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Comprehensive History of Iceland - Thule

From Geologic Times and the Icelandic Explorers

An extended discussion on Iceland's history and prehistory until the present time. The land's geological, historical, social and political background for a better understanding of today's reality. The term ultima Thule in medieval geographies denotes any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world". Sometimes it is used as a proper noun (Ultima Thule) as the Latin name for Greenland when Thule is used for Iceland.

Iceland: What, When and Why?


About 100 million years ago

The volcanic plume under Iceland was formed.

Because that the Atlantic mid ocean ridge (and the ocean itself) was being formed.

Due to the fact that the ocean floor is constantly changing at the Atlantic ridge the distance between New York and Paris gets about 3 cm longer every year.

The hot spot under Iceland is the largest and most powerful hot spot on earth.


About 70 million years ago

Greenland was south east from Iceland or at least south east from where Iceland is now. Even Iceland is the best place in the world to see where two continental plates are formed and drifted to both sides ... Iceland in general is the only land on earth not moving with the drifting of the continents because it is the hot spot under Iceland that lift the country up from the sea. When the Icelandic hot spot will die ... Iceland will sink and disappear from the surface.


About 70 to 60 million years ago

Greenland was moving slowly to North West and drifting over the hot spot that is under Iceland. No volcanic activity because thick and old Greenland was over the hot spot.


About 55 million years ago

When Greenland did finally drift away from the hot spot under Iceland massive volcanic activity did take place. Endless basalt lava was formed for millions of years. This basalt lava we can now find at east Greenland, Faroe Islands, north Ireland and west Scotland even it was all formed where Iceland is now.


30-40 million years ago

There was land-bridge between Europe and America where Iceland is today. It was possible to hike from Scotland to Greenland over the basalt lavas formed with endlessly eruption over the hot spot and where Iceland is now. Lot of animals was using this land-bridge and saying hello to the place where Iceland is today.


20-30 million years ago

Because the drifting of the continents, because the new ocean floor formed constantly at the Atlantic mid ocean ridge the distance between Greenland and Scotland was getting longer and longer every year ... about 3 cm longer every year. And 3 cm per year is about 300 kilometers in 10 million years. So at some time-point the sea manage over the land-bridge between Scotland and Iceland and then later on the sea manage as well to cut the land-bridge between Iceland and Greenland. At that point an island was formed ... and Iceland is now the name of this island. We do not know when this happened but most likely some 20 or 30 million years ago. Lot of animals was then trapped on the island and needed to settle.


16.5 million years ago

The oldest rock in Iceland was formed in eruption inside the volcanic active rift zone at that time. This rock was found at the bottom of a borehole in the village Sudureyri by Sugandafjordur fjord in West-Fjords part of Iceland. Even the oldest rock in Iceland is about 16, 5 million years old there is very little part of Iceland 15 million years old and older. The western most part of Iceland (Bjargtangar) and the eastern most part (Gerpir) are about 13 million years old.


15 to 3 million years ago

Endless eruptions were building up Iceland in those last 12 million years of Tertier. It was Cuba weather in Iceland those 12 million years. Average temperature in July (the warmest month of the year) was about 23 degrees celsius, lava field, forest, no glaciers, no valleys, no table mountain, flat lava fields with central volcanoes, calderas and possibly some shield volcanoes.


3 million years ago

The Ice Age started ... so far the Ice Age has been divided into 30 cold periods and 30 warm periods. The cold periods last about 100.000 years and then glacier is covering whole Iceland and the average temperature in July is about 3 degrees Celsius. In between are the warmer periods of the Ice Age, like this one we live on, they last in average about 10.000 years and the average temperature is about 13 degrees Celsius. Last 2 Ice Ages on the north part of the globe did both last for about 26 million years so most likely there are 23 million years to go with this one ... before we get Cube weather in Iceland again. Our warm period of the Ice Age have now last longer than 10.000 years ... so most likely the next and 31st cold period of the Ice Age will start soon (on geological scale) and ice will then cover whole Iceland again. Volcanic activity under the ice of the colder periods of the Ice Age produces volcanic tuff or palagonite. The magma melt holes in the ice that is full of water and when the magma hit the water we have explosions and glassy sand and gravel fill up the whole. This material glues together in some 10 years and form brown rock that is named volcanic tuff, palagonite tuff or just palagonite. And because ice have been covering Iceland more or less last 3 million years there is lot of brown mountains made of volcanic tuff in the volcanic active rift zone in Iceland. When the eruptions manage up through the ice so the water did not manage to it the magma then lavas was running on top and over the glacier. Those mountains we call table mountain. The table mountain Herdubreid in north east Iceland was formed in eruption some 15-20.000 years ago. During the colder periods of the Ice Age all valleys and fjords in Iceland was made by the erosion of the glaciers.


13.000 to 10.000 years ago

Last cold period of the Ice Age did end some 10.000 years ago and our warm period of the Ice Age started. The ice started to melt some 15.000 years ago and some part of Iceland was without ice some 13.000 years ago. Then the oldest lava fields in Iceland were formed in eruption in the Reykjanes peninsula. Some 9000 years ago the big glacier was fully melted and Iceland was without glaciers until some 2500 years ago when glaciers started to form on highest mountains.


About 11.000 years ago

Huge eruption formed shield volcano in north east Iceland, not so far from where now are Þeistareykir (Teistareykir). The crater is named Stóra-Víti and the lava field Stóravítishraun. Ásbyrgi is in this lava field which is about 500 square kilometers and at least 30 cubic kilometers. This is the biggest lava field formed in our warm period of the Ice Age on earth.


About 9000 years ago

Skaldbreidur shield volcano up from Thingvellir National Park was formed in big eruption. The lava field is about 135 square kilometers and some 11 cubic kilometers. The lava at Thingvellir, Godahraun, was also formed in eruption some 9000 years ago.


