ancient Egypt, ancient Israel, ancient Rome, Babylonians, Bible, Book of Judgment, Caliphate, census, census history, China, Doomsday Book, early censuses, Egypt, first census, food, Incas, India, Islam, Israel, Jerusalem, Jesus, King David, King Solomon, Luke, military, population, purpose, quipus, Rome, Servius Tillius, tax, William the Conqueror, Xia Dynasty
(originally published to Bubblews writing site, now gone)
The Babylonians may have been the first people to take censuses around 4000 BC, using them to determine how much food was required. They used clay tiles to record census data.
Censuses were conducted in ancient Egypt in the Pharaonic period in 3340 and 3050 BC. By the second millennium BC, the Egyptians took regular censuses for tax purposes and military recruitment. Around 600 AD, an Egyptian census recorded people’s ages and residences.
The oldest census for which data are still available was held in China sometime before the Xia Dynasty which started about 2070 BC. It counted 13 million people. A census in 2 AD counted 57.67 million people in 12.36 million households in China, which must have been an enormous task without modern transport and technology.
Ancient Israel held a number of censuses and these are mentioned in the Bible, the first by King David and another by his son King Solomon in the 10th century BC. Other censuses were held around the 6th century BC before and after the exodus. According to Luke, a census was underway when Jesus was born.
Regular five-yearly censuses in ancient Rome started in the 6th century BC by Roman king Servius Tillius. They were used for administrative purposes and to calculate taxes. At census time, everyone was expected to return to the birthplace of the household head to be counted.
The first censuses in India were around the 3rd century BC for taxation purposes and included population, economic and agricultural censuses.
The Caliphate, the overarching Islamic government, held regular censuses from about 635 AD. This included the number of people, their age and where they lived.
England’s William the Conqueror arranged a count of landowners and their land and stock in 1086, including values, for tax purposes. The details recorded became known as the Book of Judgment or Doomsday Book and its contents became law and could not be appealed against.
Jerusalem took a census in 1183 to count the number of men and amount of money that could be used in case Egypt and Syria invaded.
In the 15th century, the Incas, who did not have writing, recorded census and other data on quipus made of many llama or alpaca hairs with small knots, using a base ten system.