Iceland History

By | January 9, 2023

Iceland – national flag

Iceland National Flag

The flag has been official since 1915. Iceland’s traditional colors are blue and white; to this was added the color red, and together the three colors show a historical connection to Norway. The flag of the flag must symbolize the connection to Scandinavia. From the 1500’s. until 1944, Iceland was represented in the Danish national coat of arms; until 1903 with a crowned stockfish, a dried cod without a head, and 1903-44 with a falcon.

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Iceland – history

According to medieval sources, Iceland was first inhabited by northerners, who came mainly from western Norway. The settlers came directly from Norway or via the British Isles. Iceland was then uninhabited except for a small number of Irish hermits, the so-called papars, who were presumably driven to Iceland in their search for solitude.

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The first settlement, the Free State and Norwegian rule (874-1380)

According to Íslendingabók (see Ari Þorgilsson enn fróði), written in the early 1100’s, the Nordic settlement began around 870, and traditionally 874 is considered the year of arrival of the first permanent settlers. The settlement must be seen as an integral part of the Viking expansion to the west, which went as far as Greenland and briefly came to the North American coast. The early Icelandic sources claim that the leading settlers were for the most part Norwegian chiefs who fled from the tyranny of Harald 1. Hårfager. While this may have motivated some of the settlers, population pressures and the search for new economic opportunities are more plausible reasons for emigrating to Iceland.

Historical overview
874 The first permanent settlements of northerners.
930 Establishment of the joint assembly (Altinget). The good times begin.
1000 Christianity is introduced.
1200-t. Literary heyday, the Icelandic sagas.
1262-64 The good times are coming to an end. Treaty with Håkon 4. Håkonsson; Iceland becomes a province in the Norwegian monarchy.
1380 Together with Norway, Iceland becomes part of the union with Denmark.
1400-t. Plague epidemics and ecological crisis. The population is falling drastically.
1550’s The Danish state power increases its influence; the church becomes evangelical-Lutheran. The king confiscates the church property.
1602 Denmark introduces a monopoly on trade with Iceland.
1700-t. Smallpox epidemics, volcanic eruptions and harsh climates are causing severe population declines.
1800 The Althingi is finally closed down as a result of the introduction of Danish case law.
1830’s Beginning demands for national sovereignty and independence.
1843/45 Iceland gets its own advisory assembly of estates (Altinget).
1851 The Althingi rejects a proposal from the Danish state for an Icelandic constitution.
1874 Iceland is forced into a constitution; increased autonomy, but the executive power is still in Danish hands.
1904 Iceland gets home rule scheme based in Reykjavík. The law of 1874 is still in force.
1918 Federal Law; Iceland will be a free and sovereign state in personnel union with Denmark.
1940-45 WW2; Iceland is occupied by British soldiers. A defense agreement is reached with the United States on defense of the island during the war.
1944 Iceland declares itself a republic.
1946 Member of the United Nations.
1949 Member of NATO.
1958-76 Iceland in conflict with Britain over fishing borders.
1980 Vigdís Finnbogadóttir is elected the first woman in the world to be president.
2006 The US NATO forces are leaving the base in Keflavík

According to a2zgov, from their homeland, the settlers included economic and social customs as well as legislation and case law, and around 930 there was agreement to establish a joint assembly for the whole country, the Althing. At the parliament, which met for two weeks every summer at Þingvellir (Tingsletterne) in southwest Iceland, laws were passed and legal proceedings were held.

With the establishment of the Althing, the Icelanders developed a judicial system that encompassed the entire country, but they did not create any central mechanisms for law enforcement. The most powerful people in the country were the 36, later up to 39 estates (chiefs), who played a central role in the parliament.

The absence of a centralized state structure led to the gradual dissolution of the Icelandic political system. In the first centuries after the settlement, wealth and power were relatively evenly distributed in the country, but in the last decades of the free state or good times (930-1262) a few families took control of all of Iceland (the Sturlung era), which led to great competition for power. In the hope that peace would be restored, the Icelanders therefore accepted the authority of the Norwegian king, and a treaty with Håkon 4. Håkonsson was approved by the Althing 1262-64. With the treaty, which was later called “the old treaty”, Iceland became a taxable province in the Norwegian monarchy.