About 8000 years ago

Huge eruption close to Veiðivötn area up in the highland of Iceland. The lava did flow to south west and to the sea. The villages, Selfoss, Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki are all built on this lava field that is named Þjórsárhraun (Tjorsa river lava field). The lava covers almost 1000 square kilometers and is about 26 cubic kilometers and the second biggest lava field formed on earth on our warm period of the Ice Age.


About 7800 years ago

The shield volcano Kjalhraun, south from Hveravellir at Kjolur was formed in big eruption. The lava covers about 180 square kilometers and is 10-12 cubic kilometers.


About 5000 years ago

Leitahraun shield volcano formed in huge eruption east of Reykjavik. The lava covers some 100 square kilometers and is between 6 and 7 cubic kilometers. Leitahraun did flow into the area where Reykjavik is now and can been seen inside the city. Many lava tube caves are in Leitahraun lava field, such as Raufarholshellir, Arnarker and Buri.


About 4000 years ago

Lambahraun shield volcano was formed south from where Langjokull glacier is now. The lava covers about 150 square kilometers and is some 8 cubic kilometers.


About 3800 years ago

Ketildyngja shield volcano, the most prominent feature of the Fremrinamur volcanic system, contains a steep-walled summit crater. Associated fissure systems, including the Sveinar fissure, extend 130 km to the northern coast of Iceland. Ketildyngja was the source of a massive 70-km-long lava flow about 3800 years ago that was responsible for the formation of Iceland's renowned Myvatn lake.


About 2400 years ago

Hverfjall (also known as Hverfell) is a tephra cone or tuff ring volcano in northern Iceland, to the east of Mývatn. The crater is approximately 1 km in diameter. Tephra has been carried from Hverfjall all over the Lake Myvatn area. A landslide apparently occurred in the south part of the crater during the eruption, which accounts for the disruption to the round shape of the mountain.


About 2300 years ago

Mývatn is a shallow lake situated in an area of active volcanism in the north of Iceland, not far from Krafla volcano. The lake and its surrounding wetlands have an exceptionally rich fauna of water birds, especially ducks. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and rootless vents (pseudo craters). The effluent river Laxá is known for its rich fishing for Brown Trout and Atlantic salmon. Lake Mývatn was created about 2300 years ago by a large fissure eruption pouring out basaltic lava. The lava flowed down the Laxárdalur Valley to the lowland plain of Aðaldalur where it entered the Arctic Ocean about 50 km away from Mývatn. The Crater Row that was formed on top of the eruptive fissure is called Þrengslaborgir (or Lúdentarborgir) and has often been used as a textbook example of this type of volcanic activity. There was a large lake in the area at the time, a precursor of the present-day Mývatn. When the glowing lava encountered the lake some of the water-logged lake sediment was trapped underneath it. The ensuing steam explosions tore the lava into small pieces which were thrown up into the air, together with some of the lake. By repeated explosions in a number of locations, groups of craters built up and now dominate the landscape on the shore of Lake Mývatn and also form some of the islands in the lake. This type of lava formation is known as pseudo craters or rootless vents. A group of such craters at Skútustaðir on the south shore of the lake is protected as a natural monument and is frequented by tourists.


330 BC

A land, Ultima Thule, in the farthest north was for the first time mentioned in geography by the Greek navigator Pytheas. The land should be six days and nights of saling away from Britania and one day and night from the end of the world.


About 2000 years ago

The last eruption in the central volcano Hengill, which is closest to Reykjavik of all central volcanoes in Iceland, was about 2000 years ago.


About 1750 years ago – around the year 260

The last eruption in Snæfellsjökull central volcano.


Before 800

Irish monks and hermits, in Icelandic named “papar” visit Iceland in search for peace and solitude.



Naddoður, one of the first settlers in the Faroe Islands, drifts off course on his way to Norway and reaches the eastern shores of Iceland. As he sailed away from the island snow fell on narrow mountains and he gave this unknown country the name Snæland (Snowland).



On his voyage to the Hebrides, the islands off the west coast of Scotland, the Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarsson gets in a storm which pushes his ship far to the north until he reaches the eastern coast of Iceland. He circumnavigates the country, becoming the first known person to do so establishing that it was an island. He settled for the winter in the bay Skjálfandi and gave his place of settlement the name Húsavík. He turned back to his home and praised the land which he named Garðarshólmi after his own name.

In the following years Vikings start visiting Iceland and exploring the possibilities of settling there. Hrafna-Flóki brought with him three ravens to find the island. After sailing for a while from the Faroes, Floki set one of the ravens free. The first raven flew back to the Faroes, later the second flew up in the air and back on board, but the third flew northwest and did not return. Floki now knew they were close to land, and so they followed the third raven. Hrafna-Flóki attempted to settle but failed as he did not make hay during his first summer with the consequences that all of his livestock starved to death in the winter. His vision of seeing one of the fjords full of icebergs made him turn back to Norway and give the island the name Iceland.



Ingólfur Arnarson settles in Iceland with his family and sparks a further wave of Norse settlement in Iceland. After four years of exploring the country he settles in Reykjavík where his high seat pillars had come ashore which he had thrown overboard when land was in sight and promised to settle where the gods decided to bring them to coast. Two of his slaves then searched the coasts for three years before finding the pillars in the small bay which eventually became Reykjavík.



People immigrate to Iceland, both from the British Isles and the Nordic countries.



