History of Accounting - Ancient Greece

History of Accounting > Accounting in Ancient Greece

In Greece a strict accounting was required of all public officials. The records were kept by treasurers, sub-treasurers, clerks, and checking clerks, but even these seem to have been unable to prevent peculation and graft which were very prevalent although severely penalized. Each officer upon giving up his office was required to render an accounting of the funds intrusted to him. Publicity was secured by engraving the accounting on stone and exposing it to public view. The Greeks borrowed much from the East. They developed a crude clearing-house system, made loans, discounted notes, etc.

The public economy of the Athenians shows a highly developed system of accounting.3 The administration was in the hands of the Senate, under whom were numerous boards and officials. All regular impost duties were let to farmers, under the supervision of the Poletae, a board of ten to which each tribe contributed one member. The property of the temples was let by the directors of sacred possessions; that of the tribes and burghs was let by themselves through their own agent. The proportion of justicefees and fines effeiring to the State was transferred by the presidents of the court of justice to officers called exactors, the proportion allotted to any god being paid to the treasurers of the proper temple.

There were officers for the determination of the contributions to the extraordinary property tax, and officers who fixed the rate of the tributes of the allies. Certain persons were also employed as collectors. The subordinate officers delivered up the revenues to others, who either distributed them for the public service or kept them for security. Lists of those indebted to the State were kept by government receivers (apodectce). These officials received and entered the money paid in, and, with the Senate, they assigned it to the separate offices.

1 Vide ante, page 9.

2 /’.”.(/. The elaborate reckonings under the Mosaic law ; the arrangements made by Jehoash for the receipt of the temple offerings, ” even the money of every one that passed the account,” and their disbursement by the king’s scribe and the high priest in repairing the temple; the parable of the talents ; the parable of the unjust steward, <&c.

3 Our information with regard to the accounting of the Greeks is derived from the English translation of Boeckh’s ” Public Economy of Athens.”

The most important of the offices of finance was that of Treasurer or Manager of the Public Revenue. Aristides, Lysias, and Lycurgus may be mentioned as having held this office. Like every other officer, the Treasurer of the Public Revenue was subject to the restraint of legal checks and of the will of the people. He appears to have occupied a similar position to that of a modern Chancellor of the Exchequer, superintending the whole revenue and expenditure.

In addition to innumerable treasurers (of the goddess, of the tribes and burghs, of the generals, &c.), there were secretaries or clerks, and also subordinate or private secretaries. The entering of the receipts and payments, and the respective purposes to which the monies were assigned, the noting of acknowledgments of payment, and the passing of the accounts, came within the department of the secretary or clerk. There was a checking-clerk of the Senate for money received, a checking clerk of the highest authority for disbursements, and there were a number of subordinate checking-clerks.

The public accounts being kept by the clerks, and controlled by the checking-clerks, it was possible to make the scrutiny which was entered into at the expiration of every office. Every one who had had any share in the government or administration, from the Senate downwards, was subject to this scrutiny. ” No person who had not rendered his account could go abroad, consecrate his property to a god, or even dedicate a sacred offering; nor could he make a will, or be adopted from one family into another.” According to Aristotle, the officials whose business it was to examine the accounts of public officers were called in some places evQwoi, in others, Xo-yw-raJ, e^eratrraJ, or crvvtiyopot. The difference between the duties of the euthuni and the logista? is not well known, but it is thought that the euthuni were assistants to the logistas.

While there was no lack of well-conceived and strict regulations, the spirit of the administration in Greece was bad. All officers of finance were sworn to administer without peculation the money entrusted to them ; ” but if in Greece,” says Polybius, “the State entrusted to any one only a talent, and if it had ten checking-clerks, and as many seals and twice as many witnesses, it could not ensure his honesty.”

To ensure publicity the accounts of public officials were engraved on stone and exposed in public. Some of these accounts still exist, and specimens of them are among the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.

We give as an illustration a photographic reproduction of one of them, No. XXIII, which is a slab of white marble, height 1 ft. 10 in., breadth 1 ft. 2f in.

