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The 1703 Census

One of Iceland's most treasured historical items is a nationwide census done in the year 1703. It is commonly known as the 1703 Census. It is preserved in its entirety, written on 917 arcs and over 1,700 pages long. The diversity of the census reports is interesting and they are different both in shape and layout and written in many different hands. Some of the recorders delivered their task in the best possible quality with the appropriate transcriptions, decorations and patterns while others handed in a rather raw count. This is an example of the original documents. In the summer of 2013, UNESCO added the census to the Memory of the World Register.

Due to very hard times at the end of the 17 th century and the very poor state of the nation, King Frederick IV of Denmark asked professor Árni Magnússon and vice-lawman Páll Magnússon to investigate the state of the nation which included “gathering one, total register for all the people of the country, young and old, male and female.” The census received a lot of attention at the time and the winter of 1702-1703 was called The Census Winter. The Icelandic population was 50,366 at the time, 22,874 men and 27,492 women. According to the census there were 670 district officers, 245 priests, 76 school boys, 38 nurses, 7 executioners and 6 falcon hunters. A total of 725 first names were registered, 387 male names and 338 female names. Jón and Guðrún were the most common names.

The 1703 Census is the oldest extant census in the world that covers an entire nation and includes registration of name, age, address (in most cases) and social or professional status (in all cases). No other nation in the world has such detailed demographic information about the population at that time. The 1703 Census can be found on the National Archive website in pictures as well as in a searchable database.

ÞÍ. Rentukammer. 1928-11, D1/1 and D1/2.

National Archives of Iceland