BCP: Municipal Library of Palermo
ASCP: City Historical Archive of Palermo:
AGS: Archivo General de Simancas (Valladolid)
VI: Visitas de Italia
Revue d'histoire des comptabilités
L’organisation administrative des finances du Royaume de Sicile et les systèmes de contrôle à partir du centre jusqu’à la périphérie sont bien connus. En revanche, on connaît peu les innovations techniques et institutionelles dans l’administration financière des villes siciliennes. Cet article traite des réformes établies dans la seconde moitié du XVI siècle par les administrateurs de Palerme pour résoudre les problèmes de plus en plus complexes en matière de gestion du patrimoine municipal, pour en garantir le contrôle du vice-roi envoyé par l’Espagne et pour satisfaire les demandes insistantes d’argent de la part de la monarchie ibérique. Le conseil municipal palermitain introduisit l’usage du bilan (librobilanciato), établi selon le système de la partie double, et la figure du Razionale (auditeur). Les vice-rois réglementèrent les fonctions de l’auditeur et établirent le nombre et la typologie de ses livres de comptes. Ces réformes utilisaient des instruments déjà adoptés dans les finances royales de Castille. La diffusion de cette science incorporait la Sicile dans le système administratif impérial.
1The historical development of the institutions and of the accounting techniques for the administration of the finances in the Sicilian kingdom were deeply investigated, as well as the inspection and supervising systems of the Spanish Crown over the financial flows of the Island. During the last decades, Adelaide Baviera Albanese, Antonino Giuffrida and Rossella Cancila have shaped the phases which led to the articulated administrative system of the Sicilian Kingdom, from the times of Ferdinand I of Aragon over the whole Fifthteenth century1.
2The administrative supervising system over the cities’ finances in the Early Modern Age was less known compared to the one of the Kingdom. This was probably due to the difficulties in finding the sources. Most town archives of the Isle keep complete series of records starting from the Nineteenth century, while more ancient documents, which were kept in the past in the Town archives of Catania and Messina, are no longer available2. Furthermore, until not long ago, when sorting out the Archives, “diplomatic” sources were preferred in those kind of projects to financial ones, which favoured the loss of accounting records3. The accounting archive of the financial administration office of Palermo - main source of this study - was found and underwent its first rearrangement only in 19964.
3This could probably explain the historical gap about the administrative supervision over the town finances. On the contrary, the same topic concerning other ancient Italian states had been deeply investigated5. As far as Palermo is concerned, few researches have outlined the political government mechanisms of the Town, leaving out the subject of the institutions for managing and supervising the city finances6. My investigation offers a contribution to this subject.
4The Spanish Monarchy tried to finance its own policy through the fiscal contribution and through the increasing public debt. The good functioning of the ordinary and extraordinary administrative and supervising institutions could have assured an effective clawback of financial resources. Different officers managed and supervised the government finances of the Kingdom: the Treasurer, the Conservatore (a kind of supervisor) and the Maestri Razionali (that is to say the chiefs accountants) of the Tribunale del Real Patrimonio (that is to say a fiscal court).
5The keystone of the whole system was the Treasurer and his close connection with the public banks. The Treasurer received the payments from the patrimonial officers and from everybody who managed public money. He sent the orders for payments to the public banks and computed the financial flows of the kingdom. The Maestri razionali audited the accounts of the Treasurer and of the patrimonial officers; together with the Conservatore, they drew the final statements. The reforms of the Monarchy also concerned the modernization of the accounting techniques: between the Twenties and Thirties of the Sixteenth century, the use of the double-entry bookkeeping was mandatory7.
6The Monarchs further supervised over the whole system through the extraordinary inspections of a Visitador general, directly sent from Spain8.
7The administrative organization of all the cities in Early Modern Sicily, both Crown or Feudal towns, was very similar, and Palermo can be chosen as a significant case study.
8The Sicilian Crown cities were assembled in the Braccio demaniale of the Parliament, which had to approve the financial contributions for the Monarchy9. Palermo was the chieftown of the Braccio demaniale, one of the most densely populated cities of the Kingdom, one of the most relevant taxpayer, and distributed significant loans to the Monarchy. The city was also an important political centre: the Viceroy lived six months there and six months in Messina, but at the beginning of the XVII century he preferred to establish more often his court in Palermo10.
