Search the FAQ Archives

3 - A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M
N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z - Internet FAQ Archives

Nordic FAQ - 5 of 7 - ICELAND
Section - 5.3 History

( Single Page )
[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index | Business Photos and Profiles ]

Top Document: Nordic FAQ - 5 of 7 - ICELAND
Previous Document: 5.2 General information
Next Document: 5.4 Main tourist attractions
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge

5.3.1 A chronology of important dates

ca. 800
     Irish explorers discover Iceland.

874  Iceland receives its first inhabitants from Norway (prior to that, some
     Celtic colonies had existed in Iceland) as Ingˇlfr Arnarson arrives in

930  The Icelandic parliament, "Althing", had its first meeting. The Al■ing
     is the oldest parliamentary system still operating in Europe.

985  EirÝkr (Eric) the Red discovers and settles in Greenland.

     Christianity adopted as the new religion. Leifr ErÝksson ('Leif The
     lucky') discovers North America and names it VÝnland.

     The old Scandinavian sagas were written down in Iceland. Snorri
     Sturluson, a nobleman, historian and poet, writes (or is believed to
     have written) the Prose Edda and the Heimskringla

     Weakened by internal struggles, Iceland becomes under Norwegian rule,
     maintaining, however, a large autonomy. The end of the age of

     Norway, and with it Iceland, becomes united to Denmark.

     Pestilence, commercial exploitation, and natural catastrophes nearly
     wiped out the Icelandic nation; by the late 18th century its number had
     dropped to less than 40,000. A revival began in the 19th century.

     Iceland becomes Lutheran. The Bible is translated into Icelandic in

     The worst volcanic eruptions in the history of Iceland. Grass was
     burned from large areas, 3/4 of cattle starved to death and likewise,
     1/4 of Iceland's inhabitants died of starvation.

     ReykjavÝk received trade rights.

     The Althing meetings discontinued by the Danish king.

     With the awakening of Icelandic nationalism, the Al■ing is
     re-established as a consultative body.

     Iceland gets a constitution of its own.

     Home rule under Denmark.

     Denmark recognizes Iceland as a sovereign state, but Iceland remains
     united with Denmark.

     When Denmark falls to the Nazis, Iceland is occupied by British troops
     to prevent a German attack.

     U.S forces take over defence of Iceland.

     Iceland declares full independence at Ůingvellir.

     Iceland joins the United Nations.

     Iceland joins the NATO after a long dispute, and in 1951 reluctantly
     allows the U.S to maintain a naval base at KeflavÝk in return for U.S
     defense of Iceland.

     An underwater volcanic eruption creates a new island, named Surtsey, on
     the Icelandic coast.

     The volcano Helgafell erupted on the island of Heimaey, destroying 1/4
     of the houses of Vestmanneyjar, one of Iceland's busiest fishing
     harbours. The rest was dug out of the ashes and most people moved back.

     Fishery limits extended to 200 miles. "Cod war" with Britain.

     VigdÝs Finnbogadˇttir becomes the first woman ever to be democratically
     elected President of a Republic. She has been re-elected in 1984, 1988,
     and 1992.

     Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meeting held in H÷f­i house, ReykjavÝk

5.3.2 Greenland

Greenland is said to have been discovered by a man called Gunnbj÷rn whose
ship had gone off course. It was, however, EirÝkr Ůorvaldsson (a.k.a Eric
the Red) who explored and named the island, and ruled the first colony of
settlers. He who was born in Norway in the mid-10th century, but went to
Iceland as a child after his father was banished from Norway. A violent man
as he was, EirÝkr himself was banished from Iceland, and set forth on an
expedition westward from Iceland. In 981 he got to Greenland (a name he gave
to encourage settlers to go there), and spent the next three years exploring
it. After that he returned to Iceland and led an expedition of 25 ships to
settle (c.985) in southwestern Greenland. This settlement survived until the
late 15th century. EirÝkr himself settled at Brattahli­ (Tunigdliarfik) in
Greenland, where he died sometime after the year 1000.

The most important written sources recounting the discovery and settlement
of Greenland are Ari Ůorgilsson's ═slendingabˇk and Landßmabˇk. There are
also two colourful sagas, GrŠnlendinga Saga (The Saga of the Greenlanders)
and EirÝks saga rau­a (The Saga of Eric the Red), but these were composed
only in the early 13th century and are often fanciful and contradict each
other in places.

