History of Double Entry Book Keeping

The history of double entry book keeping can trace its origins as far back as the merchants of Renaissance Italy and to lesser degree as far back as the early 13th Century.  One of the earliest references can be traced as far back as 1211 where fragments of a double entry book keeping system were to be found.

Over the next 250 years or so, the idea was further evolved by the bankers and businessmen of the time in the commercial sectors of Florence, Genoa and particularly Venice.

It took until 1494 until the very first printed text on the subject became available. Luca Pacoili - a prominent mathematician and contemporary of Leonardo Da Vinci -  wrote a book entitled “Summa de Arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità “. The book was a monumental work that covered five main topics of which double entry book keeping was just one. Although being only one of the five  subjects covered in the publication, Pacoili still devoted 36 small chapters to the one subject. It is thought that Pacoili wrote about the topic for the Duke of Urbino and his subjects so they would have ready access to the value of their assets and liabilities. Though Luca Pacoili is often credited with having invented the double entry book keeping system, it is widely accepted that it was in fact Benedetto Cotrugli (also known Benedikt Kotruljevic ) as the principal proponent behind its invention. In fact even at the time of writing his work in 1494 Pacoili was aware of Cotrugli’s efforts and credited Cortrugli with the origination of the double entry book keeping system.

Cotrugli or Kotruljevic as he is also known as, was born in Dubrovnik, in what is now part of modern Croatia. The city at the time of Cotrugli’s life was a thriving commercial centre, its merchants skilled in the art of commerce and business. It was from Dubrovnik that Cortrugli left for the Kingdom of Naples where he developed his ideas further. His efforts in the field of record keeping and the origins of accounts and ledgers, cumulated in the writing of the manuscript “Della Mercatura e del mercante perfetto”(Of Trade and the Perfect Trader) in 1458.

However Cotrugli’s manuscript on double entry book keeping was not published until 1573, first being published in Italian with a later translation into French some forty years later. Early copies of the manuscript still exist today with the earliest known copy located in the National Library of Malta. Another early copy of the historic double entry book keeping manuscript can be found in the National Library of St Mark in Venice Italy.

If you are interested in the subject and want to find out on the history of double entry book keeping and its origins, Johanna Postman and Anne J. van der Helm wrote a great paper entitled “La Riegola De Libro – Book-keeping instructions from the mid-fifteenth century”. They explore actual transactions and records of the day and discuss the history of double entry book-keeping further.