Administration in the Middle Ages

Administration in the Middle Ages





With the fall of the Roman Empire, the peoples of Western Europe were reduced to meeting the needs of self-preservation. The primary need facing an individual was protection against murder, robbery, and violence. To ensure this protection, the individual often sought it in a person more powerful than himself, paying the price with his own servitude, including the loss of individual freedom and the birth of a feudal relationship.

Given these economic and environmental conditions, the growth of feudal institutions was natural and inevitable. As a consequence of this, the practice grew among the poor and small landowners of giving up ownership of their land in exchange for protection.


The organization of feudalism was gradation with descending degrees of delegated authority.

At the top of the great feudal pyramid was the emperor or king, belonging to him all the land and his domains, he retained large areas for his personal use, ceding the rest to the highest nobility. The great vassals of the crown retained these fiefdoms on the condition of rendering certain specific services, mainly military and financial. These vassals in turn demanded analogous services in class from their subvassals.

This system of sub-feudalization ended in successive graduation down to the smallest feudal unit: the feudal lord who had dependent landlords classified as books and down to serfs.

The decentralization process represented by this pyramid was later accentuated by the growth of institutions of immunity or privilege.

Under this system, the vassal gained the right to govern his territory as he saw fit. The lordship, a feudal unit, became in some respects a governmental unit with its one-man court.

The Art of managing the fief was frequently discharged by one of the subjects while the learned lord was more interested in riding, playing, hunting, etc.


Andrea Barbarigo

In their businesses, I manage the registration of commercial transactions. The partnership and the limited company were the two main forms of business organization in the Italian Renaissance. The partnership was used mainly in permanent business while the limited partnership was frequently employed in singular deals, explorations, or ventures.

In international trade, Andrea Barbarigo and other merchants made use of two legal relationships: co-ownership and agency. Joint ownership was usually a limited partnership in which the owners had limited liability. The combinations that were formed in the commercial deeds of the state galleys divided the property into shares with the shareholders participating proportionally in the expenses and benefits of the company.

The Venetian Limited partnership ordinarily used commission agents and Andrea Barbarigo usually did business abroad appointing merchants as agents. The ancient Italian practice of paying agents a share of the profits paved the way for the custom of paying a fixed percentage of the transaction.

Barbarigo frequently consigned merchandise to agents who in turn could consign others who were unknown.

He was skillful in obtaining information from his agents about foreign shopping centers, thus achieving his own service of international news.

During Barbarigo’s time, double-entry bookkeeping began to be used.

When Andrea Barbarigo sent cloth to be had, she had an account for “wool delivered to be worked” which corresponds to goods in process. Before formulating his trial balance, Barbarigo did some important account consolidations to simplify his statement of net assets. A profit and loss account was also used by Barbarigo.

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As Venice’s maritime power grew, its citizens saw the need for an armed fleet to protect their trade, which was crucial to their livelihood. Meanwhile, the city relied on private shipyards to build the navy and in times of crisis to attract ships from the merchant fleet. As its trade and influence and attendant need for protection grew, the city put into operation 1426 its own government shipyard, the Arsenal.

Accounting in this Venetian shipyard was as important as in business but something different was employed. In an attempt towards efficiency, the shipyard kept a strict account of coins, materials, and men.

Three types of expense accounts were recognized: fixed, variable and extraordinary. He also kept a meticulous record of everything that entered and remained in the shipyard.

The Venice Arsenal became what was perhaps the largest industrial plant of that time. It covered sixty acres of land and water and employed some two thousand workers.

Arsenal’s management was notorious for its balance sheets and checks. Although three directors of the Arsenal were officially in charge, the commissioners, who were the link that connected the Venetian senate with the Arsenal, had influence as well. Commissioners and directors were so involved in financial management, purchasing, and similar functions that they were unable to direct the physical operations of the shipyard.

Foremen and technical advisors headed the large operating divisions of the shipyards.

The directors of the Arsenal were advised to keep ships in reserve that could be equipped and set sail at the slightest notice.

Arsenal’s areas of administration were:

  • Numbering and storage of finished parts.
  • Assembly line and equipment of the galleys.
  • Staff practices.
  • Classification of the parties.
  • Accounting Control.
  • Inventory control.
  • Costs control.


The following equipment should be on hand at any given time for the emergency exit: five thousand boats, one hundred rudders, one hundred masts, two hundred masts, five thousand shackles, and five thousand to fifteen thousand oars. , in addition to cordage, weapons, food, and ironwork.

The task of equipping the galleys was facilitated by the storage of equipment. Everything was numbered and inventoried in a designated space. The systematic arrangement of the materials saved time and work and the designation of definitive warehouses for different products helped to implement the assembly process as well as to the security of inventories.

However, Arsenal was slow to adopt an ordering system of storage for raw wood.

Assembly line

The stores were arranged along a canal so that the galleys could be brought in for equipment rather than the equipment being brought to the galleys.

