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History of Iceland

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History of Iceland

The recorded history of Iceland began with the settlement by Viking explorers and their slaves from the east, particularly Norway and the British Isles, in the late 9th century, since Iceland was uninhabited long after the rest of western Europe was settled. Recorded settlement has conventionally been dated back to 874 AD, although archaeological evidence indicates Gaelic monks had settled Iceland previously. The land was settled quickly, mainly by Norwegians who may have been fleeing conflict or seeking new land to farm. By 930, the chieftains had established a form of governance (Althing), making it one of the world's oldest parliaments. Also towards the end of the tenth century Christianity came to Iceland due to the influence of the Norwegian king, Olaf Tryggvason. During this time Iceland remained independent, a period known as the Old Commonwealth and Icelandic historians began to document the nation's history in books referred to as Sagas (Icelandic for story or history). In the early thirteenth century internal conflict (Age of the Sturlungs) weakened Iceland which eventually became subjugated to Norway through the Old Covenant (1262–4), effectively ending the Commonwealth. Norway in turn was united with Sweden (1319) and then Denmark (1376). Eventually, all of the Nordic states were united in one alliance, the Kalmar Union (1397–1523), but on its dissolution Iceland fell under Danish rule. Denmark then imposed a strict trade monopoly in the 17th and 18th centuries, much to the detriment of the Icelandic economy. Iceland's subsequent poverty was aggravated by natural disasters. During this time the population declined.

Iceland remained part of Denmark, but in keeping with the rise of nationalism around Europe in the nineteenth century an independence movement emerged. The Althing, which had been suspended in 1799, was restored in 1844, and Iceland gained sovereignty after World War I, on 1 December 1918. However Iceland shared the Danish Monarchy until World War II. Although Iceland was neutral, the allies occupied it without resistance because of its strategic situation. Since Denmark was under Nazi occupation, Iceland declared itself a republic, and the Republic of Iceland was founded on 17 June 1944 as a fully independent nation. Following the Second World War Iceland was a founding member of the United Nations and grew rapidly, largely due to fishing, although this was marred by conflicts with other nations (Cod Wars). Following rapid financial growth, the economy collapsed in 2008. Today Iceland still struggles with the aftermath of the financial crisis. Iceland has adopted currency barriers that are almost unique in the history of modern Europe . Now tourism accounts for the second largest source of revenue . Iceland continues to remain outside the European Union.

Because of its remoteness, Iceland has been spared the ravages of European wars, but has been affected by other external events, such as the Black Death and the Protestant Reformation imposed by Denmark. Iceland's history has also been marked by a number of natural disasters.

Iceland is also a relatively young country in the geological sense, being formed about 20 million years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions in a mid-ocean ridge called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The oldest stone specimens found in Iceland date back to ca. 16 million years ago.


  • Geological history 1
  • Early history 2
  • Settlement (874–930) 3
    • Irish monks 3.1
    • Norse discovery 3.2
    • First settler 3.3
    • Settlement 3.4
  • Commonwealth (930–1262) 4
    • Christianisation 4.1
    • Civil war and the end of the commonwealth 4.2
  • Iceland under Norwegian and Danish kings (1262–1944) 5
    • Norwegian rule 5.1
    • Danish rule 5.2
    • Reformation and Danish trade monopoly 5.3
    • The eruption of Laki 5.4
    • Independence movement 5.5
    • Home rule and sovereignty 5.6
    • World War II 5.7
  • Republic of Iceland (1944–) 6
    • Founding of the republic 6.1
    • NATO membership and the Cold War 6.2
    • Cod Wars 6.3
    • EEA membership and economic reform 6.4
    • Financial crisis 6.5
  • Historiography 7
    • Division of history into named periods 7.1
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10
  • External links 11

