A Very brief History of Iceland
A Very brief History of Iceland

874-930 AD        
The Settlement
of Iceland by the Vikings started in 874 and was largely completed by 930 AD. It was precipitated largely by internal struggles in Norway between King Harald the Fairhaired and other nobles. King Harald won a major victory late in the 8th century, after which he drove his enemies to the Scottish Isles, which he then later conquered. Many fled onwards to Iceland.

The first Viking settler in Iceland is believed to be Ingólfur Arnarson. He started a farm in Reykjavik. The years between 874 and 930 AD saw increasing numbers of Viking settlers arriving from Scandinavia (bringing with them Celtic women and slaves) and claiming land in the habitable areas.

930 AD                 
The Althing, Icelandʼs present-day parliament, is the worldʼs oldest existing national assembly. A constitutional law code was written and the Althing parliament established. Founded at Thingvellir in 930 AD, the countryʼs democratic system of government was completely unique in its day. The judicial power of the Althing was distributed among four regional courts, together with a supreme court which convened annually at the national assembly at Thingvellir. The Althing assembled for two weeks every summer and attracted a large proportion of the population.

1000-1106 AD   
was peacefully adopted at Thingvellir in the year 1000 AD. The first diocese was established at Skálholt in South Iceland in 1056 and a second at Hólar in the north in 1106. Both became the countryʼs main centres of learning.

The Sagas
include some of the classics of world medieval literature and are written in the ancient Viking language—Old Norse. Between 1120 and 1230, the Norse Sagas were written down on vellum in Iceland. The first literary medium to emerge was poetry, which tended to be heroic in theme. Poetry was then replaced by epic and dramatic tales of early settlement, romance, disputes and the development of Iceland.

Norway laid a claim to Iceland and conquered the island in 1262 in a navy battle which resulted in the infamous Sturlung Age, a turbulent era of political treachery and violence, dominated by Sturla Thurdason and his sons. Iceland became a Norwegian and later a Danish province and didnʼt regain itʼs independence until 1944.

Emmigration: In the last quarter of the 19th century, the Icelandic nation was beset by problems of hardship, overpopulation, disease and famine. Icelanders had been emigrating west to North America since 1855, but the first organised journey was undertaken in 1873 when a large group sailed from Akureyri. The greatest exodus to the west took place shortly after 1880 and the situation lasted until 1890, when living conditions began to improve.

Home Rule
came to Iceland with the appointment of the first Icelandic government minister. In 1918, Denmark, recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign state, united with Denmark under a common king. Denmark, though, retained responsibility for Icelandʼs defence and foreign affairs. In 1930 there were huge celebrations at Thingvellir in honour of the millennial anniversary of the founding of the Althing parliament.

When the Germans occupied Denmark in April 1940, Iceland took over its own foreign policy and proclaimed its neutrality. The islandʼs vulnerability and strategic value became a matter of concern for the Allies, who occupied Iceland in May 1940. Following a plebiscite, Iceland formally became an independent republic on June 17, 1944.

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