Iceland Brief History

Iceland Brief History

Iceland, “The island of fairy tales, volcanoes, lava flows, horses, glaciers and waterfalls”. Near and far, Nordic exotic!

According to a2zgov, a visit to Iceland is a nature experience beyond the ordinary. There are exciting environments here. From roaring waterfalls to the soft swells of the sea. From fertile valleys to sterile lava fields. From absolute silence to the Arctic tern’s scream in a close attack. From Reykjavik’s smoky nightclubs to the clean air of the plains. Travel here and enjoy!

My almost 2,500-kilometer drive in Iceland gave me a good idea of ​​the country and created a longing to return. This was a great trip regarding nature experiences. The only thing I would have liked to have done was the trip to “Puffin Island” from Reykjavik, which is one big tourist trap. Avoid this “attraction” if you come here!

Iceland history in brief

Iceland history, older

It is believed that the few Irish monks who lived in Iceland during the ninth century left when the country began to be populated by Scandinavian pagans. It is known with certainty that the first northerner to settle permanently in Iceland was the Norwegian Ingolfur Arnarson, who in 874 built a farm near Reykjavik (Rökviken). It is believed, however, that the first northerner to come to “Snaeland” (Snölandet) was a Swedish Viking called Naddoddur in 850. He had probably gone off course during a voyage to the Faroe Islands.

With Ingolfur Arnarson’s settlement began the so-called “Landman period” which lasted between the years 874 – 930. During this time, coastal Norway was united into a kingdom under Harald Hårfagre. The unrest in connection with this led to many Norwegian nobles choosing to emigrate to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The peasant era ended in 930 when the Icelanders adopted a common law according to the Norwegian model. From this year on, a common thing, the Althing, was held every summer at Thingvellir. The Althingi had legislative and judicial rights, but the executive power lay with the local chiefs. In 1000, the Althingi decided that Christianity would be Iceland’s official religion. The old pagan faith, however, was allowed in parallel. The different beliefs created strong contradictions among the population and resulted in many bloody battles.

The Icelandic “Free State” lasted until 1262 when the Althingi decided that Iceland should join Norway after a civil war between the most powerful great men. Iceland, however, retained autonomy to a large extent during the union with Norway. During this period, the Church strengthened its power.

In 1380, Norway and thus also Iceland was linked to Denmark. When the so-called “Kalmar Union” was dissolved in 1536, both Iceland and Norway became the Danish kingdom of obedience.

Danish period

During the Danish Reformation period, they encountered strong opposition. It was not until they had the powerful bishop of Holar assassinated in 1550 that they succeeded in abolishing Catholicism. The church’s large land holdings were taken care of by the Danish crown. After the Reformation, Iceland became almost a Danish colony. The Danish king had a trade monopoly introduced in 1602, which banned all trade with Iceland except for certain merchants who were allowed to buy licenses from the Danish krone. This had devastating consequences for the Icelandic economy. The trade monopoly was eased in 1787. It was not until 1854 that trade was completely free again.

19th century

During the 19th century, a nationalist movement began to emerge among intellectual Icelanders living in Denmark. One of the leading figures in this was Jon Sigurdsson. During tough negotiations under his leadership, the Icelanders managed to get their own constitution and the Althingi regained legislative rights.

Iceland history, modern

1915 Universal suffrage was introduced for both men and women.

1916 The first political parties, the Social Democratic Party and the Progress Party, were formed.


Iceland was recognized as an independent state in personnel union with Denmark. The Danish king remained the Icelandic head of state, and Denmark was responsible for defending Iceland from outside attacks.


In May, Iceland was occupied for preventive purposes by Great Britain after Germany occupied Denmark


The United States took military control of Iceland, and the Americans established an air base at Keflavík for stopovers on the air bridge to the Allies in Europe.


After a referendum, the Althingi decided to terminate the union with Denmark before the end of World War II, and on June 17, Iceland was declared an independent republic. The first government became a coalition consisting of the Independence Party, the Social Democrats and the Socialist Party


The United States took home its troops, but the US Air Force was allowed to retain the landing rights at the airport they built at Keflavík. As this was disputed in Iceland, it led to the division of the then government


Iceland became a member of the Western Defense Alliance NATO, but maintained that no foreign troops would be allowed to deploy to the country in peacetime. NATO accession also faced strong domestic opposition


Iceland, which lacked its own defense forces, at the same time as tensions between East and West rose in connection with the Korean War, therefore entered into a defense contract with the United States within the framework of NATO cooperation. This meant that the Americans were given the right to use Keflavík as a military base even in peacetime and station troops there in exchange for taking responsibility for Iceland’s defense.

1952 – 1975

In order to protect fishing, which has become increasingly important for the Icelandic economy, Iceland has between these years gradually expanded its fishing limits from four to 200 nautical miles. This led to increased tensions to Great Britain and Norway and conflicts at sea arose


In order to improve its trade opportunities, Iceland joined the free trade organization EFTA

1959 – 1971

For a long time, domestic policy was marked by government crises and new elections. The years between 1959 and 1971 were an exception when the country was ruled by a coalition between the Independence Party and the Social Democrats. This was a period of strong economic growth due to rich fish catches. During this period, social reforms were implemented and living standards were raised


Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, became Iceland’s first female, and the world’s first elected female president


In the general election, the Independence Party was strong and was able to form a coalition with the Social Democrats again. The new prime minister was the Independence Party’s party leader Davíd Oddsson, who was mayor of Reykjavík


Iceland concluded an EEA agreement which gave them access to the EU internal market in 1994. The Social Democrats also demanded that Iceland join the EU, but the Independence Party insisted on its no to EU membership


After the election, the governing coalition split. Davíd Oddsson and the Independence Party formed a new government with the EU-critical Progress Party, whose leader Halldór Ásgrímsson became Minister of Foreign Affairs


President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir resigned. The former left-wing politician and professor Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was elected her successor


The bourgeois coalition retained its majority in the general election

Iceland Brief History