During the fierce power struggles, the Icelandic cultural creative power culminated during the 1200’s. Most family sagas were written in this century in addition to many other literary and historical works. A necessary precondition for the literary production was Iceland’s transition to Christianity approximately 1000. Due to the fact that it was the Catholic Church that introduced knowledge in reading and writing to Iceland, some of the monasteries became learned centers in late medieval Iceland. Despite this, however, the bulk of Icelandic literature was of a secular nature.

Danish rule and state integration (1380-approx. 1850)

The cultural production that characterized the turbulent 1200’s ebbed into the 1300’s and 1400’s, and therefore there are relatively few sources for the Icelandic late Middle Ages. It is known, however, that in many respects it was a difficult time. Two plague epidemics almost devastated Iceland in the 15th century, and the ecological system gradually collapsed due to colder climates and overexploitation of vegetation.

The political development of the late Middle Ages followed the general trends in the Nordic countries. When Norway entered into a union with Denmark in 1380, Iceland actually became part of the Danish monarchy. Under pressure from the Danish authorities, Iceland converted to Lutheranism in the mid-1500’s, which strengthened the Danish king’s authority in Iceland as well as in other parts of the monarchy. From then on, the church was a state institution under the direct control of the Danish king and his officials. Furthermore, the confiscation of the church’s estates made the king the largest landowner in Iceland.

A growing state integration characterized the political and social development in the time from the late 1500’s. in the late 1700’s. From 1602, a strict monopoly trade was introduced, which meant that only Danish merchants, to whom the king had granted trade licenses, had the right to trade in Iceland. In the late Middle Ages, English and German merchants had fought for the Icelandic market, but after the introduction of monopoly trade, legal trade was in Danish hands, and Iceland was thus linked economically and politically to Denmark.

With the recognition of Frederik III’s dictatorship in Iceland in 1662, the country became further dependent on the Danish state. The introduction of autocracy did not, however, lead to an abrupt transformation of Iceland’s political structure and judicial system, but in the long run significant changes took place in the Icelandic administration and in the relationship between the center and the periphery of the kingdom. In the late 1600’s. the Danish authorities reorganized the Icelandic administration, with the result that the Althing simply became a mid-term tribunal located between the local courts led by the governors and the Supreme Court in Copenhagen. This led to the closure of the parliament in 1800 and the establishment of the more efficient and professional Landsoverret in Reykjavík.

1700-t. is one of the most difficult periods in Iceland’s recent history. Between 1/4 and 1/3 of the population died during an epidemic of smallpox 1707-09, and 1783-86 were killed approximately 1/4 of the population as a result of starvation after a violent volcanic eruptions and a second epidemic of smallpox.

At the end of the century, the first trends showed a change in the Icelandic administration. Inspired by the European Enlightenment, Icelandic intellectuals and officials studied the country’s constitution and wrote incentives that they believed would help the broad sections of the population to progress. However, these men did not demand Icelandic independence because they considered the Danish king the most likely source of social and intellectual improvement in the country, but their efforts inspired a new group of intellectuals in the following century, who sought a re-creation of Icelandic society.

The struggle for independence (approximately 1850-1904)

Romantic nationalism thrilled the generation of Icelandic students who came to Copenhagen in the late 1820’s and early 1830’s. Just as the Danish state became a nation state, the Icelandic nationalists called for what they considered to be the natural right of the Icelandic state: a form of sovereignty and independence in relation to Denmark.

From the mid-1800’s. and until the early 1900-t. the demand for self-government and later for independence was the starting point for all political activity in Iceland. The first response to these demands came in 1843, when King Christian VIII gave the country its own estate assembly, called the Althing after the old assembly. In the summer of 1845, the elected Alting met for the first time in Reykjavík, and for the next decades, the parliament was held for a few weeks every two years with representatives from all over Iceland. Initially, it had no legislative power, but was advisory to the king in Icelandic financial and legal matters. Nevertheless, the Althing developed into the unifying symbol of the growing nationalist sentiments in Iceland, and it came to serve as a platform for the nascent national movement.