9Palermo was governed by a Pretore, by a small Council of six members, called the Senate, and by a larger Council made up by the agents of the city guilds of artisans and merchants, called the «Town Council». The Senate planned the financial management of the city, the public sanitary and the food provisioning system, the interventions for the public roads and buildings. The Town Council approved all the expenses and all the financial interventions promoted by the Senate by vote (first of all, the renewal of the current taxes). The structure of the Early Modern Sicily communities administrations, both in Crown or Feudal towns, differed only slightly. The names of the councils’ members changed: for example, in Catania the Pretore was called Patrizio, in Messina was called Strategoto, and the Senators were called Jurors.
10The audit of the Crown cities and the Feudal cities was assigned to external officers: the Crown cities were assigned to the Maestri Giurati chosen by the Viceroy and to the Tribunale del Real Patrimonio (a Court for the royal properties), the Feudal cities were assigned to auditors chosen by the feudal lord11 (see Picture 1).
11Palermo was a Crown city, but it had its own auditing office, and due to a royal privilege of the XV century, the Senators were not obliged to show the city accounting books to officers external to the municipal administration12. The other two most important cities of the Island, Messina and Catania, had the same prerogative as well. The only thing the Senators had to do was to present occasionally to the Viceroy a final report concerning the situation of the municipal properties13.
12The officers in charge of managing and supervising the financial flows of the city assets were the Treasurer, the Maestro Razionale (Chief accountant)and the Razionale (Auditor). The main difference between the municipal system and the financial administration of the Kingdom can be found in the role of the Treasurer. The Treasurer of the Kingdom registered all incomes and expenses. He had to be well aware of the effective financial resources of the Royal Court thanks to the close connection with the public banks. On the contrary, the Treasurer of the city gradually lost his leading role to the Razionale's advantage.
13The activity of the Treasurer and of the Razionali is documented starting from the first half of the XIV century. However, sometimes, nobody was nominated to the positions, while in other occasions the same office was held by more than one person. Furthermore the duration of the offices was not defined. It is also thought that, at the very beginning, the duties of the Treasurer and the duties of the Razionali were confused and mixed14. During the XV and the first half of the XVI century, the tasks of the Razionale were not relevant, while the ones of the Treasurer were more important and better defined. The Treasurer had to register the Town assets and he presented regular reports to the Senate. These reports were presented as additions of incomes followed by addition of expenses, and kept as separate archive records or registered in the minute-books of the Senate's meetings15.
14In the second half of the XVI and the first half of the XVII centuries, these positions were reorganized and provided with new working instruments. It was necessary to establish the duties of the employers and those who were responsible for the management of the offices. The employers had to keep the accounting books and all the documents well organized, in order to make the auditing possible and to identify those responsible for mistakes and amounts of money that were missing. The importance of the book keeping was growing parallel to the development of the modern state and to the need of an efficient fiscal drag. The laws enacted by city governors and the Viceroys Colonna, Olivares and Castro aimed at reaching these goals.
15In 1573 the Town Council set out the duties and the duration of office of the Razionale. This auditor had to register in his books all the items of income and expenses concerning the municipal assets. He received this information through notices sent by the Town Notary and notices (fedi) concerning the cash flows of the town bank account sent by the Public City Bank (Tavola) (See Picture 2).
16For the first time the use of a ledger (that is to say a libro bilanciato) written with the double entry system was compulsory. The Chief accountant was in charge of supervising the work of the accountant and had to check his books every year16.
17Three groups of laws enacted by the Viceroys in 1582, 1593 and 1622 added new elements to the 1573 reforms17.
18The Chief accountant had to check all the accounting books of those who managed the capital of the town. These accounting books belonged to the Food Provisioning Administration, to the City Weapons Keeper’s Office and to the Deputazioni, that is to say the committees in charge of the administration of tax revenues (See Picture 3).
19By auditing the accounts of these offices the Chief accountant had to find those indebted to the town and then inform the treasurer so that he could claim debt collection. Every person in charge of an office was personally responsible for every mistake or missing amounts of money. Financial penalties were imposed on those who infringed the law.
20Actually, as we learn from other documents, the Chief accountants did not audit personally as established by the Viceroy’s law, but simply made sure that the Coaggiutori – that is to say their assistants – carried out the auditing for the time being. The position of the Chief accountant (Maestro Razionale) was definitely an important political one, and was assigned to a person chosen from among the most important citizens. Most of the time he had no knowledge of accounting. On the contrary, the Razionale and the assistants were accounting experts who drew up annual reports that had to be shown to the Senate and to the Viceroy18.
