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The Nordic island country of Iceland is geographically in the North Atlantic Ocean. The most sparsely populated country in all of Europe is a unitary parliamentary republic. The capital is its largest city, Reykjavík. The island has thirty active volcanoes, thirteen of which have erupted since the first settlement in 874 AD. The interior of the island is a plateau of sand and lava fields, glaciers, and mountains. Despite the fact that it is just outside the Arctic Circle, Iceland has a temperate climate, due to the Gulf Stream. The official church is the called the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, though it is usually called just the National Church. Ethnic groups in Iceland are few, as 92% of the population is Icelandic, and of the remainder, 4% are polish and 5% other ethnicities. The official language of Icelandic is an Indo-European language which springs from the Nordic branch of Germanic languages.

There is no record of the people of Iceland until the Vikings arrived around 870 AD. The man believed to be Iceland's first permanent settler, Ingólfr Arnarson, arrived from his home in Norway with his wife Hallveig Fródadóttir in 874 AD. He named his homestead Reykjavík and makes his living by fishing and raising sheep. Soon more than 400 settlers arrived with their families and slaves, having traveled from Norway, other Nordic countries, and the Viking settlements in the British Isles.

By the middle of the 10th century, a political system was formed. The Icelandic assembly, called the Althing, had been created. The assembly was made up of a law council which made and amended laws and the justice system. Farmers were obligated to be members of a clan, although they were were free to switch their allegiance from one clan to another and the clan had the right to expel any farmer. The system lacked the central authority which could ensure that things were done in a democratic way. The country had no person with executive power, and neither workers, whether free or slave, or women had any role in the political system.

Christianity arrived in Iceland at the end of the 10th century due to the influence of the Olaf Tryggvason, the Norwegian king. He sent missionaries who were successful in converting Icelanders. Around 1000 AD, Althing decided that all Icelanders would be Christian, and they codified the law in 1118. Ordination was popular, and two bishoprics were established.

In 1402-04 and then again in 1494-95, the plague arrived in Iceland, and each time, it killed approximately half of the population.

Iceland fought the Reformation, but in 1541, eleven years after Denmark instituted it, the governor instituted Lutheranism was instituted in his diocese. Hólar's bishop, Jón Arason, awas beheaded in 1550, and resistance to the Reformation left Iceland. The royal treasury confiscated all of the land which belonged to the monasteries. In 1602, a royal decree mandated that foreign trade be monopolized by the government and given to Danish merchants who would pay rent to the crown. And two it remained for nearly 200 years.

In 1661, Frederick III, King of Denmark and Norway, established an absolute monarchy in Denmark and Norway. Icelanders acknowledged the king's absolutism, and in 1662, so did Iceland. While local decisions were still made in Iceland, the bureaucratic state, which drove the absolute monarchy, was spoon-fed to Iceland a bit at a time. First the two bishoprics were merged into one. In 1800, the Althing was abolished and replaced with an appeals court in Reykjavík. Shortly, the Danish governor had settled in the town as well.

In 1783, the volcano erupted from June of 1783 to February of 1784 spewing poisonous gasses and hot lava which killed most of the livestock as well as the agriculture. It caused a famine so severe that 20% of the population died. Today is thought that the eruption disrupted the monsoon cycle in Asia and even sparked the French Revolution.

In 1808, the Danish Crown was siezed briefly by Jorgen Jorgensen, and in 1814, Norway was severed from the Danish monarchy, giving them much more autonomy than they previously had. But Iceland was content to remain part of the monarchy. In 1830, King Christian VIII allowed them to restart the Althing.

Frederick VII, who succeeded Christian, renounced the traditional absolute power in 1848 and convened a constitutional assembly to set up a representative democracy for Denmark. They came to no agreement until a full 20 years passed before Iceland had a constitution. In 1904, Iceland finally got home rule. Iceland was soon connected to Europe via telegraph cable, school attendance was made compulsory, and the University of Iceland was established in 1911.

 

 

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