Sýslumaður (plural form: Sýslumenn, Old Norse: Sýslumaðr) is an office or title created in Iceland and the Faroe Islands. For Iceland it happened when the country submitted to the King of Norway in 1262–1264. This sort of office had already been established in Norway, called sysselmann in contemporary Norwegian.

Sýslumaður is often translated as sheriff or magistrate in English.

The Sýslumaður was granted a fief called Sýsla in which he was responsible for collecting tolls, taxes and fines, upholding the law and military defences. They were also to hold courts of justice and name the men who were to sit in juries.

Sýslumenn in Iceland

The Sýslumenn traditionally had large retinues of soldiers, but this practice was mostly abandoned after 1550, when the Danish King sent an army which succeeded in disarming most of Iceland as a preventative to rebellion.

Currently the Icelandic sheriff's are only tasked with being chiefs of police in their districts still known as sýsla, collecting taxes and issuing various permits and passports. Although recent changes in the organisation of the National Police of Iceland have created some differences in the tasks entrusted to different sýslumenn. The sýslumaður of Southern Peninsula maintains, for example, additional non-police security forces for Keflavík International Airport, meanwhile the sýslumaður of Kópavogur is in charge of issuing all Icelandic passports.

During the era of when the U.S. Military was able to assist the needs of the Icelandic Police, they had instruction sessions, on life saving techniques at sea, supervised and arranged by them on regular basis. Their training for local schools also played a vital role in the safety of maritime sailors that began work and occupations at sea in the fishing industries. These were coordinated with the Icelandic Coast Guard, and Search and Rescue, in the early to mid and latter 1990s.

Iceland is now split up between 24 sýslumenn.

Sýslumenn in the Faroe Islands

Sýslumaður is also an office or title in the Faroe Islands. Earlier there were six sýðslumenn (plural of sýslumaður), one for each sýsla. However, there has been a reform of the police in the Faroe, which is still Danish, and now there are only four sýslumenn[1] and three police districts: The North-area which consists of the Northern Islands and Eysturoy, The Mid-area which consists of Streymoy, Sandoy, Vágar and the small islands Mykines, Hestur, Koltur, Nólsoy, Skúvoy and Stóra Dímun, and the South-area which consists of Suðuroy and Lítla Dímun. The Danish Police wanted to stop using the term sýslumaður, but it was not so simple, because the sýslumenn did not only have police tasks to perform but also tasks for the Faroese government, the Sorinskrivarin (judge) and Rigsombudmann.[2]

One of the tasks of the sýslumaður in the Faroe Islands is to decide whether or not a pod of pilot whales which has been spotted, should be slaughtered or not and if so, into which bay the boats should drive the pod. This should be decided together with the grindaformenn (leader of a pilot whale hunt).[3] The weather conditions play an important role in order to which bay they will have to choose., i.e. strong wind or current.

The sýslumenn in the Faroe Islands today are policemen.


  1. Bertholdsen, Áki (27 August 2014). "Grindadráp leggjast í enn tryggari legu". in.fo. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  2. Hansen, Karsten (29 January 2009). "Politireform" (in Faroese). Miðflokkurin. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  3. Johannese, Kaj Leo Holm (19 May 2015). "Løgtingslóg um grind og annan smáhval, sum seinast broytt við løgtingslóg nr. 93 frá 22. juni 2015" (in Faroese). Prime Ministers Office. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
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