21On the whole the laws of the Viceroys strengthened the position of the Razionale, and weakened that of the treasurer. Starting from 1622 the treasurer was only in charge of debt collection19. The archive sources reflect with evidence the significant changes of the duties of the Treasurer, as shown by an incomplete series of his records recently discovered. These books are going to be rearranged this year and they will soon be available for further investigations. The records consist in about sixty accounting books, from 1512 to 1618, regarding the Treasurer's registration of the city assets. After 1618, the Treasure's books only concern notices of debt collection. It is possible therefore that the books between 1618 and 1622 were lost, or that by then the Treasurer's role had become more limited, and the laws of 1622 only made official an established practise.
22The Viceroy's laws of 1622 established that the Chief accountant’s staff members should be five ordinary assistants and one extraordinary assistant. They were chosen by the Chief accountant. The members of the Razionale’s staff were not specified. Practically, the new employees were chosen to help by the ordinary assistants; their position was formally approved by the Senate after a long training in the office. Promotions did not occur according to fixed rules, but on the employer’s request and with the sponsorship of chief’s office, when the accountant’s experience and skills were considered good enough to give him more difficult tasks and more responsibility20.
23In the following years, another group of laws, proposed by the Senate and approved by the Viceroy between 1628 and 1635, obliged the Razionale and the other accountants to take office only after previous examination by a committee of experts nominated by the Senate21.
24The city and Viceroy’s laws gradually established the accounting instruments and the type of books that the Razionale had to use in his office.
25In 1573 the use of a ledger (that is to say a libro bilanciato) was introduced; as the Town Council’s resolution says, in this libro bilanciato it would be possible to see quickly, as in a mirror, what should have been given to and received from the city budget. From the resolution we learn also that this kind of book had never been used before in the city administration’s offices. The Council's members hoped that its introduction would solve the difficulties of the city officers, who always found their predecessor’s books complicated and confused22.
26The laws of the Viceroy of 1582 added that this ledger (libro bilanciato) for the Razionale’s office would be called «libro universale» (that is to say a general ledger), but did not explain how it should be written.
27We can try to understand the book’s structure by reading the work of father Lodovico Flori, who published in Palermo his Trattato of 1636. Flori describes a book «domestico, o nobile», used by those who had their own income, were not traders, and did not keep other people’s savings. This book was meant to record revenues and expenses, the cash account with debts and credits and the bank account were money is saved.
28Following the example of this book «domestico» used by the Jesuits, any other administration book could be written. Each entry of money or goods written in the journal in chronological order is posted twice in the ledger, one to the debit of the account of the debtor and the other to the credit of the account of the creditor. The trial balance is calculated by offsetting the balances of all the ledger accounts. The totals of the debts and credits should be equal; if they are not, then an error was made in the posting from the journal to the ledger.
29The «libro universale» of the rationale’s office mentioned in the Town Council’s resolution was definitely a general ledger. In order to have a cash flow account of the city at the end of every year it was necessary to find out the ledger accounts corresponding to revenues and expenses. The difference between the revenues and expenses would show the growth or decrease of debts and credits. By calculating this difference it was possible to evaluate the surplus or deficit of the city financial administration.This double entry book was also called «libro maestro» (that is to say general ledger) because this book summarized the entries of other accounting books. The final cash flow account in the «libro universale» included the balances recoded in other particular account books, as salaries, expenses, annuities and revenues books23.
30The accountants of the Razionale and of the Maestro Razionale’s office had to keep two copies of the general ledger, in order to make cross checking possible. The accountants had to use a book of capital value of the revenues, a journal and a book of injunctions for debt payment, a book of debtors, a book of the City Weapon Keeper, a book of allowances, and some more for recording exemptions from taxation, expenses and salaries. They also had to receive and keep the books from the city Food Provisioning Administration24. The structure of the accounting books was finally established, and the books of the Razionale’s staff were all in double entry, with exemption of the Treasurer's books for the notices of debt collection.
31Today all these books of the Razionale’s office form the «Archivio del Patrimonio» of the City of Palermo, and they are kept in the City Historical Archive. These records begin from the late XVI to the early XIX century. Unfortunately, only few journals are still kept between these records. Most of them date from the XVIII century and present compound entry registrations25.
