activity in the social structure, and in the status concerns of the free citizens, as constituting a brake on the development of profit-focused markets and correspondingly on technology and trade, saw the state of ancient accounting as itself making impossible sophisticated profit-oriented calculation and rational decision-making. In his monumental The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, de Ste. Croix rejected Finley's analysis in terms of Weberian 'status' in favour of an explicitly Marxist analysis based on 'class'. But he took up essentially the same argument about the economic impact of ancient accounting technique. Their argument in turn raises further questions about the general relationship between accounting practice and economic and social organisation in the ancient world. This paper comments on Finley and briefly surveys the contribution to answering some of the 'big' questions concerning both accounting and history that has been made by recent research into ancient accounting history (most of which has been published outside the accounting and accounting history journals).
JEL Classification: M40, M41, N00
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