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Historical origins of accounting : the contributions of Iraq and ancient Mesopotamia

Mosa, Fadil Hassan


Fadil Hassan Mosa


Moyra J. McI. Kedslie


The origin of modern accounting is an unsettled phenomenon. Several scholars have traced that origin to the ancient Greece, to India, to Mesopotamia, and Egypt. There is no systematic study of the role which each ancient community has played in the development of modern accounting. Received knowledge from accounting history, to date, is that modern accounting has its roots in Europe, especially ancient Greece and Italy. The purpose of this thesis is to attempt to modify this accepted truth and to suggest that some aspects of the roots of modern accounting can be traced to Iraq and the ancient Mesopotamia.

Accounting is a progressive science which develops as it is passed from one generation to the next. Knowledge of our past helps us to understand our present and predict the future. Modern accounting may be said to have become possible with the introduction and gradual adoption of rational procedures in arithmetic and bookkeeping. Therefore, it is important to know how our forebears practised their accounting in the cradle of civilisation, i.e. Assyria and babylonia, where mankind is said to have built its first civilisation, and to have invented a unique writing system. Unfortunately, Iraq lacks sufficient literature dealing with the origins and the history of accounting.

One reason for the paucity of information on accounting in the Mesopotamia is that much of the archival information that would have led to the discovery of accounting history of the region are in ancient Mesopotamian languages and in clay tablets which have not been studied by archaeologists interested in accounting. Another reason is the lack of interest in the history of the Iraqi people brought about by the long period of wars with its neighbours and the lack of interest in Iraq by people outside its borders. Yet another reason and perhaps the most important is the scarcity of Iraqi scholars interested in accounting history of Iraq.

This lack of literature on Iraqi accounting history motivates the attempt to fill this important gap in historical literature.

The study covers the period between 3600 BC and the advent of the Islamic religion (that is, until the beginning of the 12th century AD). With the help of archaeological discovery of the tools of writing, numbering systems and accounts of the ancient Mesopotamia, the analysis of socio-economic institutions such as palaces, temples, Islamic religion, capitalism and markets and their relation to accounting, I reconstructed the role of the ancient Mesopotamia in the discovery of modern accounting.

To discipline the synthesis and analysis, Littleton' s (1966) framework for discovering the historical roots of bookkeeping (and indeed, accounting) was adopted. This required finding out how a society recorded their events and transactions (the art of writing); made computations (arithmetic and mathematics); dealt with property rights; exchanged goods either through the medium of money, credit or by barter, and the nature of their commerce and how they accumulated wealth and accounted for it. The presence of these prerequisites for the development of bookkeeping in Iraq 4000 or more years ago would lead to the suggestion that the inhabitants of ancient Iraq had a culture of accounting.

The thesis concludes that these prerequisites existed in the ancient Iraq and that, in several respects, the ancient Iraq had an accounting culture that predated many of these antecedents as a part of the protoliterage age.


Mosa, F. H. (1995). Historical origins of accounting : the contributions of Iraq and ancient Mesopotamia. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 18, 2017
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Accounting
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Accounting, The University of Hull
Award Date Dec 1, 1995


Thesis (8.9 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 1995 Mosa, Fadil Hassan. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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