Geological history

Mid-Atlantic Ridge and adjacent plates. Volcanoes indicated in red

In geological terms, Iceland is a young island. It started to form in the Miocene era about 20 million years ago from a series of volcanic eruptions on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where it lies between the North American and Eurasian plates. These plates spread at a rate of approximately 2.5 centimeters per year. [1] This elevated portion of the ridge is known as the Reykjanes Ridge. The volcanic activity is attributed to a hotspot, the Iceland hotspot, which in turn lies over a mantle plume (the Iceland Plume) an anomalously hot rock in the Earth's mantle which is likely to be partly responsible for the island's creation and continued existence. For comparison, it is estimated that other volcanic islands, such as the Faroe Islands have existed for about 55 million years, [2] the Azores (on the same ridge) about 8 million years, [3] and Hawaii less than a million years. [4] The younger rock strata in the southwest of Iceland and the central highlands are only about 700 thousand years old. The geological history of the earth is divided into ice ages, based on temperature and climate. The last glacial period, commonly referred to as The Ice Age is thought to have begun about 110 thousand years ago and ended about 10 thousand years ago. While covered in ice, Iceland's icefalls, fjords and valleys were formed. [5]

Early history

Iceland remained, for a long time, one of the world's last larger islands uninhabited by humans (the others being New Zealand and Madagascar). It has been suggested that the land called Thule by the Greek merchant Pytheas (4th century BC) was actually Iceland, although it seems highly unlikely considering Pytheas' description of it as an agricultural country with plenty of milk, honey, and fruit (probably Norway, or possibly the Faroe or Shetland islands). The exact date that humans first reached the island is uncertain. Ancient Roman coins dating to the 3rd century have been found in Iceland, but it is unknown whether they were brought there at that time or came later with Viking settlers, having circulated as currency already for centuries.[6]

There is some literary evidence that Íslendingabók, that small bells, corresponding to those used by Irish monks, were found by the settlers. No such artifacts have been discovered by archaeologists, however. Some Icelanders claimed descent from Kjarvalr Írakonungr (a king in southeastern Ireland) at the time of the Landnámabók's creation.

Settlement (874–930)

Irish monks

Landnámabók mentions the presence of Irish monks prior to Norse settlement, and states that the monks left behind Irish books, bells and crosiers, among other things. According to the same account, the Irish monks abandoned the country when the Norse arrived, or had left prior to their arrival.

Another source mentioning the Papar is Íslendingabók, dating from between 1122 and 1133. According to this account, the previous inhabitants, a few Irish monks, known as the Papar, left the island since they did not want to live with pagan Norsemen. One theory suggests that those monks were members of a Hiberno-Scottish mission, i.e. Irish and Scottish monks who spread Christianity during the Middle Ages. They may also have been hermits.

Recent archaeological excavations have revealed the ruins of a cabin in Hafnir on the Reykjanes peninsula (close to Keflavík Airport). Carbon dating reveals that the cabin was abandoned somewhere between 770 and 880, suggesting that Iceland was populated well before 874. This archaeological find may also indicate that the monks left Iceland before the Norse arrived.[8]

Norse discovery

Norsemen landing in Iceland. Illustration by Oscar Wergeland (1909).

According to Landnámabók, Iceland was first discovered by Naddoddr, one of the first settlers in the Faroe Islands, who was sailing from Norway to the Faroe Islands, but lost his way and drifted to the east coast of Iceland. Naddoddr named the country Snæland (Snowland). Swedish sailor Garðar Svavarsson also accidentally drifted to the coast of Iceland. He discovered that the country was an island and named it Garðarshólmi (literally Garðar's Islet) and stayed for the winter at Húsavík.

The first Scandinavian who deliberately sailed to Garðarshólmi (Iceland) was Flóki Vilgerðarson, also known as Hrafna-Flóki (Raven-Flóki). Flóki settled for one winter at Barðaströnd. After the incredibly cold winter passed, the summer came and the whole island became green, which stunned Flóki. Realizing that this place was in fact habitable, despite the horribly cold winter, and full of useful resources, Flóki restocked his boat. Flóki then continued his journey west when he came upon Greenland, which was relatively close to Iceland, but much more south-west and despite being around the time summer was occurring Greenland was still at freezing temperatures. He then left back east to Norway to bring back the resources and knowledge.

First settler

Ingólfr commands his high seat pillars to be erected in this painting by Johan Peter Raadsig.

The first permanent settler in Iceland is usually considered to have been a Norwegian chieftain named Ingólfr Arnarson and his wife Hallveig Fróðadóttir. According to Landnáma, he threw two carved pillars overboard as he neared land, vowing to settle wherever they landed. He then sailed along the coast until the pillars were found in the southwestern peninsula, now known as Reykjanesskagi. There he settled with his family around 874, in a place he named Reykjavík (Cove of Smoke) due to the geothermal steam rising from the earth.