The settlement of Iceland is largely complete and Alþingi, a parliamentary assembly, is founded at Þingvellir.The Althingi is the oldest parliamentary institution in the world still extant. Its establishment, as an outdoor assembly held on the plains of Þingvellir from about the year 930 AD, laid the foundation for an independent national existence in Iceland. To begin with, the Althing was a general assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth, where the country’s chieftains (goðar) met to decide on legislation and dispense justice. All free men could attend the assemblies, which were usually the main social event of the year and drew large crowds of farmers and their families, parties involved in legal disputes, traders, craftsmen, storytellers and travelers. Those attending the assembly dwelt in temporary camps (búðir) during the session. The center of the gathering was the Lögberg, or Law Rock, a rocky outcrop on which the Law speaker (lögsögumaður) took his seat as the presiding official of the assembly.


AD 930

Hallmundarhraun lava field was formed in giant eruption close to the Langjokull glacier around the year 930. Therefore it is likely that the first settlers of Borgarfjordur area, the Vikings watched the molten lava flow where those giant lava caves were formed. The Hallmundarhraun lava field covers over 242 sq. kilometers and is about 7 cubic kilometers. The lava field consists of several large lava tubes, and some of them are among Iceland’s longest lava tubes, like Surtshellir, Stefanshellir and Vidgelmir. Hallmundarhraun is the third biggest lava in Iceland formed in historical times.


AD 934

Eldgjá is a volcanic canyon in Iceland. Eldgjá and the Katla volcano are part of the same volcanic system in the south of the country. Eldgjá means "fire canyon" in Icelandic. Eldgjá is the largest volcanic canyon in the world, 270 m deep and 600 m wide at its greatest. The eruption in 934-938 was the largest flood basalt in historic time. An estimated 19 km³ of lava poured out of the earth.



Organized missionary work begins in Iceland. Paganism was widely accepted from the beginning of the settlement period, though some settlers were Christian. Icelanders worshipped the old Gods with sacrifices. At the same time, the practice of Christianity was spreading in neighboring countries.

Norse mythology developed from the myths and legends of northern peoples who spoke Germanic languages. The Norse version of Germanic mythology remained vigorous through the Viking era, from about 750 to 1050. Modern knowledge of Norse mythology stems from medieval texts, most of them written in Iceland.



Erik the Red, nickname of Erik Thorvaldsson, leads the emigration to settle Greenland. He was the founder of the first European settlement on Greenland and the father of Leif-Eriksson-the-Lucky", one of the first Europeans to reach North-America.

The nickname refers most likely to his hair color and as a child, Erik left his native Norway for western Iceland with his father, Thorvald, who had been exiled for manslaughter. When Erik was similarly exiled from Iceland about 980, he decided to explore the land to the west, Greenland. That land, visible in distorted form because of the effect of looming from the mountaintops of western Iceland, lay across 175 miles (280 km) of ocean; it had been skirted by the Norwegian Gunnbjorn Ulfsson earlier in the 10th century. Erik sailed in 982 with his household and livestock but was unable to approach the coast because of drift ice. The party rounded the southern tip of Greenland and settled in an area near present Julianehåb (Qaqortoq). During the three-year period of Erik's exile, the settlers encountered no other people, though they explored to the northwest, discovering Disko Island (now Qeqertarsuaq).

Erik returned to Iceland in 986. His descriptions of the territory, which he named Greenland, convinced many people anxious for more habitable land to join a return expedition.Erik deliberately gave the land a more appealing name than "Iceland" in order to lure potential settlers explaining that people would be attracted to go there if it had a favorable name. He knew that the success of any settlement in Greenland would need the support of as many people as possible.  Of the 25 ships that sailed from Iceland, only 14 ships and 350 colonists are believed to have landed safely at an area later known as Eystribyggd (Eastern Colony). By the year 1000 there were estimated 1,000 Scandinavian settlers in the colony, but an epidemic in 1002 considerably reduced the population. Erik's colony, commemorated in the Icelandic Eirik's saga, gradually died out; but other Norse settlements in Greenland continued and maintained contact with Norway until the 15th century, when communications stopped for more than 100 years.



Leifur 'the Lucky' Eiríksson (Leif Ericson), son of Erik the Red, explores America's coast at Canada and discovers Newfoundland (Vinland). Born around 960 A.D. and followed his father to Greenland with the first settlers there. After having heard of the accounts of the chance sighting of land to the west of Greenland by the Icelandic trader Bjarni Herjólfsson in 986, Leifur launched in the year 1000 an expedition to explore these coasts. He reached land at a place he named Helluland ("Flat stone Land" namely Baffin Island), then sailed down the coast to Markland ("Wood Land" the south

of Labrador). Later he wintered in a place which he named Vínland ("Wine land," Newfoundland or more likely the southern regions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence) after grapes he found growing there.

Leifur's brother, Þorvaldur Eiríksson, made the next voyage to the new-found territory. During a conflict with the Skrælings (the natives) Þorvaldur was killed. His men buried him in Vinland. Þorvaldur was the first European we know to die and to be buried in America.

A number of other expeditions were made over the next twenty years. Þorsteinn Eiríksson, an other son of Erik the Red, died of a fever on the crossing. His widow Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir, from Laugarbrekka on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, remarried Þorfinnur Karlsefni and they spent three years in North America. Þorfinnur took 160 people with him and pressed even farther south to explore the New World, reaching a place which he named Hóp and which has been argued to be the site of modern New York.

Guðríður gave birth to a son during their stay and they named him Snorri, the first child of European descent to be born in North America, probably around 1004 in L'Anse aux Meadows. When the Vikings abandoned their attempt at settlement, Þorfinnur and Guðríður settled in Glaumbær in Skagafjörður in Iceland. After her husband's death, Guðríður made a pilgrimage to Rome, making her the most widely traveled woman in the world then and one of the first-ever transatlantic travelers.



