The Genesis of Double Entry Bookkeeping

Alan Sangster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


The emergence of double entry bookkeeping marked the shift in bookkeeping from a mechanical task to a skilled craft, and represented the beginnings of the accounting profession. This study seeks to identify what caused this significant change in bookkeeping practice. I do so by adopting a new accounting history perspective to investigate the circumstances surrounding the emergence of double entry in early 13th century Italy. Contrary to previous findings, this paper concludes that the most likely form of enterprise where bookkeeping of this form emerged is a bank, most likely in Florence. Accountability of the local bankers in Florence to the Bankers Guild provided a unique external impetus to generate a new form of bookkeeping. This new bookkeeping format provided a clear and unambiguous picture of the accounts of all debtors and creditors, along with the means to check that the entries between them were complete and accurate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-315
Number of pages17
JournalAccounting review
Issue number1
Early online date31 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

The author acknowledges the advice and assistance of Professor John Harry Evans III (former senior editor of The Accounting Review) and the three anonymous reviewers who did much to improve the focus and clarity of this paper. Thanks are also given for the advice offered by Richard Goldthwaite, Richard Macve, Keith Hoskin, Yvette Lazdowski, Paul Miranti, Ken McPhail, Lúcia Lima Rodrigues, Delfina Gomes, Angélica Vasconceles, Giuseppe Galassi, Jean-Guy Degos, Mikhail Kuter, Greg Stoner, Pat McCarthy, Edgard Cornacchione, Reza Monem, Tyge Kummer, Conor O'Leary, Chew Ng, Amr Kotb, and participants at the 2014 AAA Annual Meeting and at various conference and seminar presentations in Australia, Brazil, Italy, and Portugal during 2013 and 2014. In particular, thanks are due to Esteban Hernández-Esteve, without whose encouragement this paper would never have got beyond a germ of an idea in 2011.


  • accountability
  • banking
  • book transfer
  • double entry bookkeeping
  • dual entry bookkeeping
  • new accounting history
  • single entry bookkeeping


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