This very place would eventually become the capital and the largest city of modern Iceland. It is recognized, however, that Ingólfr Arnarson may not have been the first one to settle permanently in Iceland — that may have been Náttfari, one of Garðar Svavarsson's men who stayed behind when Garðar returned to Scandinavia.

Much of the above information comes from Landnámabók (Book of Settlement), written some three centuries after the settlement. Archeological findings in Reykjavík are consistent with the date given there: there was a settlement in Reykjavík around 870.


Harald the Fair-haired receives the kingdom of Norway from his father.

Ingólfr was followed by many more Norse chieftains, their families and slaves who settled all the inhabitable areas of the island in the next decades. These people were primarily of Norwegian, Irish and Scottish origin. Some of the Irish and Scots were slaves and servants of the Norse chiefs according to the Icelandic sagas and Landnámabók and other documents. Some settlers coming from the British Isles were "Hiberno-Norse," with cultural and family connections both to the coastal and island areas of Ireland and/or Scotland and to Norway.

The traditional explanation for the exodus from Norway is that people were fleeing the harsh rule of the Norwegian king Haraldr Hárfagri (Harald the Fair-haired), whom medieval literary sources credit with the unification of some parts of modern Norway during this period. It is also believed that the western fjords of Norway were simply overcrowded in this period. The settlement of Iceland is thoroughly recorded in the aforementioned Landnámabók, although the book was compiled in the early 12th century when at least 200 years had passed from the age of settlement.

Íslendingabók is generally considered more reliable as a source and is probably somewhat older, but it is far less thorough. It does say that Iceland was fully settled within 60 years, which likely means that all arable land had been claimed by various settlers.

Commonwealth (930–1262)

19th-century depiction of a session of Alþingi
Þingvellir, seat of Alþingi.

In 930, the ruling chiefs established an assembly called the Alþingi (Althing). The parliament convened each summer at Þingvellir, where representative chieftains (Goðorðsmenn or Goðar) amended laws, settled disputes and appointed juries to judge lawsuits. Laws were not written down, but were instead memorized by an elected Lawspeaker (lǫgsǫgumaðr).

The Alþingi is sometimes stated to be the world's oldest existing parliament. Importantly, there was no central executive power, and therefore laws were enforced only by the people. This gave rise to blood-feuds, which provided the writers of the Icelanders' sagas with plenty of material.

Iceland enjoyed a mostly uninterrupted period of growth in its commonwealth years. Settlements from that era have been found in southwest Greenland and eastern Canada, and sagas such as Eiríks saga rauða and Grœnlendinga saga speak of the settlers' exploits.

10th century Eyrarland statue of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, found in Iceland.


The settlers of Iceland were predominantly pagans and worshipped the Norse gods, among them Odin, Thor, Freyr and Freyja. By the 10th century political pressure from Europe to convert to Christianity mounted. As the end of the 1st millennium grew near, many prominent Icelanders had accepted the new faith.

In the year 1000, as a civil war between the religious groups seemed likely, the Alþing appointed one of the chieftains, Þorgeirr Ljósvetningagoði, to decide the issue of religion by arbitration. He decided that the country should convert to Christianity as a whole, but that pagans would be allowed to worship privately.

The first Icelandic bishop, Ísleifr Gizurarson, was consecrated by bishop Adalbert of Bremen in 1056.

Civil war and the end of the commonwealth

During the 11th and 12th centuries, the centralization of power had worn down the institutions of the Commonwealth, as the former, notable independence of local farmers and chieftains gave way to the growing power of a handful of families and their leaders. The period from around 1200 to 1262 is generally known as Age of the Sturlungs. This refers to Sturla Þórðarson and his sons Þórður, Sighvatur, and Snorri, who were one of two main clans fighting for power over Iceland, causing havoc in a land inhabited almost entirely by farmers who could ill-afford to travel far from their farms, across the island to fight for their leaders.

In 1220, Snorri Sturluson became a vassal of Haakon IV of Norway; his nephew Sturla Sighvatsson also became a vassal in 1235. Sturla used the power and influence of the Sturlungar family to wage war against the other clans in Iceland. After decades of conflict, the Icelandic chieftains agreed to accept the sovereignty of Norway and signed the Old Covenant (Gamli sáttmáli) establishing a union with the Norwegian monarchy.

