Icelands are Norse origin stock and Iceland is 7th richest in the world on per capita GDP and also boasts of world’s oldest parliament
Iceland’s history goes back to the 8th or the 9th century when Celic monks are believed to have arrived on the island. Subsequently, Naddod, a Norwegian-Faroese Viking is credited with discovering Iceland. Later, when the Swede Garoar Svavarsson was driven to Iceland by a storm, he circumnavigated the land, establishing it as an island.
In 871, Ingolfr Arnarson, a chieftain arrived from Norway with his wife and brother, and established the first permanent settlement in Reykjavik. Later, Norwegians and Scandinavians arrived with their slaves, who were largely Irish or Scottish, and by 930, settlement was complete.
Iceland has no standing army and has a coast guard who takes care of its defence. With a population of over 300,000, it is sparsely populated and is home to active volcanoes.
In 930, the Althing, the Icelandic parliament was established with legislative and judicial powers over the Icelandic commonwealth, making it the world’s oldest parliament.
During this period, the region experienced the medieval warm period and when Erik Thorvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red, was banished from Iceland for three years, he spent them on Greenland.
He later established a permanent settlement there with other settlers.
Meanwhile, under pressure from the King of Norway, Christianity was adopted in Iceland by the end of the
10th century and it co-existed with Norse paganism. It was only in 1117 that slavery was abolished.
During the 13th century, Iceland came under the Norwegian crown since Iceland’s commonwealth could no longer deal with the now stronger chieftains. From Norway, control over Iceland passed to the Kalmar Union of Norway, Denmark and Sweden during the late 14th-early 15th century and Iceland came under Danish control.
Iceland is a land of active volcanoes since it is located on the mid-Atlantic Ridge and is also located over a hot spot. Thirteen of its 30 active volcanic systems have erupted since permanent settlements began on the island. Over the past 500 years alone, its volcanoes have spewed one-third of the entire lava output of the world.
Mount Hekla which was dormant for 250 years, erupted in 1104, covering half of Iceland with material composed of ash, cinders and volcanic blocks, causing devastation. Over the centuries, Hekla continued to erupt.
Volcanic fissures in Laki erupted in 1783, leading to the death of over 50 per cent of the livestock over the years and one fourth of the population due to famine.
Black death caused by the bubonic plague which had hit Europe during the 14th century reached Iceland in the early 15th century, killing half its population between 1402 and 1404. It hit again in 1494, killing half the population this time too. In 1707, small pox killed a quarter of the population.
Lutheranism was imposed on Iceland by the King of Denmark during the 16th century and it continues to be the primary religion on the island. A period of decline followed during the 17th and 18th centuries with Denmark granting Danish merchants monopoly on trade with Iceland.
The trade restrictions, combined with volcanic eruptions, disease, deforestation, infertile soil and raids by pirates who also abducted the Icelandic people into slavery led to the island’s decline. Iceland became one of Europe’s poorest nations, relying largely on fishing.
In 1787, Danish trade monopoly ceased, yet it was only in 1855 that Denmark granted Iceland the right to free trade.
Although Denmark and Norway separated in the early 19th century as a result of the Napoleonic wars, Iceland continued under Denmark’s rule. Climate turned colder and over 20 per cent of Icelandic people emigrated to North America. Towards the middle of the century, the independence movement gained momentum under Jon Sigurosson and Iceland gained limited home rule by the end of the century, moving towards greater power by the early 20th century.
Although Denmark recognised Iceland’s sovereignty, it continued to handle foreign policy matters and Danish embassies functioned as Iceland’s embassies too. Iceland, like Denmark remained neutral during the second world war until Germany occupied Denmark.
At this juncture, Iceland took control of its foreign affairs. Britain invaded Iceland, violating Iceland’s neutrality and passed its control to United States in 1941.
Two years after Iceland became a republic in 1944, the allied forces left the island.
But troops of the United States returned when riots erupted on Iceland’s joining the NATO, once again leaving the island in 2006.
In 2008, Iceland suffered a financial crisis and its three largest banks collapsed. By 2011, the nation stabilised and driven by a strong rise in tourism, it rebounded to the pre-financial crisis levels. Based on different estimates, tourism constitutes anywhere between 5 and 10 per cent of Icelandic GDP.
In 2016, tourists constituted 4.5 times the island’s population, bringing in nearly 30 per cent of the nation’s export revenue. Industrialisation and liberalisation led to substantial development and the nation’s per capita GDP ranked 7th in the world in 2016.
Iceland depends heavily on the fishing industry and fisheries constitute 40 per cent of exports which is more than 12 per cent of Icelandic GDP. Hence, Iceland is sensitive to fish products.
The first Cod war broke out between United Kingdom and Iceland when the latter expanded its fishing zone from 4 to 12 nautical miles. It lasted from 1958 to 1961 and ended after they came to an agreement.
The second Cod war arose in 1972 when Iceland extended its fishing zone to 50 nautical miles. This dispute was resolved in 1973.
The third Cod war broke out between the two nations in 1975 when the United Nations Conference of the Law on the Sea supported a 100-nautical mile limit to territorial waters and Iceland extended its limit to 200 nautical miles.
An agreement was reached in 1976 when NATO mediated between the two nations.