The Icelandic people peacefully decide to convert from heathen religion to Christianity, not so much for spiritual reasons as for political ones. At that time Iceland was divided into two factions; heathens and Christians. Each faction had its own lawmaker and refused to acknowledge the other group’s legislation, thus threatening to dissolve Alþingi. For a time it looked as if Iceland might be split between the old and the new religions, each with its own laws. To forestall the treat of anarchy, the two lawmakers decided that the heathen lawmaker would decide which faith should prevail. The heathen lawmaker, named Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, went to rest under a fur blanket, under which he stayed the whole night, before he gave his verdict: Iceland should be baptized to Christianity, although heathens could practice their religion secretly such as maintaining temples and idols, exposing infants and eating horsemeat. This coined a common saying in Iceland, “to lie down underneath the fur,” which is said whenever a matter needs to be given serious thought.

After his decision, Þorgeir himself became a Christian and threw the idols of his heathen gods in a waterfall, now known in Icelandic as Goðafoss, the "waterfall of the gods," located in Þingeyjarsýsla.



Alþingi, the Iceland's parliament bans duels as it didn't reconcile very well with Christianity.



The consecration of the first bishop of Iceland, Ísleifur Gissurarson at Skálholt which becomes the diocesan seat of the first bishopric of Iceland.



An eruption at Hekla volcano in 1104 devastated the inhabited Thjorsardalur, a whole valley of farms, killing large amounts of cattle by ash and fumes that poisoned the grass. The eruption produced 2.5 cubic km of tephra, which was carried towards NNW. An eruption plume reached a height of 36 km. The eruption of 1104 is the only one where no lava flows formed. This was the first eruption at Hekla volcano for 250 years.



Episcopal seat was founded at Holar for the northern region of Iceland.  It was the second diocese in Iceland becoming the main centre of learning in North Iceland. Jón Ögmundsson became the first bishop there and abolished pagan customs and practices. He succeeded in changing the days of the week which were named after the pagan gods Tyr (Tuesday), Odin (Wednesday) and Thor (Thursday) to third day (þriðjudagur), midweek day (miðvikudagur), and fifth day (fimmtudagur). He also forbade dancing and love poems.



The first book of Icelandic laws, Hafliðaskrá (Hafliði's Code), is accomplished at Haflidi Másson’s farm during the winter 1117-1118.Before that the laws of the Althing were preserved in the memories of just a few people and had been transmitted orally. With the introduction of writing culture to Iceland, the laws were the first things to be written down in Iceland. Hafliðaskrá is no longer extant, but the nation's early laws were later given the name Grágás (Grey Goose) which are preserved in manuscripts.



The Age of Writing (1120 – 1230), an era of tremendous literary activity. The monumental History of the Kings of Norway, and the first vernacular history, the Book of Icelanders, were written during this period. The scholar Ari Fróði 'Ari the wise' writes a history of Iceland from settlement up to date, marking the beginning of saga writing in Iceland.



First monastery in Iceland was established at Thingeyrar. Many others followed. Both the episcopal seats and the monasteries became centres of learning and literature. The Thingeyrar monastery followed the monastic order of Benedicts of Nurcia. The monks vowed to dwell for life in the monastery and upheld its customs and obey the orders of their superior. They could not marry nor own anything - big or small. The time of the foundation of the monastery is at the beginning of the age of literature in Iceland and the literary pursuits were great in Þingeyrar monastery. The Abbot Karl Jónsson recorded the Saga of King Sverrir. The monks Gunnlaugur Leifsson and Oddur Snorrason wrote the Saga of King Ólafur Tryggvason and also the holy Saga of King Ólafur Haraldsson. The Abbot Árngrímur Brandson wrote the Saga of Bishop Guðmundur the Good, which is thereby the oldest portrayal of Iceland. It is probable that the Sagas of Húnavetningar were written in Þingeyrar that is: Heiðarvíga Saga, Vatnsdæla, Hallfreðar Saga, Kórmáks Saga, Bandamanna Saga and Grettis Saga.

The monastery stood from 1133 until the reformation - for about 400 years and by then it owned most of the farms in the region.



The live time of Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic poet and historian and the best-known writer of the sagas. He is the author of the prose Edda and Heimskringla, a history of the kings of Norway, the most important prose collection in Old Norse literature. Like most sagas, Egil’s saga is anonymous but it is thought to have been written by Snorri Sturluson in about 1230.



Around 1222, an Icelandic poet and chieftain named Snorri Sturluson wrote the Prose Edda, or Younger Edda, which interprets traditional Icelandic poetry for the audiences of Snorri's time. Part of the Prose Edda describes a visit by Gylfi, a Swedish king, to the home of the gods in Asgard. There the king questioned the gods about their history adventures, and fate. Snorri is also the author of Heimskringla, telling the dim prehistory of the mythical gods and their descendants, and recounting the history of the kings of Norway through the reign of Olaf Haraldsson, who became Norway's patron saint. Once found in most homes and schools and still regarded as a national treasure, Heimskringla influenced the thinking and literary style of Scandinavia over several centuries.



The beginnings of the Sturlung Age - a time of civil war bringing violence, turmoil and chaos to the nation.This was the last period in Iceland’s 400 years as an independent free state. Named after the Sturlungs, the most powerful clan of the period living in Dalir, west Iceland and among them were authors of the classic Icelandic Sagas. The most famous and greatest of them all was the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson. The clan, through marriages and political alliances, dominated a great part of the country, but other chieftains and influential families refused to accept their domination. The prolonged feuds and power struggles brought about economic and social ruin.

Other big clans were the Haukdælir of Árnesþing and the Oddaverjar of Rangárþing in south Iceland; the Ásbirnings of Skagafjörður in north; the Vatnsfirðings of Ísafjörður in Western fjords and the Svínfellings of the Eastfjords.