Iceland under Norwegian and Danish kings (1262–1944)

Norwegian rule

Little changed in the decades following the treaty. Norway's consolidation of power in Iceland was slow, and the Althing intended to hold onto its legislative and judicial power. Nonetheless, the Christian clergy had unique opportunities to accumulate wealth via the tithe, and power gradually shifted to ecclesiastical authorities as Iceland's two bishops in Skálholt and Hólar acquired land at the expense of the old chieftains.

For a long period, stockfish trade made up the bulk of Iceland's exports

Around the time Iceland became a vassal state of Norway, a climate shift occurred—a phenomenon now called the Little Ice Age. Areas near the Arctic Circle such as Iceland and Greenland began to have shorter growing seasons and colder winters. Since Iceland had marginal farmland in good times, the climate change resulted in hardship for the population.[9] A serfdom-like institution called the vistarband developed, in which peasants were bound to landowners for a year at a time.

It became more difficult to raise barley, the primary cereal crop, and livestock required additional fodder to survive longer and colder winters. Icelanders began to trade for grain from continental Europe — an expensive proposition. Church fast days increased demand for dried codfish, which was easily caught and prepared for export, and the cod trade became an important part of the economy.[9]

Danish rule

Iceland remained under Norwegian kingship until 1380, when the death of Olav IV extinguished the Norwegian male royal line. Norway (and thus Iceland) then became part of the Kalmar Union, along with Sweden and Denmark, with Denmark as the dominant power. Unlike Norway, Denmark did not need Iceland's fish and homespun wool. This created a dramatic deficit in Iceland's trade, and as a result, no new ships for continental trading were built. The small Greenland colony, established in the late 10th century, died out completely before 1500.

With the introduction of absolute monarchy in Denmark–Norway in 1660 under Frederick III, the Icelanders relinquished their autonomy to the crown, including the right to initiate and consent to legislation. Denmark, however, did not provide much protection to Iceland, which was raided in 1627 by a Barbary pirate fleet that abducted almost 300 Icelanders into slavery, in an episode known as the Turkish Abductions.

Reformation and Danish trade monopoly

By the middle of the 16th century, Christian III of Denmark began to impose Lutheranism on his subjects. Jón Arason and Ögmundur Pálsson, the Catholic bishops of Skálholt and Hólar respectively, opposed Christian's efforts at promoting the Protestant Reformation in Iceland. Ögmundur was deported by Danish officials in 1541, but Jón Arason put up a fight.

Opposition to the reformation ended in 1550 when Jón Arason was captured after being defeated in the Battle of Sauðafell by loyalist forces under the leadership of Daði Guðmundsson. Jón Arason and his two sons were subsequently beheaded in Skálholt. Following this, the Icelanders became Lutherans and remain largely so to this day.

In 1602, Iceland was forbidden to trade with countries other than Denmark, by order of the Danish government, which at this time pursued mercantilist policies. The Danish trade monopoly would remain in effect until 1786.

Fisherman's hut in Iceland

The eruption of Laki

In the 18th century, climatic conditions in Iceland reached an all-time low since the original settlement. On top of this, the Laki volcano in Iceland erupted in 1783, spitting out three cubic miles (12.5 km³) of lava. Floods, ash, and fumes wiped out 9,000 people and 80 percent of the livestock. The ensuing starvation killed a quarter of Iceland's population.[10] This period is known as the Mist Hardships (Icelandic: Móðuharðindin).

When the two kingdoms of Denmark and Norway were separated by the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark kept Iceland as a dependency.

Independence movement

Jón Sigurðsson

Throughout the 19th century, the country's climate continued to grow worse, resulting in mass emigration to the New World, particularly Manitoba in Canada. However, a new national consciousness was revived in Iceland, inspired by romantic nationalist ideas from continental Europe. This revival was spearheaded by the Fjölnismenn, a group of Danish-educated Icelandic intellectuals.

An independence movement developed under the leadership of a lawyer named Jón Sigurðsson. In 1843 a new Althing was founded as a consultative assembly. It claimed continuity with the Althing of the Icelandic Commonwealth, which had remained for centuries as a judicial body and been abolished in 1800.