32Between the XVI and the XVII centuries the Spanish Monarchy showed an increasing interest in supervising the financial management of the Crown cities. This interest can be seen the documents of the general inspections (the so called Visitas Generales) ordered by the King to supervise the conduct of all the administrators of their territories. For example, the Visitador in charge for the Visita general of 1606, conducted thorough investigations into the activities of the administrators of several Sicilian towns. In Palermo, the Visitador used the information recorded in the accounting books of the Razionale’s office to charge with fraud the city administrators26.
33The modernization and rationalization of the city government structures and instruments in Palermo between the second half of the XVI century and the first twenty years of the XVII century was connected to the intense activity of the Spanish monarchy in order to settle the Sicilian institutions. Certainly, as supposed by Antonino Giuffrida, the laws did not arise from the Viceroys own’s decisions, but through them the working instruments of the Castilian Finances became widespread and were put into effect27. The Spanish monarchy was in fact the first of the most important early modern governments to legally establish the use of the double entry book keeping system in public administration28. As far as the improvement of the administrative structures is concerned, these laws connected Sicily to the wider context of the Spanish imperial system.
BCP: Municipal Library of Palermo
ASCP: City Historical Archive of Palermo:
AGS: Archivo General de Simancas (Valladolid)
VI: Visitas de Italia
1 A. Baviera Albanese, Diritto pubblico e istituzioni amministrative in Sicilia – Le fonti, Rome, 1981; Ead. Scritti minori, Soveria Mannelli, Rubbettino, 1992; A. Giuffrida, La finanza pubblica nella Sicilia del ‘500, Caltanissetta – Rome, Sciascia, 1999 ; R. Cancila, Fisco ricchezza comunità nella Sicilia del Cinquecento, Rome, Istituto storico per l’età moderna e contemporanea, 2001.
2 The City historical Archive of Catania was destroyed immediately after the Second World War (P. Corrao, « Per la ricostruzione dell’Archivio Storico. La documentazione medievale », in AA.VV., Il riscatto della memoria. Materiali per la ricostruzione dell’Archivio Storico della città di Catania, Catania, 1988, p. 305-314) and the one of Messina was transferred in Spain in 1679 as a punishment after the city rebellion.
3 As an example : P. Gulotta, Introduzione al Pollaci Nuccio, in « Il Risorgimento in Sicilia », n. 2, anno III, april-june 1967, p. 199-211, 209.
4 On these records and on this office, see G. Macrì, I conti della città. Le carte dei razionali dell'università di Palermo (secoli XVI-XIX), Quaderno n. 6 of the journal «Mediterranea. Ricerche storiche», 2007, pp. 17-23 (on line at www.mediterranearicerchestoriche.it, retrieved on the 30th of November 2010).
5 See, amongst others, L. Mannori (ed.), Comunità e poteri centrali negli antichi stati italiani: alle origini dei controlli amministrativi, Naples, CUEN, 1997.
6 V. Vigiano, L’esercizio della politica. La città di Palermo nel Cinquecento, Viella, Rome, 2004; B. Genzardi, Il comune di Palermo sotto il dominio spagnuolo, Palermo, 1891; F. Pollaci Nuccio, Dello Archivio Comunale, suo stato, suo ordinamento, Palermo, 1872, available in «Il Risorgimento in Sicilia», n. 2, III, April-June 1967.
7 The researches of Antonino Giuffrida demonstrate the use of the double entry bookkeeping in the documents of the Treasurer from 1557 on. Because of great losses of documents, it is not possible to prove the usage of the system before that year (A. Giuffrida, La finanza pubblica nella Sicilia del '500 op. cit., pp. 196-197).
8 On the Visitas generales of Sicily, see P. Burgarella, G. Fallico, L’archivio dei Visitatori generali di Sicilia, Rome, Pubbl. degli Archivi di Stato, Archivio di Stato di Palermo, 1977; for a review see also M. Peytavin, Visite et gouvernement dans le royaume de Naples (XVI- XVII siècles), Madrid,Casa de Velázquez, 2003 and G. Macrì, «Visitas generales e sistemi di controllo regio nel sistema imperiale spagnolo: un bilancio storiografico», in Mediterranea. Ricerche storiche, n. 13, August 2008, p. 385-400.
9 On the subject, see R. Cancila, Fisco ricchezza comunità nella Sicilia del Cinquecento op. cit.
10 G. Giarrizzo, La Sicilia dal Cinquecento all’Unità d’Italia, in V. D’Alessandro, G. Giarrizzo, La Sicilia dal Vespro all’Unità d’Italia, Torino,Utet, 1989, p. 256s.