Battle of Örlygsstaðir, the biggest battle fought on Icelandic soil, between the Sturlung clan and their implacable enemies, the Ásbirnings and Haukdælir. 2000-3000 men were involved and 56 were killed, including some of the Sturlung chieftains.



Snorri Sturluson, a poet, historian, and chieftain, author of the Prose Edda and the Heimskringla is murdered by his enemies in Reykholt at the instigation of Gissur Þorvaldsson of the Haukdælir clan – who had the support of the Norwegian king Hákon.



Flóabardagi, the greatest sea battle ever to be fought along the coasts of Iceland, takes place in Húnaflói bay. In the battle, which was between Kolbeinn ungi (the young) of the Ásbirningar and Þórður Kakali of the Sturlungs, around 700-800 men took part and between 60 and 70 were killed.



Battle of Haugsnes, the final setting of accounts between the Ásbirnings and the Sturlungs. This was the bloodiest battle in Icelandic history, claiming the lives of about 100 people.



At Flugumýri in Skagafjörður, one of the most horrifying events in the Age of the Sturlungs happened when the enemies of Gissur Þorvaldsson, the chief of the Haukdælir, tried to burn him alive in his home. While over twenty people lost their life in this fire including Gissur’s wife and sons, Gissur himself survived by staying submerged in a barrel of sour whey.



Alþingi swears an oath of allegiance to Norwegian Crown, thereby ending the republic's independence. The treaty named the "Old Covenant" was adopted between Icelandic chieftains and the opportunistic Norwegian king Hákon Hákonarson of Norway after a long and bloody conflict between the various families and clans.

Icelandthen comes under the rule of the Norwegian Crown as a Norwegian province, but the Althingi retains its legislative powers.

This marks the end of the Commonwealth Period and the end of the Age of Sturlungs. Icelanders became a subjected people dependent on Norwegian ships for supplies, which often failed to come. A period of great hardship and desolation followed. Ice often blocked the fiords and the sea approaches.



A major source of information about Norse mythology is a book called the Poetic Edda, sometimes known as the Elder Edda. It consists of mythological and heroic poems, including Voluspa, an overview of Norse mythology from the creation to the final destructive battle of the world, called Ragnarok. An unknown author who compiled the Poetic Edda in Iceland around 1270 drew on materials dating from between 800 and 1100.



Magnus VI of Norway (Magnus the law-mender) issues a new lawbook, Járnsíða (ironside) for Iceland, superseding the previous law-code Grágás. Amongst other things, Járnsíða formally put all legislative powers in the hands of the king, abolished the chieftains, and reformed the Alþingi.



Adoption of Christian laws strengthened the power of the church in Iceland. Chief spokesman was Arni Thorlaksson bishop. While a deacon, he visited Norway, in 1262, and became a friend of Bishop Magnus. Ordained a priest, he was soon appointed administrator of the Diocese of Holar, and was conspicuous for his zeal regarding the law of celibacy. He was assistant of the Bishop of Skalholt in 1267, and succeeded him in that office, being consecrated in 1269 at Nidaros (Trondheim) in Norway. On his return to Iceland, he set about organizing the ecclesiastical administration. Since the regulation of the hierarchy in Norway, in 1152, the Iceland bishops had become suffrages of the metropolitan of Nidaros. In 1264 Iceland became still more dependant politically on the king of Norway. Up to that time Iceland had been a republic, governed by the Althing, which was composed of forty-eight chiefs, ninety-six councilors, and an announcer of laws who was president. At the time Christianity was introduced, many of these chiefs built churches on their lands and assumed at the same time ecclesiastical administration of them. The Church became identified with the State. The Althing, the legislative assembly in which the bishops had seats, made laws in matters of the church and controlled church affairs.

Arni Thorlaksson, confronted with this state of things, protected the church interests, and especially had to fight for the investiture of priests and the temporal administration of the churches and their effects. With this in view, he visited Norway in 1273, and obtained some concessions from the king. On his return to Iceland, he proposed to the Althing (1275) a Kristenret, i.e. Christian law, with which his name is particularly associated. Some time after this the jus patrontatus (the right of patronage) revived, and the bishop made an appeal to the arbitration of the king and of the archbishop. Having arrived in Norway, in 1297, for this purpose, he succeeded in obtaining the compromise that where laymen owned more than half of a church they should retain its temporal management, but in every other case the bishops should have it. He died the same year at Bergen. Although he had not obtained all the rights of the Church, he at least secured its organization and uniformity, and, as far as civil law was concerned, such observance of the laws as dependency on the kings of Norway permitted. He was probably the most influential and important man of his time in Iceland.



Jónsbók, King Magnus’s second law code for Iceland, was composed with special provisions for peculiar Icelandic conditions. The chief adviser in the composition of the code was the Icelandic lawman Jón Einarsson, hence the name Jónsbók. It was accepted by the Alþing 1281 and forms the basis for the legislation of modern Iceland. Jónsbók's chapters deal with land use, tenancy, personal rights, farming, maritime law, marriage, family law, inheritance, poverty and theft.



The Great Geysir was discovered in Iceland and gave rise to the community named Geysir. Geyser became the generic name for all water spouts.



Sister Katrin, found guilty of selling her soul to the devil, is the first person to be burnt on a stake in Iceland. Sister Katrin was a nun at the monastery at Kirkjubæjarklaustur. It was proved that she had given herself to the devil with a written deed and mistreated the consecrated water, thrown it back through the lavatory door, and laid with many men.



Öræfajökull has erupted twice in historical time. In 1362 the volcano erupted explosively, with huge amounts or about 10 cubic kilometers of tephra and pumice being ejected. The district of Litla-Hérað was destroyed with floods and tephra fall. More than 40 years passed before people again settled the area, which became known as Öræfi. The name literally means an area without harbor, but it took on a meaning of wasteland in Icelandic.



