Historical Overview

9th - 10th centuries

Norsemen from Norway and the northern British Isles,with their Celtic slaves, settle Iceland from about 870, chasing out the few Irish monks living there. Ingolf Arnarson makes his home in Reykjavik in 874. In 930, local chieftains form an Icelandic Commonwealth and establish the Althing (Parliament).

11th - 13th centuries

The 11th century, the era of Iceland’s sagas, culminates in the settlement of Greenland, the discovery of America (called Vinland), and the conversion of Iceland to Christianity. The Commonwealth ends in 1262 when Iceland comes under Norwegian domination. The population reaches about 80,000.

14th - 17th centuries

Economic conditions deteriorate in the mid-14th century. In 1380 Norway and Iceland come under Danish rule. In the early 15th century the Black Death wipes out nearly two-thirds of the population. In 1550 the Reformation reaches Iceland: the Danish king imposes Protestantism, has the Catholic bishop beheaded, and seizes church property. Danish rule becomes absolute. The enforcement of a trade monopoly reduces the population to penury.

18th - 19th centuries

Thousands die in epidemics and famine. In 1783 huge volcanic eruptions devastate the land with lava and ash, and widespread famine ensues. In 1786 the town of Reykjavik counts about 200 inhabitants. From the middle of the 19th century, Jon Sigurdsson begins the struggle for autonomy. The Althing, dissolved in 1800, is reinstituted in 1843. This is followed by free foreign trade and financial and constitutional autonomy.

20th century - present

Home rule under Denmark comes in 1904, and Iceland gains sovereignty in 1918. In 1940, British forces occupy the island, but are replaced a year later by Americans. On June 17, 1944, the Republic of Iceland is proclaimed at Thingvellir, and in 1946 Iceland joins the United Nations. Iceland grows prosperous through its fishing industry and extends its fishing limits four times between 1952 and 1975, sparking off “cod wars” with Britain. Marking the 1,100th anniversary of the Settlement in 1974, the Ring Road around the island is completed. By the beginning of the 21st century about two-thirds of the population live in Greater Reykjavik. The world economic crisis in 2009 badly affects Iceland. In February a minority government takes office, headed by social democrat Johanna Sigurdardottir.