Whenever speaking of Ancient Rome, history books remind the world about an empire thrust forward by engineering genius, advances in art, and an unrelenting war machine that conquered half of the known world. But, what most of the books don’t say, is how everything was pulled together by an ancient equivalent of what is now known as accounting.
The empire was in existence and flourished for almost a thousand years when it fell, a record of longevity set in the midst of multiple problems. The military always marched to war in remote regions, the senate regularly bickered, and on occasion assassinated each other, and the city itself was so vast it took the Vandals two weeks to plunder it in AD 455 – these are just some of the issues that Ancient Rome faced.
Today, governments deal with much the same dilemmas, but none of them come close to comparing with Ancient Rome. So, what was the glue that kept the greatest city the world has ever known together for nearly millennia? Many people will be surprised to discover that it was expert accounting that served as the key to Rome’s longevity.
Early military records showed that Rome, as an institution, was obsessed with keeping records. Whether it be population, grain deliveries, gold, or even the number of nails in their workshops, someone had a detailed list of it somewhere.
The accounting organisation of the empire’s resources allowed its government to conduct as many military campaigns as it did, and expand as fast it did. A close eye on the empire’s treasuries allowed the Romans to build the engineering marvels their modern counterparts drew inspiration from, even while corruption was rampant.
Though their models for sustainability were questionable, there’s no doubt that without the organisation they displayed, the city would have fallen much sooner.
The greatest challenge that faced the ancient empire’s organisational structure is something that’s considered a triviality in the modern era: distance. During its greatest extent, the Roman Empire stretched from Babylonia to Britannia, almost 5 million square kilometres. This same area is currently divided into 40 independent states.
Today, accounting is building empires of a different kind. The empires of finance and entrepreneurship hold sway over the land. But, though the field is different, the goals remain the same: organisation, expansion, and longevity.