The history of Iceland
The first people known to have inhabitated Iceland were Irish monks or hermits who came in the eighth century, but left with the arrival. In 930, the Icelandic settlers founded one of the world´s first republican governments; the Old Commonwealth Age, described in the classic Icelandic Sagas, lasted until 1262, when Iceland lost its independence, and in 1944 the present republic was founded. The country is governed by the Althing (parliament), whose 63 members are elected every four years. In the year 1000, Icelandic-born Leifur Eiriksson (Leif Eriksson, sometimes called "Leif the Lucky") became the first European to set foot in North America. On another Viking expedition a couple of years later, Icelander Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir had a son, Snorri, who became the first child of European descent to be born in America. The Old Commonwealth Age, described in the classic Icelandic Sagas, lasted until 1262, when Iceland lost its independence.
330 BC: Ultima Thule
330 BC An explorer named Pytheas sailed north from Marseilles (in modern France) to discover how far the world would reach in that direction. He navigated the British Isles and the northern seas and wrote about an island that he called Thule or Ultima Thule in his now lost work, On the Ocean. This island was six days north of Britain and one day from "the end of the world". The island he found is thought to have been Iceland
874-930 AD: Irish Monks and the Settlement of Iceland
The first geographical document of the northern seas was written by an Irish monk named Dicuil, early in the 9th century. The geography book was called 'De mensura orbis terrae' (Concerning the Measurement of the World) and in it he related his interviews with Irish priests, the 'Papas', who claimed to have sailed north to Thule and lived there from February to August each year. The Papas also confirmed Pytheas' story that after a day's journey north of the island they had come to 'frozen sea'. Dicuil was therefore the first man to document Thule as the uninhabited island that had already been known to Irish monks in the latter part of the 8th century.
930 AD: Establishment of the Althing
The Althing, Iceland's present-day parliament, is the world's oldest existing national assembly. Founded at Thingvellir ('Parliament Plains') in 930 AD, the country's democratic system of government was completely unique in its day. In the year 930, at the end of the settlement of Iceland, a constitutional law code was written and the Althing parliament established. The judicial power of the Althing was distributed among four regional courts, together with a supreme court which convened annually at the national assembly at Thingvellir.
982 AD: Discovery of Greenland
Erik the Red (Eiríkur Rauði) discovers Greenland in approximately 982 AD. He left Iceland with 25 ships loaded with prospective settlers, of which only 14 made it to Greenland. Around 984 AD they established the Eastern and Western settlements in deep fjords near the southwestern tip, where they thrived for the next few centuries, and then disappeared completely after more than 450 years of habitation. When they were at their most numerous, the farms in the Norse colonies reached 300 in number. These had some 5000 inhabitants who, among other things, raised cattle, harvested the earth and hunted seals.
1000: Adoption of Christianity
Christianity was peacefully adopted at Thingvellir by the Icelanders in the year 1000 AD. The Althing assembled for two weeks every summer and attracted a large proportion of the population. The first diocese 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.
1000: Leif the Lucky discovers Vinland in North America
In 985 AD Erik the Red left Iceland and settled in Greenland, founding there the first permanent colony. He returned to Iceland in 986 AD and gave accounts of a country he called Grænland ('Greenland'), hoping that the name would make it an attractive option for settlers. It was from this Greenlandic colony that Erik's son Leifur Heppni ('Leif the Lucky') sailed in the year 1000 to discover North America, which he named Vínland the Good. One of the more reliable Icelandic Sagas, however, suggests that Leif Eriksson heard of Vínland from another Icelander, Bjarni Herjólfsson, who had sighted it some 14 years prior. Whatever the truth is, these voyages of exploration became the source material for one of Europe's greatest periods of literature. In 1960 archaeological evidence of Norse settlement in North America was found at L'Anse aux Meadows on the island of Newfoundland, though it is not known for how long the settlement survived.
13th Century: The Golden Age of the Sagas.
1262: Iceland comes under Norway
The first naval battle in Iceland took place in 1244 at Húnaflói, and has subsequently been called 'The Bay Battle'. This particular battle occurred near the end of a series of battles and bloody clashes, which raged more or less continuously between 1208 and 1258. By the early 13th century, the enlightened period of peace that had lasted 200 years had come to an end. The country then entered the infamous Sturlung Age, a turbulent era of political treachery and violence, dominated by Sturla Thurdason and his sons. The opportunistic Norwegian King Hákon Hákonarson promptly stepped in and Iceland became a Norwegian province.
1380: Iceland and Norway come under Denmark
The volcano Mt. Hekla erupted in 1300, 1341 and 1389, causing widespread death and destruction. Recurring epidemics also plagued the country, and the Black Death that struck Norway in 1349 effectively cut off trade and supplies.
1800's: Mass Emigration to America
In the last quarter of the 19th century the Icelandic nation was beset by problems of hardship, overpopulation, diseases and famine. Icelanders had been emigrating west to North America since 1855, but the first organised journey was undertaken in 1873 when a large group sailed from Akureyri. The greatest exodus to the west took place shortly after 1880 and the situation lasted until 1890, when living conditions began to improve.
1944: Proclamation of the Republic of Iceland
After the Germans occupied Denmark in April 1940, Iceland took over its own foreign policy and proclaimed its neutrality. The island's vulnerability and strategic value became a matter of concern for the Allies who took the step of occupying Iceland in May 1940. Following a plebiscite, Iceland formally became an independent republic on June 17, 1944 even though Denmark was still occupied by Nazi Germany.
1950's to the Present
In 1951 Iceland agreed that the US should take responsibility for Iceland's defence and the US established a military base at Keflavik which remained there until 2006. Meanwhile in the 'Cod Wars' of the 1970's British warships clashed with Icelandic coastguards when the UK refused to recognise Iceland's expanded territorial fishing rights.