Controlling Expenditure, or the Slow Emergence of Costing at the Venice Arsenal, 1586-1633
Accounting, Business & Financial History, 2007
Posted: 18 Apr 2010
Date Written: 2007
This paper aims to aid our understanding of the emergence of accounting as a control instrument in complex proto-industrial settings, through its perceived capacity of mirroring the production process. The paper starts off from an archival document, the 1586 deliberation by the Venetian Senate, which imposed on the Arsenal a stocktaking to be conducted every three years, and ad hoc galley production accounts to be kept in double entry format, where the passage of materials and work-in-process between units were recorded both in physical quantity and value. In this deliberation the Venetian Senate was clearly posing explicitly the problem of costing and the efficient use of resources within the Arsenal. Until then, the Senate controlled this organisation only by limiting the funds allocated to activities (wages, oars, 'stuffs') without entering into the substance of the operations. Two interrelated investigations are carried out. First, a content analysis of the 1586 document is made. Second, the question of its 'impact' on the Arsenal's actual accounting practices is addressed. In a 1633 Report by Alvise Molin, a magistrate of the Republic, some elements of the 1586 deliberation seem to surface, insofar as a quite sophisticated calculation of the production costs of galleys is provided. In this sense it might well be that the notion of cost emerged as a sort of 'accidental by-product' of the Senate's efforts aimed at introducing tighter forms of control on the Arsenal.
Keywords: Venice Arsenal, accounting history, management history, public sector, costing evolution
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