The philologist and archivist Jón Sigurðsson was the undisputed leader in the first phase of the movement. He began his political career in the early 1840’s, and until his death in 1879 he set the course for Icelandic nationalism. It was under his leadership that a National Assembly meeting in Reykjavík in the summer of 1851 rejected an offer from the Danish government for an Icelandic constitution. The reason was that the proposal in all practical respects incorporated Iceland into the Danish nation state.

Denmark unilaterally resolved this discussion in 1871-74 without consulting the Althing, as all negotiations between the Althing and the Danish government had been in vain. The Danish Folketing approved the law on Iceland’s constitutional position, and Christian 9.signed it in 1871. With reference to the law of 1871, the Danish government gave Iceland its own constitution in 1874. The constitution, which still forms the basis of the Icelandic constitution, gave the Althing a limited legislative power and the right to manage its own budget, while that it secured the fundamental democratic rights in Iceland. However, the new constitution did not meet all the demands of the Icelandic nationalists because the executive power remained with the Danish government, where the Minister of Justice was also the Minister of Iceland. When the ministry was based in Copenhagen, the real government remained in the hands of the governor, the highest royal authority in Iceland.

Icelandic Home Rule System, the Personnel Union and the Time During World War II (1904-44)

The system change in 1901 drastically changed the Icelandic Icelandic policy, with the result that Iceland got a home rule scheme in 1904 and the ministry in Copenhagen was moved to Reykjavík. The new ministry consisted of three offices under one and the same minister, and the office of governor was abolished. However, it did not satisfy the nationalist dreams in Iceland because the law of 1871 was still in force and the country was still considered an integral part of the Danish kingdom. During the period of home rule 1904-18, Icelandic politics was characterized by an intense nationalism. Tensions culminated in 1908, when Icelandic voters rejected an agreement between the Althing and the Folketing regarding the country’s status in the Danish state. However, this problem was solved towards the end of World War I by a committee consisting of Icelandic and Danish parliamentarians. In the autumn of 1918, the Federal Act was passed in both the Danish and Icelandic parliaments, and it formally entered into force on 1 December of the same year. The law made Iceland a free and sovereign state in personnel union with Denmark. The Danish authorities had to take care of certain matters, such as the foreign service and the coast guard, until the Icelanders chose to take them over.

Icelandic society changed radically in the 1900’s. The process of change began in the second half of the 1800’s, when the population pressure in the countryside led to a gradual collapse of Iceland’s traditional social system. Characteristic of this development was the rapid demographic change in Iceland, especially after 1880, when an increasing number moved to towns and villages along the coast. At the same time, many Icelanders emigrated to North America and established Icelandic settler communities on Lake Winnepeg in Canada, in North Dakota, and elsewhere in the United States. In the first decades of the 1900’s, the Icelandic fishing fleet was rapidly motorized, while motorboats and trawlers replaced open rowboats and deck boats. As fishing became more efficient, agriculture lost its economic supremacy in Iceland.

Increased economic prosperity, growing urbanization and the end of the nationalist struggle required a radical reorganization of the Icelandic political system based on the new social reality. In addition, both women and workers gained full civil rights in the early decades of the 1900’s.

World War II had a major impact on Iceland, although the country did not participate directly in the war. With its location in the middle of the Atlantic, Iceland gained great importance for the preservation of communication between the United States and Europe during the war years. To secure the sea route for its American allies while preventing a German invasion of Iceland, the British Army occupied the island in May 1940. The following year, the Icelandic government signed a defense agreement with the United States, assuming US forces responsibility for its defense during the war. Although British forces remained in Iceland until the end of the war, this agreement freed many of the British troops in Iceland to fight on the European continent and in North Africa. Finally, the Icelandic-American agreement meant that Iceland was finally drawn into the American sphere of influence.

