The Settlement of Iceland

The story of the settlement in Iceland is remarkable not least for being the only example in the world where written contemporary sources exist of settlement in an uninhabited country.

Following information is sought from the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik which is a part of the Reykjavík City Museum:

“Iceland was settled during the Viking Age, which is dated from 793 to about 1050 AD. Before that time, Europeans sailed mostly along the coasts and on inland seas. Better ships and navigational techniques meant that the Vikings could venture out into the open sea in search of new lands. The settlers came to Iceland from Scandinavia, the British Isles and other countries but in the 10th century Norse culture was predominant. Evidence of this is provided by the language, material culture, genetic research and social structures that developed in Iceland“.

This conventional version of history, tells of Ingólfur Arnason, who came to Iceland in year 874 as the first permanent settler and that the Norse settlers of Iceland wanted to escape the tyranny of King Harald Fairhair of Norway. Today many scholars doubt that this was the main reason for people to settle in a new island. They might have been looking for a better life due to overpopulation or war at home or simply in search of adventures. And the slaves of course, who may have comprised a considerable proportion of the settlers, did not come of their own accord. 

It is noticeable that Icelanders do not use the words Viking and Viking Age when talking about the settlers and the Age of Settlement. A Viking society might have never been founded here nor were Viking expeditions entered into and that the agression perpetrated by northern men in mainland Europe and on the British Isles paint a limited picture of medieval Northern societies and an outright wrong one of the Icelandic one in its first centuries. On the other hand there can be no denying that Iceland is an offspring of the Viking era and that the expansionist drives of the western land discoveries of Greenland and America, which originated in Iceland, was of the same kind as the Viking expeditions themselves.

What the Icelanders refer to as the Golden Age of Icelandic society lasted from the settlement until the middle of the 13th century. With the spreading of the Bubonic plague, the downfall of the Norwegian court that had been the target group for Icelandic writers and the transfer of the state power to Denmark, the interest for Icelandic literature dwindled and thereupon the stimulus for writing. For seven hundred years the Icelandic nation lived in abject poverty and isolation and suffered from illnesses and natural disasters, but opinions vary as to what effect this had on Icelandic culture and will not be discussed here.

 

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Our aim is to present the medieval literature heritage of Iceland to other nations. It really speaks to other Germanc nations, as therein may be found the roots of germanic culture as well as being entertaining and dramatic literature.