Home rule and sovereignty

Hannes Hafstein, first Prime Minister of Iceland and the first Icelander to be appointed to the Danish Cabinet as the Minister for Iceland

In 1874, a thousand years after the first acknowledged settlement, Denmark granted Iceland a constitution and home rule, which again was expanded in 1904. The constitution was revised in 1903, and a minister for Icelandic affairs, residing in Reykjavík, was made responsible to the Althing, the first of whom was Hannes Hafstein.

The Act of Union, a December 1, 1918, agreement with Denmark, recognized Iceland as a fully sovereign state — the Kingdom of Iceland – joined with Denmark in a personal union with the Danish king. Iceland established its own flag. Denmark was to represent its foreign affairs and defense interests. Iceland had no military or naval forces and Denmark was to give notice to other countries that it was permanently neutral. The Act would be up for revision in 1940 and could be revoked three years later if agreement was not reached. By the 1930s the consensus in Iceland was to seek complete independence by 1944 at the latest.[11]

World War II

With war looming in spring 1939, Iceland realized its exposed position would be very dangerous in wartime. An all-party government was formed and Lufthansa's request for civilian airplane landing rights was rejected. German ships were all about, however, until the British blockade of Germany stopped that when the war began in September. Iceland demanded Britain allow it to trade with Germany, to no avail.[12]

The occupation of Denmark by Nazi Germany began on April 9, 1940, severing communications between Iceland and Denmark. As a result, on April 10, the Parliament of Iceland took temporary control of foreign affairs, electing a provisional governor, Sveinn Björnsson, who later became the republic's first president. It turned down British offers of protection because that would violate neutrality. Britain and the U.S. opened direct diplomatic relations, as did Sweden and Norway. The German takeover of Norway left Iceland highly exposed; Britain decided it could not risk a German takeover. On May 10, 1940, British military forces began an invasion of Iceland when they sailed into Reykjavík harbour in Operation Fork. There was no resistance, but the government protested against what it called a "flagrant violation" of Icelandic neutrality and Prime Minister Hermann Jónasson called on Icelanders to treat the British troops with the politeness as if they were guests. They behaved accordingly and there were no mishaps. The occupation of Iceland would last throughout the war.[13]

US Army training in June 1943

At the peak, the British had 25,000 troops stationed in Iceland, all but eliminating unemployment in the Reykjavík area and other strategically important places. In July 1941, responsibility for Iceland's occupation and defence passed to the United States under a U.S.-Icelandic agreement which included a provision that the U.S. recognize Iceland's absolute independence. The British were replaced by up to 40,000 Americans, who outnumbered all adult Icelandic men. (At the time, Iceland had a population of around 120,000.)[14]

Republic of Iceland (1944–)

Founding of the republic

On 31 December 1943, the Act of Union agreement expired after 25 years. Beginning on 20 May 1944, Icelanders voted in a four-day plebiscite on whether to terminate the personal union with the King of Denmark and establish a republic. The vote was 97% in favour of ending the union and 95% in favour of the new republican constitution.[15] Iceland formally became an independent republic on June 17, 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as its first President. Denmark was still occupied by Germany. Despite this, the Danish king, Christian X, sent a message of congratulations to the Icelandic people.

Iceland had prospered during the course of the war, amassing considerable currency reserves in foreign banks. In addition to this, the country received the most Marshall Aid per capita of any European country in the immediate postwar years (at USD 209, with the war-ravaged Netherlands a distant second at USD 109).[16][17]

The new republican government, led by an unlikely three-party majority cabinet made up of conservatives (the Independence Party, Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn), social democrats (the Social Democratic Party, Alþýðuflokkurinn), and socialists (People's Unity Party – Socialist Party, Sósíalistaflokkurinn), decided to put the funds into a general renovation of the fishing fleet, the building of fish processing facilities, the construction of a cement and fertilizer factory, and a general modernization of agriculture. These actions were aimed at keeping Icelanders' standard of living as high as it had become during the prosperous war years.

The government's fiscal policy was strictly Keynesian, and their aim was to create the necessary industrial infrastructure for a prosperous developed country. It was considered essential to keep unemployment down to an absolute minimum and to protect the export fishing industry through currency manipulation and other means. Due to the country's dependence both on unreliable fish catches and foreign demand for fish products, Iceland's economy remained very unstable well into the 1990s, when the country's economy was greatly diversified.

NATO membership and the Cold War

United States F-15 at Keflavík Air Base.

In October 1946, the Icelandic and United States' governments agreed to terminate U.S. responsibility for the defense of Iceland, but the United States retained certain rights at Keflavík, such as the right to re-establish a military presence there, should war threaten.

Iceland became a charter member of NATO on March 30, 1949, with the reservation that it would never take part in offensive action against another nation. The membership came amid an anti-NATO riot in Iceland. After the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, and pursuant to the request of NATO military authorities, the United States and Alþingi agreed that the United States should again take responsibility for Iceland's defence.

This agreement, signed on May 5, 1951, was the authority for the controversial U.S. military presence in Iceland, which remained until 2006. Although U.S. forces no longer maintain a military presence in Iceland, the US still assumes responsibility over the country's defense through NATO. Iceland has retained strong ties to the other Nordic countries. As a consequence Norway, Denmark, Germany and other European nations have increased their defense and rescue cooperation with Iceland since the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Cod Wars

Icelandic Coast Guard and Royal Navy vessels clash in the North Atlantic

The Cod Wars were a series of conflicts between Iceland and the United Kingdom from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. The first Cod War took place in 1958 when Britain was unable to prevent Iceland from extending its fishing limits from 4 to 12 miles (7 to 22 km) off the coast of Iceland. The second Cod War lasted from 1972 to 1973, when Iceland extended the limit to 50 miles (93 km).[18]

The third Cod War began in November 1975, when Iceland extended its zone of control over fishing from 50 miles (93 km) to 200 miles (370 km). The UK did not recognize Iceland's authority in the matter and continued to fish inside the disputed area, making this the third time that Iceland and the UK clashed over fishing rights. Iceland deployed a total of eight ships: six Coast Guard vessels and two Polish-built stern trawlers, to enforce her control over fishing rights.[18]

In response, the UK deployed a total of twenty-two frigates, seven supply ships, nine tug-boats and three auxiliary ships to protect its 40 fishing trawlers. While few shots were fired during the seven-month conflict, several ships were rammed on both sides, causing damage to the vessels and a few injuries and deaths to the crews.[18]

Events took a more serious turn when Iceland threatened closure of the U.S.-manned NATO base at Keflavík, which, in the military perception of the time, would have severely impaired NATO's ability to defend the Atlantic Ocean from the Soviet Union. As a result, the British government agreed to have its fishermen stay outside of Iceland's 200 mile (370 km) exclusion zone without a specific agreement.[19]

EEA membership and economic reform

Prime Minister of Iceland George W. Bush in 2004.

In 1991, the Independence Party, led by Davíð Oddsson, formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats. This government set in motion market liberalisation policies, privatising a number of state-owned companies. Iceland then became a member of the European Economic Area in 1994. Economic stability increased and previously chronic inflation was drastically reduced.

The flag of Iceland being raised and the flag of the United States being lowered as the US hands over the Keflavík Air Base to the Government of Iceland

In 1995, the Independence Party formed a coalition government with the Progressive Party. This government continued with free market policies, privatising two commercial banks and the state-owned telecom Landssíminn.

Corporate income tax was reduced to 18% (from around 50% at the beginning of the decade), inheritance tax was greatly reduced and the net wealth tax was abolished. A system of individual transferable quotas in the Icelandic fisheries, first introduced in the late 1970s, was further developed.

The coalition government remained in power through elections in 1999 and 2003. In 2004, Davíð Oddsson stepped down as Prime Minister after 13 years in office. Halldór Ásgrímsson, leader of the Progressive Party, took over as Prime Minister from 2004 to 2006, followed by Geir H. Haarde, Davíð Oddsson’s successor as leader of the Independence Party.

Following a recession in the early 1990s, economic growth was considerable, averaging about 4% per year from 1994. The governments of the 1990s and 2000s adhered to a staunch but domestically controversial pro-U.S. foreign policy, lending nominal support to the NATO action in the Kosovo War and signing up as a member of the Coalition of the willing during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In March 2006, the United States announced that it intended to withdraw the greater part of the Icelandic Defence Force. On 12 August 2006, the last four F-15s left Icelandic airspace. The United States closed the Keflavík Air Base in September 2006.

