Statue of LUCA PACIOLI Sansepolcro. 1995 erected by: "I concittadini e Le Scuole de Ragioneria in Jappone". De Computis et Scripturis

History of Double Entry Bookkeeping

Paul M. Goldwater, Ph.D. - University of Central Florida   |   Canham Rogers, Chartered Accountants and Management Consultants, Toronto   | American Mathematical Society: "The Romance of Double-Entry Bookkeeping"   |   L. Lauwers and M. Willekens Tijdschrift voor Economie en Management, Vol. XXXIX, 3, 1994. "Five Hundred Years of Bookkeeping. A Portrait of Luca Pacioli"

Statue of LUCA PACIOLI Sansepolcro. 1995 erected by: "I concittadini e Le Scuole de Ragioneria in Jappone".
Photo credit: Instituut Pacioli drs. A. J. van der Helm and drs. Johanna Postma

Pacioli - "Father of Accounting" ?

"Luca Pacioli was one of the greatest men of the Renaissance. He is also one of the least well known. This is surprising, for Luca Pacioli's manuscripts and ideas changed the way the world worked then, and continue to affect modern daily life.

"Luca Pacioli was born in Borgo San Sepulcro, in Tuscany. He was probably born during 1445. He belonged, being the son of Bartholomeus Pacioli to a middle-class family. His first teacher was no less a person than the painter Piero della Francesca, who, typically for Italian Humanism, masterly connected mathematics, science and art. Pacioli joined a Franciscan monastery in Sansepulcro and became an apprentice to "a wealthy Venetian businessman, Antonio de Rompiaso. Together with Rampiaso's sons, he attended the lectures of the mathematician Domenico Bragadino in Scuolo di Rialto, a school of great importance for the history of Aristolelianism" (Lauwers and Willekens).

"Pacioli befriended the artist Piero della Francesca, one of the first and greatest writers and artists of perspective. Francesca and Pacioli journeyed over the Appenines, where Francesca gave Pacioli access to the library of Frederico, the Count of Urbino. The collection of four thousand books allowed Pacioli to further his knowledge of mathematics.

"Francesca also introduced Pacioli to Leon Baptist Alberti, who would become Pacioli's new mentor. Alberti brought Pacioli to Venice and arranged for him to tutor the three sons of the rich merchant Antonio de Reimpose. During this time, in the year 1470, Pacioli wrote his first manuscript at the age of twenty-five. The book was about algebra and was dedicated to the Reimpose boys.

"Alberti also introduced Pacioli to Pope Paul II. Paul encouraged Pacioli to become a monk and dedicate his life to God. After Alberti died in 1472, Pacioli took the pope's suggestion, and took the vows of Franciscan Minor.

"In 1475, Pacioli became a teacher at the University of Perugia, where he stayed for six years. He was the first lecturer to hold a chair in mathematics at the University. In his lectures, Pacioli stressed the importance of putting theory to practical use. This emphasis on application of theory made him unique among his peers. While at the University of Perugia, Pacioli wrote his second manuscript, dedicated to the "Youth of Perugia."

"After 1481, Pacioli wandered throughout Italy, and in some areas outside it, until he was called back to the University of Perugia by the Franciscans in 1486. By this time, Pacioli was beginning to call himself "Magister," meaning master, the equivalent of a full professorship in modern time.

"The year 1494 is the only date during Pacioli's life that is absolutely certain. It was during this year that the forty-nine-year-old Pacioli published his famous book Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (The Collected Knowledge of Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportion and Proportionality). Pacioli wrote the Summa in an attempt to redress the poor state of mathematics teaching in his time. One section in the book made Pacioli famous. The section was Particularis de Computis et Scripturis, a treatise on accounting. De Scripturis was later described by some as "a catalyst that launched the past into the future." (Luca Pacioli: Unsung Hero of the Renaissance) Pacioli was the first person to describe double-entry accounting, also known as the Venetian method. This new system was state-of- the-art, and revolutionized economy and business. The Summa made Pacioli a celebrity and insured him a place in history, as "The Father of Accounting." The Summa was the most widely read mathematical work in all of Italy, and became one of the first books published on the Gutenberg press.

"Pacioli's important manuscript made him instantly famous, and he was invited to Milan to teach mathematics at the Court of Duke Lodovico Maria Sforzo in Milan. One of his pupils would be Leonardo da Vinci. During the seven years Pacioli and da Vinci spent together, the two would help each other create two masterpieces that would withstand the test of time. Da Vinci illustrated Pacioli's next and second most important manuscript De Divina Proportione ("Of Divine Proportions"). Pacioli taught da Vinci perspective and proportionality. This knowledge allowed da Vinci to create one of his greatest masterpieces, a mural on the north wall of the Santa Maria de Gracia Dominican cloister. This mural is the most famous painting of the fifteenth century, known as "The Last Supper." The geometry Pacioli taught to da Vinci would occur in many of da Vinci's later works. Da Vinci mentions Pacioli many times in his notes.