11 R. Giuffrida, «L'archivio del Tribunale del Real Patrimonio e la sua funzione di archivio centrale del Regno di Sicilia alla fine del sec. XVII», in Archivio Storico Siciliano, s. III, vol. VIII, 1956, p. 261-282, 267. On the financial management of a sicilian feudal community, see R. Cancila, Gli occhi del principe. Castelvetrano: uno stato feudale nella Sicilia moderna, Rome, Viella, 2007.
12 The priviledge was issued by King Alphons, on the 16th of November 1436 (M. De Vio, Felicis et fidelissimae urbis panormitanae Privilegia, Palermo, 1706, p. 209-213)
13 Some of these Seventheens century reports are available in the Municipal Library of Palermo (BCP, ms Qq G65, Notices about the city administration, XVII c.)
14 A. Baviera Albanese, «Studio introduttivo», in L. Citarda (ed.), Acta curie felicis urbis Panormi, 3, Registri di lettere, 1321-1326. Frammenti, Palermo, 1984, pp. LVIII-LX; F. Pollaci Nuccio, D. Gnoffo, Acta curie felicis urbis Panormi, 1, Registri di lettere gabelle petizioni 1274-1321,Palermo, 1982 (or. ed. 1892), pp. XLVII-XLIX.
15 M.R. Lo Forte Scirpo, Società ed economia a Palermo nel sec. XIV. Il conto del tesoriere Bartolomeo Nini del 1345, Palermo, Ila Palma, 1992.
16 ASCP, Consigli civici, 1573-83, vol. 69/9, Minute of the 26th of july 1574, cc. 44r-50v.
17 Capitoli ed ordinazioni della Felice e fidelissima città di Palermo, stampati nell’anno 1745 da Pietro La Placa Cancelliere della città, e ristampati l’anno corrente 1760, Stamperia de Santi Apostoli, Palermo, 1760.
18 We are aware of this through some testimonies and statements released on the occasion of an inspection and a trial of the Visitador general against the City Auditors (AGS, V.I., leg. 208, 4, 5, 6, Defences of the Maestri Razionali and Razionale of Palermo in charge during the years 1599-1601 and 1605-1607).
19 Capitoli del viceré conte di Castro, n. 101, in Capitoli ed ordinazioni della Felice e fidelissima città di Palermo op.cit.
20 Ibid., n. 80 and 81.
21 Minute of the Senate of the 24th of March 1635, n. 5, Ordinazioni diverse, in Capitoli ed ordinazioni della Felice e fidelissima città di Palermo, op.cit., vol. I, p. 219-230.
22 ASCP, Consigli civici, 1573-83, vol. 69/9, Minute of the 26th of July 1574, cc. 44r-50v.
23 L. Flori, Trattato del modo di tenere il libro doppio domestico col suo essemplare, Palermo, 1636, p. 5-7, 44, 45, 115, 125.
24 Capitoli del viceré conte di Castro, n. 82, 101, 149-154 in Capitoli ed ordinazioni della Felice e fidelissima città di Palermo, op. cit.
25 On the spread of this practice described by Ludovico Flori, see B. Yamey, «Compound Journal Entries in Early Treatises on Bookkeeping», in The Accounting Review, vol. LIV, No. 2, April 1979, p. 323-329.
26 AGS, V.I., legajos 178, 208-211; A. de la Plaza Bores, A. de la Plaza Santiago, Inventario. Visitas de Italia (siglos XVI y XVII), Archivo General de Simancas-España, Valladolid, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche-Italia, 1982.
27 A. Giuffrida, «Teneri lo libro ordinario e bilanziato, L'arte della contabilità nella Sicilia del '500», Mediterranea. Ricerche storiche, n. 16, August 2009, p. 257-276.
28 A. Lepore, «Sulle origini, sull’evoluzione e sullo stato dell’arte della storia della contabilità in Spagna», in P. Pierucci (ed.), La contabilità come fonte per lo studio della storia economica, Dipartimento di Economia e Storia del Territorio, Pescara, 2006, p. 147-188.Haut de page
Geltrude Macrì, « The Supervision of the city financial administration. The audit in Palermo under the Spanish Monarchy », Comptabilités [En ligne], 3 | 2012, mis en ligne le 12 janvier 2012, consulté le 27 janvier 2015. URL : http://comptabilites.revues.org/776Haut de page
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