AN OVERVIEW OF ACCOUNTING DEVELOPMENTS
IN ARCHAIC AND CLASSICAL GREECE
William Violet, Minnesota State University Moorhead
M. Wayne Alexander, Minnesota State University Moorhead
By the seventh century B.C.E., Sparta and Athens had developed from small towns ruled by
monarchies to major city-states wielding political and economic power. Sparta, ruled by a small group of
landowners, adopted a militaristic, austere, authoritarian, isolationist approach to government. With an ethic
that devalued materialism and a currency based on iron, trade with other city-states languished. Athens,
however, encouraged open trade, valued wealth accumulation, and established a currency based on precious
metals. The availability of currency and an established exchange rate with other currencies increased the
velocity of global trade and Athens developed into a commercial empire. It needed, and created, accounting
systems that held leaders and public servants accountable for the public funds they spent—a social
responsibility accounting system. Athenians used it to record, track, and assign responsibility for money spent
on public works projects such as the Parthenon. In the mid fifth century B.C.E., Pericles, Princeps of Athens,
spent funds collected from other city-states for protection from invasion by Persia on his own building
projects, including the Parthenon. Accused of misappropriation and called to account, he promoted war with
Sparta to create a diversion.
Mercantile accounting developed with the rise of the merchant class. Merchants created accounting
systems to count inventories, calculate profits, control assets, and satisfy government regulators. However,
the number of people possessing accounting skills was insufficient to maintain control of an expanding
economy and corruption took hold. The seeds of eventual decline were sown.
By the end of the second millennium B.C.E., a combination of famine in the Near East, depletion of
natural resources by palatial estates, and raiding by the Sea-People led to the decline of Greek influence.
During this Dark Age (1100—800 B.C.E.), the extensive trade that had made Greece prosperous virtually
ceased. (This section and the following taken from Pomeroy, Burstein, Danlan, & Roberts, 1999.) But
between the eighth and fourth centuries B.C.E., city-states arose and trade between them began. Trade brought
on wealth during these Archaic (800—490 B.C.E.) and Classical periods (490—323 B.C.E.). With wealth,
the socio-political environment changed and Greek intellectual life expanded. Medicine, mathematics,
philosophy, and the arts flourished.
About 800 B.C. E., writing, based on the Phoenician alphabet, reappeared. Trade required methods
to identify and document goods. In response, scribes developed accounting s