Lost in translation: Pacioli’s de computis et scripturis

Alan Sangster* (Corresponding Author), Fabio Santini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


This article seeks to determine how much we understand of Pacioli's purpose, and to clarify what he wrote justifying his preparation and publication of his ‘bookkeeping treatise’ in 1494. The context that motivated Pacioli to prepare his treatise is identified: why he published it and for whom. A new critical translation of the first chapter is presented, revealing statements omitted from the translations, and terms misunderstood. Its primary contribution is the clearer overview of fifteenth century Venetian business and bookkeeping practice and of the treatise than is currently presented in the accounting history literature. This should lead to new understanding of the role and purpose of using double entry in European trade during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and thereafter. Finally, all 10 translations of the treatise evaluated, including the five in English, were found to be unreliable. Anyone using these translations needs to refer continuously to the original text and to how it has been translated into other languages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-342
Number of pages32
JournalAccounting History
Issue number3
Early online date6 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022
EventRenaissance Society of America Annual Meeting 2021: RSA Virtual 2021 - online
Duration: 13 Apr 202121 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank Massimo Ciambotti, Esteban Hernández Esteve, Anna Falcioni, Richard Goldthwaite, Marina Gurskaya, Mikhail Kuter, Nicoletta Marcelli, Reinhold Mueller, Gary Previts, Marina Ryabova; participants at the April 2021 Academy of Accounting Historians webinar, the 67th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, the 26th Journées d’histoire du management et des organisations (JHMO), the British Accounting & Finance Association Annual Conference 2021; attendees at seminars at the University of Ulster and the London School of Economics; and Joint Editor Carolyn Fowler for her understanding and helpful advice.

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


  • pacioli
  • De computis
  • mathematics
  • double entry
  • wholesale
  • medieval
  • Venice


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