About Iceland- A Brief History

Iceland is the youngest country in Europe but one with a rich and heroic history.   Iceland was settled in 874 AD. The first settler was a Norwegian, Ingólfur Arnarson, who settled in what is now known as Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. Many of the early settlers of Iceland were small lords and kings from Norway who were fleeing the tyranny of Harald the Fairhaired who wanted to unify Norway under one king, namely himself.

Some of these early settlers were great seafarers and in 982 one of them, Eiríkur Rauði (known as Erik the Red) discovered Greenland (so named to attract settlers), and in the year 1000 his son Leifur Heppni (known today as Leif Erikson) discovered the American continent which he named Vínland.  These "Vikings" were not the marauders of legend but rather were farmers and fisherman.

Because of their flight from oppression the Icelandic settlers did not form any central government for their new country. They instead relied on a group of equally powerful lords, the so-called goðar to regulate their domains, and to regularly meet to solve major problems. These meetings of the goðar were called þings. 

The þ (thorn) in Icelandic is pronounced the same as the th in thing.  The ð (eth) is pronounced the same as the th in that.

In the year 930 the settlers established their central parliament or þing. It was given the name Alþing which simply means the central parliament. The parliament still convenes today and is believed to be the world's oldest national assembly. Up until 1798 the Alþing convened at Þingvellir.   One of the major decisions to be made there was made in the year 1000 when, after hearing both sides of the story, the Alþing voted to adopt Christianity as the Icelandic religion.

In 1262 a the number of people that had the status of goði had been greatly reduced, and therefore each goði was far more powerful. Then, in order to claim all control for himself, one of the goðis made a pact with the Norwegian king, that gave the king limited influence in exchange for his support. This was the end of Iceland's early independence and the beginning of nearly seven centuries of foreign control.

Iceland was to begin with under the Norwegian king, then later on, because of wars and coalitions in Scandinavia, in 1381 it fell under the Danish king. Under the rule of the Danish monarchy, Iceland suffered greatly. In the year 1550 Iceland was forced to disown Catholicism, which had been its Christian faith, and adopt Lutheranism, which, being a state religion, gave the Danish monarch greater power.

Due to poor harvests, epidemics, the oppression of the Danish government, which enforced, among other things, a trade monopoly with Iceland, and volcanic eruptions, the greatest of which in the recorded history of mankind occurred in Iceland in 1783, the population of Iceland in the year 1800 was only 38000, half of what it was in the year 1100.

In the 19th century a long battle for independence was fought with the Danish government, mostly in the political arena of Copenhagen. Iceland's most prominent champion was Jón Sigurðsson, a national hero, who was both a statesman and a scholar. Although Iceland kept gaining ground from the late 19th century, it was not until the 17th of June, 1944, that Iceland regained its full independence and established the current Republic of Iceland.

Iceland is a modern welfare state, in the spirit of its Scandinavian neighbors and cousins. Everybody reaps the benefits of free health care, free education (from the preschool to the University level), guaranteed pension and high standards of living, while paying the price of a near 50% income tax.

Illiteracy, poverty, prostitution and violent crime are virtually unknown in modern Iceland, and the nation is one of the wealthiest in the world, with regard to its size. The main industries are fishing, tourism, geo-thermal industries (e.g. Bláa lónið, in English known as the Blue Lagoon) and increasingly high-tech industries.



Traveling to Iceland?  There is only one way to fly there, Icelandair.  They have the distinction of having the newest fleet of planes of any airline in the world.  The average age of any plane in their fleet is 1.3 years!  They also have a really neat feature in that if you are traveling to Europe on Icelandair you can stop in Iceland for up to four days on your way to or coming back from popular European cities without any additional cost in airfare.  This is a great way to augment your European vacation by visiting the raw beauty of Iceland, Europe's most exotic destination.  There is nowhere else that you can see active volcanoes and glaciers on the same island.

Here is a link to a farm in Iceland that raises Icelandic Horses as well as Icelandic sheep.  http://www.icelandichorse.is/

I am an active collector of Iceland and other Scandinavian Stamps.  If you collect stamps please email me .