Math = Writing = Accounting?

Iraq 4000 years agoEleanor Robson tells us that practically all (97%) of written documents from southern Iraq 4000 years ago were accounts. Thus the twin births of writing and of mathematics both came about together due (largely) to accounting. Was this just a reflection of the bureaucratic nature of early Mesopotamian civilization, or is accounting the only possible stimulus for these crucial advances?

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8 Responses to Math = Writing = Accounting?

  1. I think that accounting was definatley the reason why writing and Mathematics came about. If not for accounting what would have been the need to count the amount of groceries you bought at the market, or how many cattle you sold that day? Accounting was a way of keeping track of things traded by people, so naturally I think that the more intelligent people of those times perhaps decided to expand the writing and Mathematical aspects of Accounting to make it more sophisticated, and to create a different sector of society known as scholars. Perhaps these crucial advancements would have oocured eventually but if so I think they would have taken much longer to get where they (“they” meaning mathematics and writing) are today. Students who enter into Baruch and say “I want to be an accountant, I’m really good at math” do not realize that math is only the basics of Accounting. You realize that as you go deeper into both Accounting and Mathematics they are two completely different things but that without one you wouldn’t have the other.

  2. saira.sattar says:

    Accounting is a subject that is used in every day life such as restoring the grain, keeping a record of cattle, and money matters. The city of Babylon became the center for regional commerce, the language of business and politics. Service businesses and small industries developed in the community and around the Mesopotamian Valley. They needed something to keep a record for standard measures of gold and silver, and extending credit in some transactions. This need insisted the Babylonian society to produce numerical data and writing system. In the accounting field, only average knowledge of arithmetic is used, so the Babylonians provided the first form of writing and math in terms of their need.

  3. I think it’s misleading to talk of service businesses in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. Accounting was crucial, but we should be careful not to see the ancient societies through a modern lens. There wasn’t a capitalist economy of small businesses. There was trade, but the social structure was a bureaucratic top-down one ruled by kings/priests and feudal chiefs. The accounting was done by officials and administrators in the bureaucracies, and was for managing and distributing resources — made more necessary by the growth of cities and large-scale irrigation projects.

  4. Ekaterina Yushkova says:

    The Mesopotamian civilization had a bureaucratic social structure. Moreover, it is not a surprise that the historians find so many accounting documents. In my opinion, it was a reflection of the bureaucratic nature in Old Babylonia. Accounting was one of the most significant parts of the society. It was crucial and controlled by the government “servants”. In addition, I think the Mesopotamian civilization used to be very highly developed country.

  5. Regina Shakirova says:

    For order to be quantifiable on a large scale it would of course be necessary to document in some shape or form. Lets remember that Mesopotania is considered the cradle of civilization. Outside of the basic rules for governing society it would make sense that large scale accounting requires documentation, hence the plethora of evidence cited.

  6. Krystel Roche says:

    Most businesses hire accountants to keep track of the businesse’s profits, expenses and make sure that everything is on track. Accounting was the reason that both writing and mathematics came about together because learning accounting require basic maths but also good writing when working on a financial report. You have to know when it’s a credit or debit account. Back then, one person was responsible to keep track of anything that is related to the expenses and profit of a business; but now things have expanded that accounting has been broken to many different fields like management accounting, internal audit, governmental accounting and even bookkeeper with all require both math and writing.
    I believe this was just a reflection of the bureaucratic nature of early Mesopotamian civilization because things were not that advanced back then.

  7. jd069511 says:

    I think they only recorded numerical information because they didnt setup a written language yet. Also probably only those who knew how to record only wrote in numbers. Or the language was complicated and it was easier to record numberical infomation. So finding only accouting documents led to a understanding of what their life was like in terms of math.

  8. No, they did have a written language for words too — we have lots of tablets of laws, the Gilgamesh epic, etc. from the same period — in fact Plimpton 322 itself has some words on it. It’s just that most of their writing seems to have been accounts.

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