Establishment of the Republic and the time after World War II

Prime Ministers
1944-47 Ólafur Thors
1947-49 Stefán Jóhann Stefánsson
1949-50 Ólafur Thors
1950-53 Steingrímur Steinþórsson
1953-56 Ólafur Thors
1956-58 Hermann Jónasson
1958-59 Emil Jónsson
1959-63 Ólafur Thors
1963-70 Bjarni Benediktsson
1970-71 Jóhann Hafstein
1971-74 Ólafur Jóhannesson
1974-78 Geir Hallgrímsson
1978-79 Ólafur Jóhannesson
1979-80 Benedikt Gröndal
1980-83 Gunnar Thoroddsen
1983-87 Steingrímur Hermannsson
1987-88 Þorsteinn Pálsson
1988-91 Steingrímur Hermannsson
1991-2004 Davið Oddsson
2004-06 Halldór Ásgrímsson
2006-09 Geir Haarde
2009-13 Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
2013-16 Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson
2016- Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson

The Republic of Iceland was formally established on 17 June 1944 at Þingvellir, and the establishment was accepted almost unanimously by a referendum in Iceland, although some regretted that it happened at a time when Denmark was occupied by Germany. Iceland legitimized the severed relations with Denmark by the Federal Act of 1918 allowing both parties to demand a revision of the law after 1940; the war, however, made it impossible to discuss this revision with the Danish Parliament as required by law. Now Iceland could become a full member of the international community, and that fact was later confirmed with the country’s membership of the UN and NATO. During the Cold War, Iceland strongly sided with the United States and its Western allies, but the Icelanders have always been reluctant to relinquish that sovereignty. which they have won through long struggle. Therefore, the presence of American troops in Iceland from 1951 for decades was the most debated political issue in the country. A possible membership of the European Union also provoked strong opposition in Iceland, although the country has for years had full co-operation with its neighbors in the Nordic Council and with EFTA and participated in the 1992 European Economic Cooperation Agreement.

Despite working closely with Western Europe, Iceland’s most serious international confrontations since World War II have been with its NATO ally, Britain. The conflicts with the British, the so-called Cod Wars, were due to expansions of Iceland’s fishing borders, but despite violent protests, the British government had to accept the Icelandic demands in 1976.

After significant economic problems in the early 1990’s, as a result of cuts in cod quotas, Iceland experienced annual growth rates of between four and five percent since 1996.

Iceland – history (after 2000)

The economic growth is due the expansion of the aluminum industry, which is possible due to Iceland’s large hydropower resources. In 2007, a new large power plant will be commissioned in Kárahnjúkar, and until 2020, several hydropower plants for the supply of energy-intensive industries are planned in the desolate and pristine Icelandic highlands. However, there are serious concerns about the environmental consequences, because in many cases the large water reservoirs are located in ecologically vulnerable areas.

1944-52 Sveinn Björnsson
1952-68 Ásgeir Ásgeirsson
1968-80 Kristján Eldjárn
1980-96 Vigdís Finnbogadóttir
1996- Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

Europe is of increasing importance as a market for Icelandic products, and the Agreement on the European Economic Area, which entered into force in 1994, has ensured a close relationship with the EU market. Also in terms of defense policy, the Icelanders have turned their attention to Europe after the USA in 2006 stopped its activities at the base in Keflavík.

After a period of economic growth and extensive construction activity, Iceland was hit hard by the international financial crisis in 2008. The Icelandic krone weakened by more than 50%, which resulted in a banking crisis in which the country’s three largest banks crashed. Iceland had to ask for international loan assistance, and growth was significantly slowed down.

A narrow majority in Iceland’s parliament The Althingi decided on 16 July 2009 that Iceland should submit a formal application for EU accession negotiations. The application was submitted to the EU Swedish Presidency the following day. If the EU and Iceland agree on the conditions for EU membership, the Icelanders will have to decide the issue in a referendum.

After the economic collapse in 2008, the Social Democrats and the Left-Greens took power. Strict austerity reforms were introduced and unemployment began to fall.

In the 2013 election, the government lost power, the victors instead became the two bourgeois parties, the Independence Party and the Progress Party. These two parties subsequently formed a government with the leader of the Progress Party, Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson (b. 12.3.1975), as Prime Minister and the leader of the Independence Party, Bjarni Benediktsson (b. 26.1.1970), as Minister of Finance. The government quickly announced that it would take a break from EU membership negotiations. Gunnlaugsson resigned as Prime Minister in 2016.