"In the years that followed Pacioli's relationship with da Vinci, he continued to teach and write. In 1509, De Divina Proportione and a work on Euclid were published in Venice. In the same year, Pacioli gave an important lecture on "Proportion and Proportionality," a lecture that emphasized the relationship of proportion to religion, medicine, law, architecture, grammar, printing, sculpture, music and all the liberal arts.

"In 1510, Pacioli was appointed director of the Franciscan monastery in Sansepulcro, much to the dismay of his fellow monks. In 1514, Pope Leo III called Pacioli to the papacy in Rome to become a teacher there. Scholars are unsure about what happened to Pacioli afterwards, but they are fairly certain that he never made it to Rome. Pacioli probably died on June 19, 1517 in the monastery in Sansepulcro." - Paul M. Goldwater, Ph.D.

"Perhaps the best proof that Pacioli's work was considered potentially significant even at the time of publication was the very fact that it was printed on November 10, 1494. Guttenberg had just a quarter-century earlier invented metal type, and it was still an extremely expensive proposition to print a book.

"The trial balance (summa summarium) is the end of Pacioli's accounting cycle. Debit amounts from the old ledger are listed on the left side of the balance sheet and credits on the right. The the two totals equal, the old ledger is considered balanced. If not, says Pacioli, that would indicate a mistake in your Ledger, which mistake you will have to look for diligently with the industry and intelligence God gave you." - Canham Rogers (Note 1)

"Among the many translations and adaptations of De Computis was a work by Domenico Manzoni, a native of Oderzo, published in 1540 and entitled Quaderno doppio col suo giornale ... : ``The Double Ledger with its Journal, newly composed and organized with extreme care, following the custom of Venice.'' I used a modern reprinting of the Quaderno, in Opere Antiche di Ragioneria, Milan 1911.

"The Quaderno is a textbook, and, as far as I can tell, the first book to use a realistic, fully worked out example to explain how double-entry bookkeeping works, an expository technique still used today. Manzoni leads us through a year in the life and fortunes of a Venetian merchant, one Alvise Vallaresso. We learn a lot about Alvise, because Manzoni's exposition begins with a complete inventory of the man's belongings and possessions as they were on the first of March 1540, and continues day by day tracking every lira of income and every soldo, grosso, and picciolo of expenses of his business (and of his household; the accounts were not kept separate) until the last day of February of the next year.

  • "A note on currency. Merchants in Venice used a system of lire, soldi, grossi, piccioli akin to the pounds, shillings and pence recently abandoned in Britain: 32 piccioli make one grosso, 12 grossi make one soldo, and 20 soldi make a lira. Thus a lira was a substantial amount of money; a rough equivalent might be $1000 in today's currency. Another denomination is the ducato, which is 2 soldi or 24 grossi, like the old British florin. Prices are usually quoted in ducati and grossi; while the books are kept in lire, soldi, grossi, and piccioli.
    On our rough scale a ducato is $100, a tenth of a lira. Even though translating this currency into dollars may be meaningless, it does give an easily grasped and accurate impression of relative costs.

  • "A note on language. The Quaderno is written in Italian, but contains many words in their Venetian pronunciation (staro for staio, feze for fece, etc.) and in addition many words peculiar to Venetian. My reference for these words has been the Dizionario del Dialetto Veneziano by Giuseppe Boerio (Venice, 1856). In particular Boerio gives modern equivalents of the measures miro and bigonzo. For the translation of carisee and zambelotti I am indebted to Luca Molà of Warwick University, an expert on the Venetian textile trade. Thanks also to my colleague Lori Repetti for help with these questions."

"In this column we will let Domenico Manzoni teach us double-entry bookkeeping as we follow Alvise Vallaresso through a busy and tumultuous year in 16th-century Venice." - AMS Tony Phillips, Stony Brook

Note 1: All quotes from L. Pacioli, Summa de arithmetica. Chapter: Particularis de computis et scripturis, Venecia (1494). Translation e.g. John Bart Geijsbeek (1914), reprinted in: Ancient double-entry bookkeeping, Scholars Book Co, Houston, Texas, USA (1974)

Pacioli's "Summa" has been reprinted by the Pacioli Society, Albers School of Business, Seattle University, 900 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122-4338 (206) 296-5723

Juxstaposition: Sy, Aida and Tony Tinker Bury Pacioli in Africa: A Bookkeeper's Reification of Accountancy. Blackwell Publishing. Abacus Volume 42 Issue 1, Page 105 - March 2006