We are indebted to Mr. Cecil Smith, Director of the Department of Greek and Roman antiquities in the British Museum, for the following transcript and translation, and he has also very kindly furnished us with the valuable notes on the subject which are added on pages 27 and 28. The parts enclosed in square brackets are restoration.

['AOijvaiot uinju>crav eirl Xapiov ap-^ovrot Kcu eiri T»J? /SovXJ}? g . . .]

iSrjf TrpioTOS eypannareve • To/u/cu leplav •^prjfj.aTdiv

[r!js 'AOyvaias, Aeeo^djOi;? ...... Km $yvapyovTe$, oTj TeXe'a]?

TeXfviKov Tlepyao-tjdev fypa/j./j.aTeve, irapeSocrav

Account Of Disbursements Of The Athenian State, 418 B.c. To 415 B.c. (size of original I foot 10 inches by I foot z| inches)

British Jlfuseitm—Greek Inscription No. 23

To the Hellenotamiai and assessors we lent … to Aristokrates of Euonymia and their colleagues nine talents, and these gave to the Athlothetae (Games-Committee) for the Panathenaia, viz. Amemptos and his fellow officials in the second prytany—that of Erechtheis—on the 20th day of the prytany. In the fourth prytany, that of Kekropis, on the 6th day of the prytany, to the Hellenotamiai and assessors Aristokrates of Euonymia and his colleagues, for troops. … In the eighth prytany—that of Antiochis—on the 10th day of the prytany, to the Hellenotamiai and assessors Aristokrates of Euonymia and his colleagues for the troops in M. . . .

In the eighth prytany—that of Antiochis—on the 13th day of the prytany, to the Hellenotamiai and assessors, Aristokrates of Euonymia and his colleagues, three hundred talents; and they paid for the campaign in Sicily.

In the eighth prytany—that of Antiochis—on the 20th day of the prytany, to the Hellenotamiai and assessors Aristokrates of Euonymia and his colleagues for the ships which were to transport the funds to Sicily we paid four talents and two thousand drachmas. In the eighth prytany—that of Antiochis—on the 22nd day of the prytany to the Hellenotamias and assessor, Philomelos of Marathon, and to the general (commanding) in the Thermaean gulf. … On the same day to the Hellenotamias and assessor Philomelos of Marathon, also to the general in E .

Total of expenditure during our office three hundred and fifty-three talents. . . .

This is one of a series of inscriptions which record the disbursements of the Athenian state, and when complete formed part of a large stone giving the account by the Treasurers of Athena of the expenditure of a quadriennium, from Ol. 90-3 (b.c. 418) to Ol. 91-2 (b.c. 415). The date is identified by the mention of the Archon Charias; and this part of the document refers to the last year of the quadriennium. The portion in the British Museum is here completed in the cursive text from supplementary fragments which are in Athens; these supplementary portions are enclosed within square brackets.

The Parthenon, from the moment of its completion in B.c. 438, served as the principal storehouse of the sacred treasure. This treasure included not only the a

the valuables dedicated to the goddess—but all the property accruing to her from sacred lands and other sources, and even such part of the national treasure as was not required for current expenses came under this category. It was administered by a board of ten To/u/oh, chosen by lot yearly, one from each tribe, from among the most wealthy. The accounts were rendered annually, but only inscribed on a marble stele on the occasion of the Greater Panathenaic festival, which recurred every four years. Whenever a question arose of entrenching for state purposes on the balance of the national treasure it was necessary (as we see from 1. 3) that the sanction, or rather indemnification (aSeia), should first be obtained from the popular assembly.

In 1. 5 it is supposed by Canon Hicks, the editor of this inscription, that the seven sigmas written below the other figures are intended as the correction of a mistake made either by the treasurers or the lapidary; and that the letters at the end of this line are the beginning of

In 1. 14 is recorded the payment of three hundred talents of silver; this transaction is probably alluded to by Thucydides (vi. 94) and Diodorus (xiii. 7), who state that in the winter of B.c. 415-414 the Athenian general Nikias, in command of the Sicilian expedition, sent a trireme to Athens asking for money and cavalry: and in the following spring the cavalry were sent, together with three hundred talents of silver. The money was required, says Thucydides, as Tpotyv Tv

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