Unionof the Danish and Norwegian kingdoms. Iceland and Norway come under the Danish crown.



The plague known as 'Svarti dauði' (Black Death) rages in Iceland 1402, killing up to one third of the Iceland’s population. Only 30-40.000 survived.



Christopher Columbus visited Iceland.



Eruption close to Landmannalaugar. Namshraun lava field and Laugahraun lava field was formed.



English ships began fishing in Icelandic waters by paying dues to the Danish crown.



The first printing press in Iceland is set up by Jón Arason Bishop at Hólar in Hjaltadal.



Norway is dissolved as a state (until 1814) and becomes part of Denmark. Iceland comes directly under Danish crown.



Publication of the New Testament in Icelandic



The transformation from Catholicism to Lutheranism is confirmed at Alþingi.



The Reformation. After strong opposition the last catholic bishop, Jón Arason, and his two sons Ari and Baldur were executed at Skálholt for the sakes of undermining the church. Lutheranism becomes the state religion. Danish royal power is strengthened in Iceland.



The Danish government imposed a strict trade monopoly and cut off the island's products from lucrative markets.



Pirates from North Africa raid certain coastal areas ("Turkish raid"), and invade the Westman Islands and abduct 242 of the inhabitants.



Absolutism is introduced in Iceland. Danish monarchs become hereditary rulers of Iceland and the country officially becomes a part of the Danish monarchy. Legislative powers of the Althingi were greatly reduced.



The present (Gregorian) calendar is adopted.



The first complete census is made in Iceland. At the time there were 50.358 people divided between 7,622 homes.



Mývatnseldar eruptions in 1724-1729 which commenced with an explosion that formed the Crater Lake Víti. Later lava flowed from Leirhnjúkur down to the north end of Lake Mývatn, destroying two farms. The Mývatnseldar eruptions are quite similar in character to the recent volcanic activity near Krafla in 1975-1984.



On 8 June, 1783, Iceland had a population of 50,000. In the coming years, as a result of what began that Sunday morning at 9 am, 10,000 of those people would die. The Laki eruption is the worst catastrophe in the country's relatively short history. Laki is a volcanic system in the same south-eastern part of Iceland where this week's eruption took place. But that's where the similarities end. Back in 1783 it was ripped open with such force that a huge fissure produced scores of boiling craters. Over the next eight months the Lakagigar - literally "craters of Laki" - spewed lava that spread to cover 600 square kilometers in the surrounding countryside and belched more toxic gases than any eruption in the last 150 years. The effects were felt all over the northern hemisphere. Laki's output of sulphur dioxide dwarfs the 1990 eruption of Pinatubo in the Philippines, which is famous for halting global warming for several years. While that eruption produced 17 mega tones of sulphur dioxide, Laki was pumping the same amount out every three days at its peak. It’s  estimated that Laki's power was over 100 times greater than the current eruption. The 1783 eruption pumped out so much sulphur gas, creating a huge cloud of sulphuric acid droplets which began to drift over Europe travelling eastwards over the whole world. The noxious fog travelled down through Norway, Germany, France and across to Britain, causing panic when farm laborers began dropping like flies. People at this time had no idea where the fog had come from or that sulphur dioxide was mixing with water vapor in the lungs to choke victims. Research into parish records has led to estimates of more than 20,000 deaths in Britain alone during the summer of 1783.



Reykjavík obtains town status. Population at the time was 200.



Trade monopoly was abolished, but the right to trade in Iceland is still limited to Danish subjects.



The parliament was moved from Thingvellir to Reykjavik.



Alþingi is abolished with a royal decree from the Danish crown.



The episcopal seats of Skálholt and Hólar are abolished. One bishop, based in Reykjavík, administers the whole country.



Danish adventurer Jörgen Jörgensen takes power in Iceland and declares Iceland's independence. His rule lasts two months.


1811 - 1879

The life time of Jón Sigurðsson, leader of the struggle for Iceland' independence.



The National Library is founded.



The last execution in Iceland is carried out.



The Publication of the periodical Fjölnir, a rallying point of the patriotic movement.



The parliament, Althingi was re-established in Reykjavik by a nationalist movement.



The Althingi demanded autonomy and Iceland’s first newspaper appeared.



Free trade was re-established.



Freedom of press was established.



The present church in Thingvellir was constructed.



The National Museum was founded.



The first Caesarean section is performed in Iceland. The child lives but the mother dies a few days later.



Many Icelanders migrate to Canada and the United States in search for a better life.



Millennial anniversary of the settlement of Iceland was celebrated at Thingvellir. A constitution is adopted giving legislative powers to the Althingi and granting limited self-government in domestic affairs. The Danish crown confirms the first constitution of Iceland, giving Alþingi the national assembly, legislative and appropriate authority.



Eruption in Dyngjufjoll north east Iceland. The youngest caldera in Iceland was formed and in the caldera is Oskjuvatn Lake, the second deepest lake in Iceland. The eruption lasted only 2 days (28th and 29th March) and about 2 cubic kilometers of pumice was formed. Many farms in north east Iceland was covered by pumice and many Icelanders moved to America after this eruption. About 320.000 people live in Iceland and about 320.000 people of Icelandic origin lives in America.



Unmarried women and widows over 25 old are granted the right to vote in community elections.



Landsbankinn, the first banking intuition in Iceland, is founded.



On Apr 23rd, birth of the author Halldór Laxness who won the Nobel Prize in literature His most favorite books are The Fish Can Sing, Paradise Reclaimed, Salka Valka, World Light, Independent people, The Atom Station, Paradise Reclaimed.



Icelandis granted home rule. Hannes Hafstein is elected Iceland's first government minister, resident in Iceland and responsible to the Althingi.

The first electrical lights are lit in Iceland.

The first automobile is imported to Iceland.