Greenland's attraction was that it had better pasture for sheep, goats and
cows than Iceland, where the soil had already become poor after about a
century of heavy exploitation. Farmers had never lived there, the climate
was probably a bit milder than today, and some of the fertile lowlands which
now have have disappeared under sea were above surface at that time. There
was probably also quite a lot of driftwood in Greenland at that time. Catch
was plenty in the sea, and there were reindeer, bears and birds to hunt on
land. Pelts of polar bears and arctic foxes, whalebone and walrus tusks were
used to pay for the essential imports, such as metal, timber and grain, as
well as luxury goods. But the colony was vulnerable if there were epidemics
among animals or people or even small climactic changes, and it died out
sometime in the 15th century -- the exact reason isn't known. In 1712,
centuries after the links between Greenland and the rest of the world had
been broken, the king of Denmark-Norway sent an expedition to Greenland with
pastor Hans Egede to nurture the Christian faith among the Viking
descendants, but none had survived. The Eskimos had long since penetrated to
the southernmost point of the country, and these were the Greenlanders Egede

5.3.3 Vinland; L'Anse aux Meadows

According to the sagas, Vinland was discovered when ships went off course
during one of the long journeys from Iceland or Norway to Greenland. The
Saga of the Greenlanders attributes the first sighting of America to Bjarni
Herjˇlfsson who had emigrated with EirÝkr the Red to Greenland, although
Bjarni didn't actually set foot on Vinland; the Saga of EirÝkr the Red, on
the other hand, says that the discovery was made by Leifr the Lucky,
EirÝkr's son. Leifur grew up in Greenland but in ca. 999 he visited Norway,
where he was converted to Christianity. According to one saga, he was then
commissioned by King Olaf I to convert the Greenlanders to Christianity, but
he was blown off course, missed Greenland, and reached North America (this
story, however, is now known to be fiction, made by up by an Icelandic
priest called Gunnlaugr in the 13th century). The other, more probable
version of the story describes Leifur sailing on a planned voyage to lands
to the west of Greenland that had been sighted 15 years earlier by Bjarni.
He landed at places called Helluland and Markland and wintered at Vinland,
and returned back to Greenland.

After Leifr's journey an expedition led by Ůorfinnr Karlsefni, a wealthy
Icelandic trader, returned to settle VÝnland in c.1010 and wintered there.
The Scandinavians, both men and women, first traded but then fought with the
native SkrŠlings. The descriptions of SkrŠling culture in the sagas are
consistent with American Indian life. Because of SkrŠling attacks, the
settlement was abandoned after three winters.

There is some disagreement on where exactly the places visited by Leifr
were. Vinland (Vine Land) was presumably Newfoundland, Markland (Wood Land)
Labrador Island and Helluland (Flat Rock Land) Baffin Island. The only firm
evidence of Scandinavian presence in North America has been found in
Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows, where excavations begun in 1961 have
revealed the remains of eight turf-walled houses, one of which was a
longhouse 22 m by 15 m (72 ft by 50 ft) containing five rooms including a
"great hall," and a smithy, where bog iron was smelted. Several of the
houses had stone ember pits identical with those found in Norse houses in
Greenland. Among the artifacts unearthed was a soapstone spindle whorl
similar to those discovered in Norse ruins in Greenland, Iceland, and
Scandinavia; this find suggests that women as well as men were present at
the site, which is also consistent with the sagas. Other artifacts point to
a brief, much earlier occupation of the site by Maritime Archaic Indians and
a later occupation by Dorset Eskimo. L'Anse aux Meadows may have been the
place of Ůorfinnr's settlement. The site was a good one for a pioneer
community; the soil was fertile, there was plenty of fish and game, the
climate was mild and there was iron ore available, but the area wasn't
previously uninhabited; the local Indians seem to have made long-lasting
settlements impossible.

The journeys to Vinland continued into the Middle Ages, but apparently only
to obtain raw materials for the Greenland colony. Some scholars have
suggested that L'Anse aux Meadows was a transit station to journeys further
south, but apart from a Norwegian coin from King Olaf Kyrre's reign
(1066-80) found on an Indian settlement in the state of Maine, there are no
traces early Scandinavian presence further south. The various rune stones,
such as the Kensington Stone, and other similar VÝking objects 'found' in
North America are all faked. Similarly, the New World portions of Yale
University's Vinland map, a world map supposedly made about 1440 which
includes Vinland and Greenland, was in 1974 revealed as a modern forgery.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:


Top Document: Nordic FAQ - 5 of 7 - ICELAND
Previous Document: 5.2 General information
Next Document: 5.4 Main tourist attractions

Single Page

[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index ]

Send corrections/additions to the FAQ Maintainer: (SCN Faq-maintainer)

Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM