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Iceland's history


Icelandic History

The first people known to have inhabited Iceland were Irish monks or hermits who came in the eighth century, but left with the arrival of the pagan Norsemen, who systematically settled Iceland in the period 870 - 930 A.D. Iceland was thus the last European country to be settled.

The main source of information about the settlement period in Iceland is the Landnámabók (Book of Settlements), written in the 12th century, which gives a detailed account of the first settlers. According to this book Ingólfur Arnarson was the first settler. He was a chieftain from Norway, arriving in Iceland with his family and dependents in 874. He built his farm in Reykjavík, the site of the present capital. 

During the next 60 years or so, viking settlers from Scandinavia, bringing some Celtic people with them, spread their homesteads over the habitable areas. In the year 930, at the end of the Settlement period, a constitutional law code was accepted and Alþingi established. The judicial power of Alþingi was distributed between four local courts and a type of a Supreme Court held annually at the national assembly at Þingvellir.

In the year 1000 Christianity was peacefully adopted by the Icelanders at Alþingi, which met for two weeks every summer, attracting a large proportion of the population. The first bishopric was established at Skálholt in South Iceland in 1056, and a second at Hólar in the north in 1106. Both became the country's main centres of learning.

In the late tenth century Greenland was discovered and colonized by Icelanders under the leadership of Eirik the Red, and around the year 1000 Icelanders were the first Europeans to set foot on the American continent, 500 years before Columbus, although their attempts to settle in the New World failed. 

In 1262-64 internal feuds, amounting to a civil war, led to submission to the King of Norway and a new monarchical code in 1271. When Norway and Denmark formed the Kalmar Union in 1397, Iceland fell under the sovereignty of the King of Denmark. In 1874, when Iceland celebrated the millenium of the first settlement, it received a constitution from the Danish king and control of its own finances. 

In 1904 Iceland received home rule and finally in 1918 sovereignty, but was united with Denmark under the Danish crown. In 1940 Iceland was occupied by British forces, which were replaced in 1941 by American troops by special agreement between the Icelandic and American governments. Finally, on 17 June 1944, the country gained independence and the Republic of Iceland was formally proclaimed at Þingvellir.