History of Iceland

Brief history of Iceland summarized

A brief review of the history of Iceland, a European country, in a summarized way.

Viking Iceland

The first people to settle in Iceland were probably Irish monks who arrived in the 8th century. However, in the 9th century they were expelled by the Vikings.

According to tradition, the first Viking to discover Iceland was a man named Naddoddur who got lost on his way to the Faroe Islands. After him, a Swede named Gardar Svavarsson circumnavigated Iceland around 860.

However, the first Viking attempt to settle was by a Norwegian named Floki Vilgeroarson. He landed in the northwest, but a severe winter killed his pets and he returned to Norway. However, he gave the land his name. He called it Iceland.

After 874 many settlers came to Iceland from Norway and the Viking colonies in the British Isles. A Norwegian named Ingolfur Arnarson led them. He sailed with his family, slaves and animals.

When he saw Iceland, Ingolfur dedicated his wooden poles to his gods and threw them overboard. He swore to settle in the place where the sea washed them away. He then he explored Iceland. When the poles were found in southwestern Iceland, Ingolfur and his family settled there. He named the place Reykjavik, which means Smokey Bay. Many other Vikings followed him to Iceland.

The land in Iceland was free for whoever wanted it. A man can claim as much land as he can light fires in a day, while a woman can claim as much land as a calf in a day.

There were very good fishing areas around Iceland and the land was well suited for sheep. Many Vikings brought herds with them and soon sheep became an important Icelandic industry. Iceland’s population skyrocketed. Around 930 there were about 60,000 people living in Iceland.

At first the Icelanders were ruled by chiefs called Godar, but there were some local assemblies. Around 930 the Icelanders created an island-wide assembly called Althing.

Middle Ages

In the 11th century the Norwegians converted to Christianity. The Norwegian kings sent missionaries to Iceland. Some Icelanders accepted the new religion, but many bitterly opposed it.

Finally, a man named Thorgeir, who was the spokesman for the Althings, realized that there was likely to be a civil war between the two. He may also have feared Norwegian intervention (the Norwegians were very prepared to “convert” people to Christianity by force).

He convinced the people to accept a compromise. Christianity became the “official” religion of Iceland, but pagans were allowed to worship their gods in private.

Out of 1097 people in Iceland they had to pay tithes to the church (in other words, they had to pay a tenth of their produce). As a result, the church became rich and powerful. Paganism was eradicated and monasteries were built. Iceland received a bishop in 1056. In 1106 another bishopric was created at Holar in the north.

However, in 1152 the Icelandic church came under the authority of a Norwegian archbishop. In those days the church was closely allied with the state. When the Icelandic church became subordinate to the Norwegian one, the influence of the Norwegian kings in Iceland slowly increased.

Meanwhile, during the 12th century conditions in Iceland deteriorated. It may have been in part due to overgrazing. Forests were also cut down and the result was soil erosion. Without wood to build ships, the Icelanders relied on Norwegian merchants.

At that time wool, animal skins, horses and falcons were exported from Iceland. Wood, honey and malt were imported for brewing. Some Icelanders began to look to the King of Norway for protection of trade.

The Commonwealth of Iceland was also undermined by clan feuds. Then, in 1218, a man named Snorri Sturlung visited Norway and agreed to support the Norwegian king’s interests in Iceland. He returned home in 1220. Meanwhile, the Norwegian -born bishops also supported the Norwegian king’s ambitions to rule Iceland.

However, the Commonwealth actually ended due to inter-clan disputes. The Icelanders desperately wanted peace and finally realized that the only way to get it was to submit to the Norwegian king.

Therefore, in 1262 an agreement called the Old Covenant was accepted by the Althing. Icelanders agreed to pay a tax on woolen fabrics every year. In exchange, the king promised to maintain law and order in Iceland. He also replaced the Godar with royal officers.

In 1280 a new constitution was drawn up. The Althing still met, but its decisions had to be ratified by the king. Additionally, the king appointed a governor and 12 local sheriffs to rule. Meanwhile, slavery slowly died out in Iceland.

The 14th and early 15th centuries were difficult years for Iceland. At the beginning of the 14th century the climate became colder. Then, in 1402-03, the Black Death hit Iceland and the population was devastated.

However, prosperity returned in the fifteenth century. At that time there was a high demand for Icelandic cod in Europe and Iceland grew rich from the fishing industry. The Icelanders traded with the English and with the Germans. (At that time there was not a single German nation, but the German ports were united in a federation called the Hanseatic League.)

Meanwhile, in 1397, vs was united with Denmark. Afterwards, Iceland was ruled by the Danish crown.


