Thursday, November 08, 2007

History of Iceland

History of Iceland. This essay is a brief history of the European nation of Iceland. Medieval as well as modern history is covered.

Wikipedia notes, "Iceland, officially the Republic of Iceland is a country in northern Europe, comprising the island of Iceland and its outlying islets in the North Atlantic Ocean between the rest of Europe and Greenland. It is the least populous of the Nordic countries and the second smallest; it has a population of about 313,000 and a total area of 103,000 km². Its capital and largest city is Reykjavík."

From the site:

Iceland was settled in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, principally by people of Norse origin. In 930 A.D., the ruling chiefs established a republican constitution and an assembly called the Althingi--the oldest parliament in the world. Iceland remained independent until 1262, when it entered into a treaty establishing a union with the Norwegian monarchy. Iceland passed to Denmark in the late 14th century when Norway and Denmark were united under the Danish crown.

The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "Irish monks, according to legend, were the first discoverers of the island about the year 800. Colonization did not begin until much later, when King Harold I Harfagr of Norway subdued the Norse nobles, who had been independent until then, and made himself absolute lord of Norway in 872. Many liberty-loving men at that time left the land of their fathers (874), and sought new homes on the still uninhabited island which is said to owe its name to the Norseman, Floke Vilgerdarson. This immigration (Landnahme) continued for sixty years. The colonists (noblemen, with their serfs, among whom were men of Germanic and Celtic origin) divided the soil among themselves, and the chieftains not only continued to exercise judicial prerogatives over the low tenants and serfs, but also performed the functions of high-priests (gooi). Freemen, however, might claim their rights in the moot or public assembly (thing). The people at the beginning of the tenth century numbered about 25,000, divided into some thirty clans, which about 930 formed an independent republic with an aristocratic constitution. The government and the administration of justice were vested in the Althing, which met annually in June and in which freemen and their families could take part. But this body was not always able to exercise its powers, and it happened quite often that internal quarrels were settled by the sword. Thirty years later the country was divided into four quarters, subdivided in turn into thing-districts. To simplify business, there was a special court of law for each district, under the general jurisdiction of the Althing. A committee (lögrätta), to which each quarter sent twelve representatives, carried on the administration in the name of the Althing. The republic was on friendly terms with the Kingdom of Norway, the two countries having fixed the respective rights and obligations of their citizens by treaty. But it was not long before King Olaf Haraldsson (1024) and Harold Hardrada (1066) made unsuccessful attempts to bring the island into dependence on Norway."

"The inhabitants had in the meantime been converted to Christianity, and for a long while the Catholic bishops exerted over them a powerful and beneficial influence. At their instance the old laws (Gragas) were written down in 1117. Unfortunately, soon afterwards bloody feuds broke out among the chief nobles of the State, in the course of which Sturla attempted to make himself king. The people, tired of protracted wars, offered no resistance to King Hakon the Elder when, in 1258, he appointed Gissur Thorwaldsson Governor (Jarl). A few years later the whole island swore allegiance to the new master, still insisting, however, on retaining certain privileges (1302). It is certain that this act did not make Iceland, strictly speaking, a province of Norway. Norwegian Iceland is always referred to in public documents of the fifteenth, and in chronicles of the sixteenth, century as a dominion of the Crown (see Styffe, "Skandinavien under Unionstider," Stockholm, 1880), and at first it retained its constitutional organization. In the year 1281, however, a code of laws was introduced by the judge, Jón Einarsson, patterned on the Norwegian laws (Jonsbok). Hakon II having died (1380), his son Olaf, who since 1376 had ruled Denmark, ascended the throne."

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