Iceland's first cinema opens in Reykjavík.

Submarine telegraph cable from Scotland to Iceland



Education is declared compulsory for children 10 to 14 years old.



Universityof Icelandwas founded.

Icelandunilaterally bans whaling, ban was effective until 1935.



Iceland's first and only railway is laid from Öskjuhlíð hill to Reykjavík Harbor. It was used to transport rocks and gravel for the harbor’s construction.



Production and trade of all alcoholic beverages is prohibited in Iceland.

Iceland acquired its own flag.



All women are granted national elections voting rights.



Katla's last eruption was in 1918. It lasted for three weeks and up to a cubic kilometer of material exploded through its vent. Katla has had about 20 eruptions in the last 1000 years. The home of the Katla volcano is Mýrdalsjökull glacier which is the southernmost glacier in Iceland and is almost 600 km2.  It covers the upper part of a large volcano, the Katla caldera.  Katla is about 30 km in diameter and the highest parts reach almost 1500 m over sea level. In the center of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap is the Katla caldera. Mýrdalsjökull is the 4th biggest glacier in Iceland. A glacier run (literal translation of Icelandic "jökulhlaup") is due to the eruption of a volcano under a glacier. The ice over the volcano melts because of the heat, causing water to form a lake under the remaining ice-cap. Then the ice-cap collapses or the water breaks through the barrier in front of it, and there follows a more or less disastrous flooding of the land below the mountain.

The coldest year in Iceland recorded history. The temperature measures -37, 9 °C at Grímsstaðir á Fjöllum.

Act of Union. Iceland becomes a sovereign and independent state, the Kingdom of Iceland. It shares the same monarch with Denmark. For the most part foreign affairs continued to be handled by the Danish foreign service, as decided by Iceland. Iceland declares perpetual neutrality.



The Icelandic Coast Guard begins operating around Iceland.

The first flight of an airplane takes place in Reykjavík.



All women are granted eligibility and right to vote in elections, without restrictions.

The Supreme Court is founded.



Icelandic currency is issued for the first time.

The first woman is elected to take a seat in the national assembly, Alþingi.



Millennial celebration of the establishment of the Althingi at Thingvellir.

The National Broadcasting Services (RÚV) begins radio broadcasting.



Public buses operated for the first time in Reykjavík.



Telecommunication between Iceland and foreign countries becomes a reality.

Production and trade of alcoholic beverages, except beer, are allowed again in Iceland after being banned since 1915.



An airline was founded that developed into Icelandair.



World War II. British forces occupy Iceland.



 Icelandic Foreign Service established.



The American Navy takes over the role of the British Military in Iceland's occupation. By agreement US troops arrive in Iceland (six months before Pearl Harbour), replacing British forces. US forces remain until the end of World War II.



Icelandbreaks off the alliance with the Danish Crown and becomes independent again. The modern Republic of Iceland is established at Thingvellir on 17 June, birthday of Jón Sigurðsson. Sveinn Björnsson is elected the first president of Iceland.



The first international flight by an Icelandic aircraft.



Icelandbecomes a member of the United Nations.



The first Icelandic motion picture in full colors is premiered.



Heklavolcano began erupting on 29th March 1947. At 6:51 am, a large earthquake centered at the volcano was felt 150 km away. Shortly afterwards a 5 km long fissure opened along Hekla ridge. People 300 km away were awakened by the roar of the explosions. By 7 o'clock the ash column reached 27 km high (90,000 ft). During the two first hours of the eruption about 180 million cubic meters of ash, pumice, bombs and scoria were erupted from the fissure. The British ship "Sacramento" located 820 km south of Hekla in the Atlantic Ocean reported ash fall of 30 tons per square kilometer. Ash from Hekla was transported in the upper layers of the troposphere to Finland, where it began to fall about 40 hours after the eruption had begun. The main ash fall lasted about 2 hours. The initial phase of the eruption was Plinian type, and then changed to Vesuvius type. Eruptions decreased during the second day. On 3rd May, 5 weeks after the beginning of the eruption, the explosive activity of the craters changed to almost continuous emission of black, fine grained ash, which persisted for the next two months. At the SW end of the fissure, lava flowed from a vent for 13 months, ending on 25th April 1948.



Iceland is one of the founding members of OEEC (in 1961 changed to OECD).


1948 - 1953

Strong "Marshall Plan" support for Iceland.



Icelandbecomes a founding member of NATO.



Iceland's first traffic lights are set up in Reykjavík.



Iceland joins the Council of Europe.



National Theatre and Symphony Orchestra were founded.



Icelandand the United States conclude a bilateral defense agreement. US troops return to Iceland.



Fisheries jurisdiction extended from 3 to 4 miles.



Icelandbecomes a founding member of the Nordic Council.



Writer Halldór Kiljan Laxness wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.



Fishing limit extended to 12 miles. "Cod War" was waged against the United Kingdom.



Radio-telephone submarine cable from Scotland to Iceland.



The Surtsey eruption, 1963-1967, is among the longest eruptions to have occurred in Iceland in historical times. The first sign of an eruption came early in the morning of November 14, 1963, at a site approximately 18 km southwest of Heimaey, the largest of the Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands). The eruption is believed to have commenced a few days earlier on the sea floor, at a depth of 130 m. Explosive phases characterized the Surtsey eruption in the beginning, and due to the rapid cooling effects of the sea, the hot magma transformed into tephra (volcanic ash). The tephra production was tremendous, and an island had already been formed the day after – on November 15. By the end of January 1964, the new island’s elevation was 174 m, or over 300 m above the sea floor where it had all begun.



Radio-telephone submarine cable between Iceland and Canada.



Danish Parliament decides to return ancient Saga manuscripts to Iceland.



The first Icelandic television broadcast takes place.



