In 2001 the government of Norway announced that the two hundred year anniversary of Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel's birth (the year 2002) would mark the commencement of a new prize for mathematicians, named after Abel.

Each year a board, consisting of 5 mathematicians from Norway, will declare the winner of the Abel Prize; the amount of money that comes with this prize is similar to the Swedish Nobel Prize. The reason for this prize is that the Nobel Prize offers awards to many a cunning scientist, yet not to mathematicians. Norway gave the prize an initial funding of 200,000,000 kroner in 2001. - This is an attempt at making mathematics more prestigious for young people.

In April 2003, the first candidate to win the prize was announced, and in June 2003 the prize was awarded.

- 2003: Jean-Pierre Serre, Collège de France, Paris, France, "for playing a key role in shaping the modern form of many parts of mathematics, including topology, algebraic geometry and number theory".