As the galleys were towed along the canal, weapons and equipment were passed through the windows of storehouses whose locations were such that the parts were placed on the galleys in the proper sequence of equipment.


Arsenal supervised work hours, entry and exit times, these being strictly mandatory

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Salaries were paid depending on the task, by the days spent, and by the pieces finished.

The artisans who made the equipment worked in separate workshops under the orders of foremen qualified in the technique; they gave the material, only accepted well-made products, and kept track of the production.


It was based on standardization and through this, it was established that all the bows were made so that the bolts could be fitted to any of them, and all the stern devices were built with the same design so that each rudder would not have to be adjusted to your device and all rigging and deck accessories were uniform.

In assembly, standardization could speed production and reduce costs, in utilization, it would make ships manageable in the same way with the same speed, and the same maneuverability thus allowing them to operate as a fleet and not as different ships.

Accounting Control

Complete and secure accounts were the main requirements whether Arsenal bought on the open market or contracted for products with artisans whom they supplied with materials and paid by the piece.

A strict accounting of money, materials, men, and the use of time was also required. In regulations established by Arsenal, all accounts were consolidated into two newspapers and one major. A Diary was kept for him by the Arsenal manager who watched over the cash box.

The chief accountant recorded the items in the ledger taking them from the second journal that was kept by the deputy chief.

Every few months two Arsenal directors worked together checking their diaries with the major to make sure there were no errors.

Inventory control

A detailed record was kept for the warehouses of weapons, and ammunition, and where they were sent regardless of who the shipping orders came from.

The surveillance of everything that came out was the responsibility of the porters. The gunsmiths also kept records of the merchandise received.

Costs control

Due to the absence of a storage ordering system, the costs of manufacturing the boats were higher since it was estimated that it cost three times the value of the log to find the log. Therefore, the lumber yard was established in a separate location.

Thomas More

'Administration in the Middle Ages'

More blamed England’s economic woes on the mismanagement of the existing noble class. As he saw them, the nobles were unproductive parasites who lived off the labor of their landowners; Surrounding the nobles was another unproductive group, their entourage, men who neither learned a trade nor earned their livelihood. To compound the difficulties of the possessors, many nobles converted their land into sheep pastures, driving the farmers off the land into unemployment. Such ex-farmers were frequently thrown in prison for vagrancy even though they would have gladly offered their services if employment had been available.

More saw the pleasures and amusements of the rich and poor as yet another source of economic hardship.

I attack the conspicuous consumption of the rich, their clothing, and their gluttony in eating. While the poor man brought his own financial ruin by dissipating his meager earnings in cheap drinks, wine houses, and gambling.

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More proposed through a better administration, to eliminate the sumptuous consumption of the rich and the diversions of the poor and to channel the funds to more useful purposes.

He also ruled on occupations, saying that most individuals would normally learn their parent’s trade, but should be allowed to choose another that better suits their abilities and inclinations.

Nicholas Machiavelli.

'Administration in the Middle Ages'


Machiavelli made important contributions to the administration through his books The Prince and The Discourses:


Dependence on the approval of the masses.- Machiavelli frequently reiterated the theme that the continued existence of any government, be it monarchical or democratic, depends on the support of the masses. Princes can inherit power or they can usurp it, but to gain firm control of the state they must somehow win the approval of the people.

This establishes that power flows from the bottom up and not from the top down.

Cohesion.- This principle indicates that the most effective way in which a prince can maintain organic unity is by retaining a firm power over his friends. He must carefully watch them and soothe them to use them to his advantage. The crucial element of cohesion was ensuring that the people knew what they could expect from their prince and in turn what he could expect from them.


Leadership.- He wrote about two classes of leaders or administrators: the natural, and the type whose techniques have been acquired.

A prince or administrator must with his example inspire his people towards the search for higher goals. Especially when the state is threatened by enemies he must try to raise the morale of his people. An administrator or prince must pay attention to all groups, mixing with them from time to time and giving them an example of his humanity, while maintaining high the majesty of his dignity, which has never been allowed to fall into trifles.


A good prince must also be a wise observer of events and the people, capable of using both to his advantage. An entrepreneur must learn to take advantage of an opportunity when it appears.



Right to Survival.- All government agencies, religious orders, and corporations seek its perpetuation. A prince must be alert to disorders to deal with them while they can still be remedied.



  • The feudal organization taught administrators that the delegation of authority is not an abdication, that the delegator always has the authority to take back what he has delegated, and that delegation conferred but conveyed authority.
  • The accounting used during this time has served to improve it and use it these days.
  • Cost control systems, inventory, storage, and assembly line have served as a reference for current organizations.
  • Profit shares given to agents for sales form the basis of how many companies pay salespeople a percentage for sales made.
  • Machiavelli’s contributions have mainly served managers by giving them guidelines so that they can train as leaders and thus manage their companies in a better way.


CLAUDE, George “History of Administrative Thought”, 1972 Pretency Hall.


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