Disappearance of herring from Icelandic waters and the ensuing economic crisis.



The Icelandic people change from driving on the left side of the road driving on the right side.

Iceland joins The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) signed in 1947, a multilateral agreement regulating trade among 153 countries.



Iceland joins European Free Trade Association (EFTA).



The first Icelandic manuscripts are brought back to Iceland from Denmark, after being kept there since the 18th century.



Chess players Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky meet in 'the duel of century' for the world championship.

Fishing limit extended to 50 miles, the second "Cod War" against the UK.

Free trade agreement with the EEC (later EU).



On 23 January 1973 at around one in the morning, a volcanic eruption of the mountain Eldfell began on Heimaey. The ground on Heimaey started to quake and clefts began to form. The clefts grew to 1600 meters in length, and soon lava began to erupt. Lava sprayed into the air from fissures in the ground. Volcanic ash was blown out to sea. Later, the situation deteriorated. When the fissures closed, the eruption converted to a concentrated lava flow that headed toward the harbor. The winds changed, and half a million cubic meters of ash were blown on to the town. During the night, the 5000 inhabitants of the island were evacuated, mostly by fishing boats, as almost the entire fishing fleet was in dock. The encroaching lava flow threatened to destroy the harbor, the main source of livelihood for most of the town. The eruption lasted until 3 July the same year. Townspeople constantly sprayed the lava with cold seawater, causing some of it to solidify and much to be diverted, thus saving the harbor from destruction. The people were elated that their livelihoods remained intact, even though much of their town had been destroyed. During the eruption, half of the town was crushed and the island expanded in length. The eruption increased the area of Heimaey from about 11.2 km² to about 13.44 km².

Richard B. Nixon, president of US and president of France, Pompidou had a summit in Kjarvalsstadir Reykjavík.



1100th anniversary of the settlement of Iceland celebrated at Thingvellir.



The last bridge over rivers in Skeiðarársandur in southeast is finished and The Ring Road around Iceland completed.



Iceland's territorial waters are expanded to cover 200 miles.



The last “Cod War” between Iceland and Britain takes place. Iceland wins sovereignty over its fishing grounds.



Vigdís Finnbogadóttir becomes the first woman in the world to be elected head of state in democratic elections.



Worlds first ever Women’s party founded in Iceland and won 5.5 % of the total seats in the parliament.



The first privately owned radio station in Iceland starts broadcasting.



U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet at Höfði in Reykjavík for a summit which marks the beginning of the end of the Cold War.



The new ultramodern Leifur Eiríksson Air Terminal inaugurated.



Pope John Paul II made an official visit to Iceland.

Saleof strong beer permitted after 81 years prohibition.

Börn náttúrunnar, a motion picture by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson, is nominated for an Oscar Academy Award as the best foreign film.

Icelandstopped whaling.



EFTA countries and the European Union establish the European Economic Area (EEA). Iceland becomes part of the EU´s single market.



The Icelandic people celebrate 50 years of independence with a great festival at Þingvellir.

EEA Agreement comes into effect.



Avalanches hit fishing villages in the West fjords on two separate occasions, killing a total of 34 people.

Iceland hosts the World Cup in handball.



Gay marriages were legalized in Iceland.



Keiko the killer whale, star of the 1993 "Free Willy" movie, was returned to Iceland, where he was captured in 1979 at age 2. Much of his early life was spent at a Mexico City amusement park.



Eruption in Hekla. Changes in groundwater table were observed up to 2 years before the eruption started. A short-lived but intense eruption of Hekla volcano began on 26th February 2000, and lasted for 12 days. A 6.6-km-long fissure opened along the length of Hekla volcano from the SW to the NE, south of the summit area. A Subplinian eruption plume reached a height of 12 km in 32 minutes. This was accompanied by several small pyroclastic flows. Volcanic activity at Hekla changed to fire fountaining and then to Strombolian, ending with a quiet effusive lava phase.



1000 years of Christianity in Iceland celebrated at Thingvellir.



Olympic boxing is legalized in Iceland after 45 years of prohibition.



Kárahnjúkar dam project begins. Kárahnjúkar power station is to supply power to a new aluminum smelter at Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland.



Iceland launched its first whale hunt in more than a decade in the name of scientific research. The US, Britain and several other governments opposed to whaling labeled the hunt unnecessary.

Iceland opened a filling station for hydrogen-powered vehicles.



The National Museum is reopened after renovations that took over six years.



Miss Iceland, Unnur Birna Vilhjalmsdottir (21), an anthropology and law student and part-time policewoman, was crowned Miss World on the southern Chinese resort island of Hainan.



Iceland's Parliament awarded citizenship to chess champion Bobby Fischer. A few days later Bobby Fischer walked free from a Japanese detention center and immediately headed to the airport to fly to his new home in Iceland.



The Iceland population came to 300,000.

The United States Naval Air Station Keflavik (NASKEF) closed at Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport.



Yoko Ono urged the world to give peace a chance as she unveiled a monument in memory of her husband, former Beatle John Lennon (d.1980). Ono lit up the Imagine Peace Tower on Videy island near the capital's harbor on Oct 9, what would have been Lennon's 67th birthday.



Bobby Fischer (b.1943), the reclusive chess genius, died in Iceland. He was buried in a small graveyard near the town Selfoss.



A new government was formed in Iceland 1st of February 2009. The Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, is then the first gay person to become prime minister in the world.



Volcanic eruption (20th March to 12th April) on Fimmvorduhals between Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull.

Volcanic eruption (13th April to 22nd May) in the top crater (caldera) of Eyjafjallajokull glacier central volcano. European air-space was shut down for a few days due to this eruption. Travel impairment consequences were global.



Volcanic eruption (21st to 23rd May) in Grimsvotn in Vatnajokull glacier.