Following elections in May 2007, the Independence Party headed by Geir H. Haarde remained in government, albeit in a new coalition with the Social Democratic Alliance.

Financial crisis

ex-Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the world's first openly gay head of government of the modern era.

In October 2008, the Icelandic banking system collapsed, prompting Iceland to seek large loans from the International Monetary Fund and friendly countries. Widespread protests in late 2008 and early 2009 resulted in the resignation of the government of Geir Haarde, which was replaced on 1 February 2009 by a coalition government led by the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement. Social Democrat minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was appointed Prime Minister, becoming the world's first openly homosexual head of government of the modern era.[20][21] Elections took place in April 2009 and a continuing coalition government consisting of the Social Democrats and the Left-Green Movement was established in early May 2009.

The crisis resulted in the greatest migration from Iceland since 1887, with a net emigration of 5,000 people in 2009.[22] Iceland's economy stabilized under the government of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, and grew by 1.6% in 2012[23][24] but many Icelanders remained unhappy with the state of the economy and government austerity policies; the centre-right Independence Party was returned to power, in coalition with the Progressive Party, in the 2013 elections.


Division of history into named periods

While it is convenient to divide history into named periods, it is also misleading because the course of human events neither starts or ends abruptly in most cases, and movements and influences often overlap. One period, as Gunnar Karlsson describes, can be considered the period from 930 CE to 1262–4 when there was no central government or leader, political power being characterised by chieftains ("goðar"). This period is referred to therefore as the þjóðveldisöld or goðaveldisöld (National or Chieftain State) period by Icelandic authors, and the Old Commonwealth or Freestate by English ones.

There is little consensus on how to divide Icelandic history. Gunnar's own book A Brief History of Iceland (2010) has 33 chapters with considerable overlap in dates. Jón J. Aðils' 1915 text, Íslandssaga (A History of Iceland) uses ten periods:

  • Landnámsöld (Settlement Age) c. 870–930
  • Söguöld (Saga Age) 930–1030
  • Íslenska kirkjan í elstu tíð (The early Icelandic church) 1030–1152
  • Sturlungaöld (Sturlung Age) 1152–1262
  • Ísland undir stjórn Noregskonunga og uppgangur kennimanna (Norwegian royal rule and the rise of the clergy) 1262–1400
  • Kirkjuvald (Ecclesiastical power) 1400–1550
  • Konungsvald (Royal authority) 1550–1683
  • Einveldi og einokun (Absolutism and monopoly trading) 1683–1800
  • Viðreisnarbarátta (Campaign for restoration) [of past glories] 1801–1874
  • Framsókn (Progress) 1875–1915

In another of Gunnar's books, Iceland's 1100 Years (2000), Icelandic history is divided into four periods:

  • Colonisation and Commonwealth c. 870–1262
  • Under foreign rule 1262 – c. 1800
  • A primitive society builds a state 1809–1918
  • The great 20th-century transformation

based mainly on forms of government, except for the last which reflects mechanisation of the fishing industry.[25]