During the 16th century, Iceland, like the rest of Europe, was shaken by reform. Denmark became Protestant in the 1530s and in 1539 the Danish king ordered his men to confiscate church lands in Iceland. Iceland’s bishops resisted, and in 1541 the Danish king sent an expedition to enforce compliance.

Skalholt received a new bishop, but the bishop of Holar, a man named Jon Aranson, continued to resist. He was a powerful chief and a bishop, and he had soldiers fighting for him. He also had two sons, by his concubine, who supported him.

In 1548 Aranson was declared an outlaw. His soldiers then captured the Protestant Bishop of Skalholt. However, in 1550 he was defeated. Aranson and his two children were executed.

Later the people of Iceland gradually accepted Protestantism and in 1584 the Bible was translated into Icelandic.

However, during the 17th century the Icelanders suffered hardship. In 1602 the king made all trade with Iceland a monopoly of certain merchants in Copenhagen, Malmo and Elsinore.

In 1619 the monopoly became a joint-stock company. The monopoly forced Icelanders to sell products to the company at low prices and to buy supplies from them at high prices. As a result, the Icelandic economy suffered severely.

Furthermore, in 1661 the Danish king became an absolute monarch. In 1662 the Icelanders were forced to submit to him. The Althing kept meeting, but it had no real power. It was reduced to being a court. Worse yet, in 1707-09 Iceland suffered an outbreak of smallpox that killed a large part of the population.

In the middle of the 18th century a man named Skuli Magnusson was appointed as an official named fogd. He tried to improve the economy by attracting farmers from Denmark and Norway. He also introduced better fishing vessels. He also created a wool industry in Reykjavik with German weavers. Finally, in 1787, the monopoly was ended.

However, in 1783 the consequences of volcanic eruptions caused devastation in Iceland. In 1786 the population of Iceland was only 38,000. Finally in 1800 the Althing closed. A new tribunal replaced it. He was in Reykjavik, which at the time was a small community of 300 people.

XIX century

In the 19th century the ties between Iceland and Denmark weakened. Nationalism was a growing force throughout Europe, including Iceland. A sign of this growing nationalism was the writing of the song O Guo vors lands in 1874.

In 1843 the Danish king decided to remember Christian VIII the Althing. He met again in 1845. However, he had little power. However, nationalist opinion in Iceland continued to grow and in 1874 Christian IX granted a new constitution. However, by virtue of it, the Althing still had limited powers. Then, in 1904, the office of governor was abolished and Iceland was given local government.

Meanwhile, in 1854 the remaining restrictions on trade were removed. Trade with Iceland was opened to all nations. Also, Icelandic fishing became much more prosperous in the late 19th century. Until then, fishermen used to use rowing boats, but by the end of the century they had switched to sailboats with much more efficient decks.

Twentieth century

Iceland began to prosper once again. The population increased (despite emigration to Canada), and in 1911 Reykjavik University was founded.

In the 20th century ties with Denmark loosened. In 1904 Iceland was given local government. The office of governor was abolished. Instead, Iceland got an Icelandic minister responsible to the Althing. Then in 1918 Iceland became a sovereign state sharing a monarchy with Denmark.

In 1915 Icelandic women were allowed to vote. The first woman was elected to the Althing in 1922.

Then in May 1940 Iceland was occupied by British troops. In May 1941, the Americans relieved them. Finally, in 1944, Iceland severed all ties with Denmark and the joint monarchy was dissolved.

In 1947 Mount Hekla erupted causing much destruction but Iceland soon recovered and in 1949 Iceland joined NATO.

In the late 20th century, Iceland had a series of “cod wars” with Great Britain. Iceland depended on its fishing industry and was alarmed to see that the British were overfishing its waters. The ‘cod wars’ were ‘fought’ in 1959-1961, 1972 and 1975-1976.

In 1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected President of Iceland. She was the first woman elected president of the world.

XXI century

The people of Iceland benefit from natural hot water, which is used to heat their homes. It is also used to heat greenhouses.

In March 2006, the United States announced the withdrawal of its armed forces from Iceland.

Then, in 2008, Iceland suffered an economic crisis when its three main banks failed. In 2009, the demonstrations led to the fall of the government.

Today Iceland still relies on fishing, but there are plenty of Icelandic sheep, cattle and ponies. Iceland suffered heavily in the global financial crisis that began in 2008, with unemployment rising to over 9%. However, Iceland soon recovered and unemployment fell.

Today Iceland is a prosperous country with a high standard of living. Currently, the population of Iceland is 339,000.

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