The humble history of Iceland


When Iceland is mentioned, the first thing that crops up in people’s mind is that it must be covered in ice, as suggested by the name. But, in fact, it is not so. Iceland has beautiful lush green meadows, nice people and a rich history. The country has many volcanoes, out of which very few are active. Iceland is also the home of the famous songwriter-singer, Bjork. Even though it is a small speck of land in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is quite exciting and amazing than people think it to be.
So, how did Iceland come into existence and change into a well-known tourist destination that it is today? Well, let’s have a look at its history.

The beginning

Iceland is situated at the intersection of two tectonic plates – the American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate. Around for 16-18 million years ago, these two tectonic plates started to drift apart, causing a critical volcanic eruption and thus, as a result, Iceland came into existence. In the present age too, Iceland sits on the ‘Iceland Plume’, a volcanic hotspot that causes a mass of earthquakes every year and volcanic eruptions also occurs every other year or so.

The Settlement of the colonies and government

During 871 AD, a Norwegian man name Ingólfur Arnarsson committed the act of murder and was thus banished from his homeland. He came to Iceland with two ships and engaged the Nordic people for grabbing this land and won. This resulted in a Norse-Celtic mix of genes in Iceland and most of the present Icelander can trace back their lineage to this time.
Due to the fact, that in the past, Iceland was a country of rebel and escapees, it required a system of government. This won’t lead to the creation of the Althing, which is the long-standing democratic parliament that, to this day, exists. The region was divided into small areas that had a chieftain, a religious leader and a politician. During the summer, the chieftains of every village would meet and discuss the laws and settle disputes, if any. Every year, the politician would recite one-third of the laws from memory and later, these laws were written down in a book called the Grágás. This book still exists today and contains all the practical laws of Iceland. The parliament is also uninterruptedly functioning to this day, except during the years from 1800 to 1845, when it did not function.

Rise of Christianity in the country

Up to the 10th century, Iceland’s religion was Ásatrú and worshipped Norse gods like Óðinn, þór and others. When Christianity came into existence and the Christian preachers started teaching their faith, it leads to a confrontation between the two religions. To bring matters to a peace, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði Þorkelsson was asked to contemplate. For one whole day and one whole night, he lay under a bear skin and when he came out, he ordered the conclusion that Iceland should be a country of Christian religion. It was following the religion of Roman Catholicism until the year 1540, when the region was converted to Lutheran Protestantism. This was met with huge violence and was only settled with the beheading of the Catholic bishop, Jón Arason, in the year 1550.

Submission to Norway, the rise and fall of Monopoly and Independence

Up to the year 1262, the chieftains of the Icelandic regions where growing powerful constantly and the whole country was covered in civil wars between the 7 powerful clans. To end the war, the chieftains submitted to the king of Norway, Haakon IV. During the 14th century, Iceland was again split up when the Kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and Denmark became one kingdom and it fell under the Danish rule.
During the 1500s, German and English fisherman and traders set up trading posts in Iceland and begin trading with Icelanders. Suddenly, a cross with the prosperity his countrymen was enjoying, Christian IV, the King of Denmark, granted exclusive rights of trading to certain merchants. This was a harmful decision as Danish people could pay as little as they want for Icelandic goods and charge exorbitant prices for their goods. It swallowed Iceland in total poverty by this system of monopoly was done away with in the year 1786.
The rise of Iceland from the dark ages was made possible due to Sheriff Skúli Magnússon. He picked Reykjavik to be the center of Icelandic civilization and modernization. He built several wool workshop buildings around the region and thus, Iceland began to rise out of the dark ages that it was experiencing.
The rise of nationalism, the independence and the enlightenment of Iceland can be attributed to Jón Sigurðsson. The independence movement, led by him, resulted in the Icelandic parliament being an advisory body to the king in 1845. Then, the movement came home to Iceland in the year 1905. In 1918, Iceland gained its sovereignty and gradually, on June 17th, 1944, Iceland gained its independence as Denmark was being invaded by Germany. Incidentally, June 17th is also the date of birth of Jón Sigurðsson.

Role during the World Wars and entry into the 20th century

In spite of the progress made in the field of industrialization and urbanization, Iceland was still a bit far behind. Innovations such as electricity, the first trawler and the first car was introduced to Iceland in years from 1900-1910. During the world wars, as Iceland was doing the job of selling products to the allies and returning the American Occupying forces, Iceland was granted an economic boon and the various cultural influences like the television and jazz came to the country. This helped Iceland to come to terms with the 20th century and still, to this day, the people of Iceland are still fascinated by new and foreign technology, culture and materials.

The Crash of the Icelandic economy in 2008 and recovery since then

The economy of Iceland was always suffering a high inflation from the 1950s. Then, during the 1990s, the commercial banking system of the country was privatized and various laws were passed which eased the opportunity of trading between several countries and Iceland. This led to an incredible growth in the financial aspect of the country, but it was halted in October, 2008. The Icelandic currency, Króna, depreciated by 50% of its value, overnight. This led to people losing their livelihood, their job and their homes.
So, this is the history of Iceland, from its very beginning to the present times. The quickness of the economic recovery of the country has garnered the attention of the international community. The industries of the country are still operational and the level of unemployment in the country is in control. However, the wages and salaries of the countrymen are still quite low and thus, it is a good time for foreigners to visit the country.