See also


  1. ^ "Jürgen Schieber, University of Indiana. G105 (Earth: Our Habitable Planet) Chapter 13: Evolution of Continents and Oceans". Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "Fróðskaparsetur Føroya: Megindeildin fyri náttúruvísindi og heilsuvísindi. Uppskriftir og myndir frá jarðfrøði-ferðum kring landið (October 2004)". Archived from the original on 2007-08-13. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Carine, Mark; Schaefer, Hanno (2010). "The Azores diversity enigma: why are there so few Azorean endemic flowering plants and why are they so widespread?". Journal of Biogeography 37 (1): 77–89.  
  4. ^ "US Geological Survey. Mauna Loa: Earth's Largest Volcano". Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Björn Þorsteinsson og Bergsteinn Jónsson (1991). Íslands Saga: til okkar daga. Sögufélagið.  , page 11
  6. ^ Eldjám, Kristján (1949). "Fund af romerske mønter på Island". Nordisk Numismatisk Årsskrift: 4–7. 
  7. ^ The 9th-century Irish monk and geographer Dicuil describes Iceland in his work Liber de Mensura Orbis Terrae.
  8. ^ New View on the Origin of First Settlers in Iceland, Iceland Review Online, 4 June 2011, accessed 16 June 2011.
  9. ^ a b [6] Information about Icelandic diet & history thereof Archived February 20, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ [7]
  11. ^ Solrun B. Jensdottir Hardarson, "The 'Republic of Iceland' 1940–44: Anglo-American Attitudes and Influences," Journal of Contemporary History (1974) 9#4 pp. 27–56 in JSTOR
  12. ^ Hardarson, (1974) p 29-31
  13. ^ Hardarson, (1974) pp 32–33
  14. ^ Hardarson, (1974) pp 43–45
  15. ^ Hardarson, (1974) p 56
  16. ^ "Hversu há var Marshallaðstoðin sem Ísland fékk eftir seinni heimsstyrjöld?"Vísindavefurinn: . Vísindavefurinn. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  17. ^ Pathbreakers: Small European Countries Responding to Globalisation andMargrit Müller, , , p. 385
  18. ^ a b c "TED Case Study: Iceland Cod War". Archived from the original on September 26, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  19. ^ "Now, the Cod Peace", Time, June 14, 1976. p. 37
  20. ^ Moody, Jonas (2009-01-30). "Iceland Picks the World's First Openly Homosexual PM".  
  21. ^ "First gay PM for Iceland cabinet". BBC News. 1 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-01. 
  22. ^ "Iceland lost almost 5000 people in 2009" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-01-08. 
  23. ^ "Statistics Iceland – News » News". Retrieved 2012-09-22. 
  24. ^ Jolly, David (2010-12-07). "Iceland Recession Ends as Economy Returns to Growth". Iceland;Ireland;Greece: Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  25. ^ "Gunnar Karlsson. "How and why is the history of Iceland divided into periods?". The Icelandic Web of Science 5.3.2005.". The Icelandic Web of Science. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 


  • Axel Kristinsson. "Is there any tangible proof that there were Irish monks in Iceland before the time of the Viking settlements?" (2005) in English in Icelandic
  • Bergsteinn Jónsson and Björn Þorsteinsson. "Íslandssaga til okkar daga" Sögufélag.[8] Reykjavík. (1991) (in Icelandic) ISBN 9979-9064-4-8
  • Byock, Jesse. Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas and Power University of California Press (1988) ISBN 0-520-06954-4 ISBN 0-226-52680-1
  • Guðmundur Hálfdanarson;"Starfsmaður | Háskóli Íslands". Retrieved 2010-01-31.  "Historical Dictionary of Iceland" Scarecrow Press.[9] Maryland, USA. (1997) ISBN 0-8108-3352-2
  • Gunnar Karlsson. "History of Iceland" Univ. of Minneapolis. (2000) ISBN 0-8166-3588-9 "The History of Iceland (Gunnar Karlsson) – book review". Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  • Gunnar Karlsson. "Iceland's 1100 Years: History of a Marginal Society". Hurst.[10] London. (2000) ISBN 1-85065-420-4.
  • Gunnar Karlsson. "A Brief History of Iceland". Forlagið 2000. 2nd ed. 2010. Trans. Anna Yates. ISBN 978-9979-3-3164-3
  • Helgi Skúli Kjartansson; "Helgi Skúli Kjartansson". 2004-09-26. Retrieved 2010-01-31.  "Ísland á 20. öld". Reykjavík. (2002) ISBN 9979-9059-7-2
  • Sverrir Jakobsson. ‘The Process of State-Formation in Medieval Iceland’, Viator. Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 40:2 (Autumn 2009), 151–70.
  • Sverrir Jakobsson. The Territorialization of Power in the Icelandic Commonwealth, in Statsutvikling i Skandinavia i middelalderen, eds. Sverre Bagge, Michael H. Gelting, Frode Hervik, Thomas Lindkvist & Bjørn Poulsen (Oslo 2012), 101–18.
  • Jón R. Hjálmarsson (2009). History of Iceland: From the Settlement to the Present Day. Reykjavik: Forlagið Publishing.  
  • Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon. Wasteland with Words. A Social History of Iceland (London: Reaktion Books, 2010)
  • Miller, William Ian; "University of Michigan Law School Faculty & Staff". 1996-10-24. Retrieved 2010-01-31.  Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland. University Of Chicago Press (1997) ISBN 0-226-52680-1

External links

  • History of Iceland from the Icelandic embassy in Japan
  • U.S. Government text public domain
  • History of Iceland: Primary Documents
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