What Is Primitive Accounting?

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Contemporary accounting follows the double-entry bookkeeping approach that originated in 13th-century Italy. Tracking sales and the transfer of goods or money, however, predates the double-entry system. These earlier methods comprise primitive accounting.


The earliest methods used tokens with simple shapes to represent the trade product, such as herd animals. More complex tokens with visual designs on them displaced tokens with basic shapes. Record keeping posed certain logistical problems, as tokens were physical and required storage. One approach involved storing the tokens in a clay envelope and impressing the tokens into the envelope's soft clay exterior before sealing it. Another approach called for stringing the tokens and affixing them to a small piece of clay. These methods eventually gave way to drawing symbols onto clay tablets and, later, paper.

Places Where Used

Primitive accounting methods crop up, in one form or another, in most major early civilizations. The Phoenicians used primitive accounting to keep track of trade. Early accounting methods also played a role in monitoring taxation and public spending among the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. The transition to using a semiformal accounting system in individual businesses, as a general practice, dates back to the 13th century Italian republics, where a thriving merchant class developed. The records served the businesses in tracking money paid and owed, as well as the government in collecting taxes.