Icelanders (Icelandic: Íslendingar) are an ethnic group and nation,
native to Iceland, mostly speaking the Germanic language Icelandic.
Icelanders established the country of
Iceland in 930 A.D. when
Althingi (Parliament) met for the first time.
Iceland came under the
reign of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish kings but regained full
sovereignty and independence from the
Danish monarchy on 1 December
1918, when Kingdom of
Iceland was established. On 17 June 1944, the
monarchy was abolished and the Icelandic republic was founded. The
language spoken is Icelandic, a North Germanic language, and
Lutheranism is the predominant religion. Historical and DNA records
indicate that around 60 to 80 percent of the male settlers were of
Norse origin (primarily from Western Norway) and a similar percentage
of the women were of Gaelic stock from
Ireland and peripheral
2.1 Initial migration and settlement
2.2 Hardship and conflict
2.3 Independence and prosperity
3 Demographics and society
3.2.2 North America
4.1 Language and literature
4.4 Performance art
5 See also
8 External links
Main article: Iceland
Icelanders have had a tumultuous history. Development of the island
was slow due to a lack of interest from the countries controlling it
for most of its history: Norway, Denmark–Norway, and ultimately
Denmark. Through this time,
Iceland had relatively little contact with
the outside world. The island became independent in union with
Denmark in 1918. Since 1944,
Iceland has been a republic, and
Icelandic society has undergone a rapid modernisation process in the
Main article: History of Iceland
Iceland is a geologically young land mass, having formed an estimated
20 million years ago due to volcanic eruptions on the Mid-Atlantic
ridge. One of the last larger islands to remain uninhabited, the first
human settlement date is generally accepted to be 874, although there
is some evidence to suggest human activity prior to the Norse
Initial migration and settlement
Main article: Settlement of Iceland
Iceland in northern Europe
Viking to sight
Iceland was Gardar Svavarsson, who went off
course due to harsh conditions when sailing from
Norway to the Faroe
Islands. His reports led to the first efforts to settle the island.
Flóki Vilgerðarson (b. 9th century) was the first Norseman to sail
Iceland intentionally. His story is documented in the Landnámabók
manuscript, and he is said to have named the island Ísland (Iceland).
The first permanent settler in
Iceland is usually considered to have
been a Norwegian chieftain named Ingólfur Arnarson. He settled with
his family in around 874, at a place he named "Bay of Smokes", or
Reykjavík in Icelandic.
Following Ingólfur, and also in 874, another group of
sail across the
North Atlantic Ocean
North Atlantic Ocean with their families, livestock,
slaves and possessions, escaping the domination of the first King of
Norway, Harald Fairhair. They traveled 1,000 km (600 mi) in
Viking longships to the island of Iceland. These people were
primarily of Norwegian, Irish or Gaelic Scottish origin. The Irish and
Gaels were either slaves or servants of the Norse chiefs,
according to the Icelandic sagas, or descendants of a "group of
Norsemen who had settled in
Ireland and intermarried with
Gaelic-speaking people". Genetic evidence suggests that
approximately 62% of the Icelandic maternal gene pool is derived from
Ireland and Scotland, which is much higher than other Scandinavian
countries, although comparable to the Faroese, while 37% is of Nordic
origin. About 20-25% of the Icelandic paternal gene pool is of
Gaelic origin, with the rest being Nordic.
The Icelandic Age of Settlement (Icelandic: Landnámsöld) is
considered to have lasted from 874 to 930, at which point most of the
island had been claimed and the Alþingi (English: Althing), the
assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth, was founded at
Hardship and conflict
Rock of law in
Þingvellir was used to make speeches.
In 930, on the
Þingvellir (English: Thingvellir) plain near
Reykjavík, the chieftains and their families met and established the
Alþingi, Iceland's first national assembly. However, the Alþingi
lacked the power to enforce the laws it made. In 1262, struggles
between rival chieftains left
Iceland so divided that King Haakon IV
Norway was asked to step in as a final arbitrator for all disputes,
as part of the Old Covenant. This is known as the Age of the
Iceland was under Norwegian leadership until 1380, when the Royal
Norway died out. At this point, both
under the control of the Danish Crown. With the introduction of
absolute monarchy in Denmark, the
Icelanders relinquished their
autonomy to the crown, including the right to initiate and consent to
legislation. This meant a loss of independence for Iceland, which led
to nearly 300 years of decline: perhaps largely because
its Crown did not consider
Iceland to be a colony to be supported and
assisted. In particular, the lack of help in defense led to constant
raids by marauding pirates along the Icelandic coasts.
Denmark did not need Iceland's fish and homespun wool.
This created a dramatic deficit in Iceland's trade, and no new ships
were built as a result. In 1602
Iceland was forbidden to trade with
other countries by order of the Danish Government, and in the 18th
century climatic conditions had reached an all-time low since
Laki erupted in 1783–84 with catastrophic consequences for Iceland.
In 1783–84 Laki, a volcanic fissure in the south of the island,
erupted. The eruption produced about 15 km³ (3.6 mi³) of
basalt lava, and the total volume of tephra emitted was
0.91 km³. The aerosols built up caused a cooling effect in
the Northern Hemisphere. The consequences for
catastrophic, with approximately 25-33% of the population dying in the
famine of 1783 and 1784. Around 80% of sheep, 50% of cattle, and 50%
of horses died of fluorosis from the 8 million tons of fluorine that
were released. This disaster is known as the Mist Hardship
In 1798–99 the Alþingi was discontinued for several decades,
eventually being restored in 1844. It was moved to Reykjavík, the
capital, after being held at
Þingvellir for over nine centuries.
Independence and prosperity
Jón Sigurðsson in Reykjavík
The 19th century brought significant improvement in the Icelanders'
situation. A protest movement was led by Jón Sigurðsson, a
statesman, historian, and authority on Icelandic literature. Inspired
by the romantic and nationalist currents from mainland Europe, Jón
protested strongly, through political journals and self-publications,
for 'a return to national consciousness' and for political and social
changes to be made to help speed up Iceland's development.
In 1854, the
Danish government relaxed the trade ban that had been
imposed in 1602, and
Iceland gradually began to rejoin Western Europe
economically and socially. With this return of contact with other
peoples came a reawakening of Iceland's arts, especially its
literature. Twenty years later in 1874,
Iceland was granted a
Icelanders today recognize Jón's efforts as largely
responsible for their economic and social resurgence.
Iceland gained full sovereignty and independence from
Denmark in 1918
after World War I. It became the Kingdom of Iceland. The King of
Denmark also served as the King of
Iceland retained only
formal ties with the Danish Crown. On 17 June 1944 the monarchy was
abolished and a republic was established on what would have been Jón
Sigurðsson's 133rd birthday. This ended nearly six centuries of ties
Demographics and society
Main article: Demographics of Iceland
Most mitochondrial DNA lineages found today in contemporary Icelanders
can be traced to the native populations in
Scandinavia. Another study shows that a tiny proportion of samples
Icelanders carry a more distant lineage, which belongs
to the haplogroup C1e, which can possibly be traced to the settlement
of the Americas around 14,000 years ago. The same study used
preliminary genealogical analyses which revealed that C1e lineage was
present in the Icelandic mtDNA pool at least 300 years ago. Due to
their small founding population and considerable history of relative
Icelanders have often been considered highly genetically
homogeneous as compared to other European populations. For this
reason, along with the extensive genealogical records for much of the
population that reach back to the settlement of Iceland, Icelanders
have been the focus of considerable genomics research by both
biotechnology companies and academic and medical researchers. However,
one study of mitochondrial DNA, blood groups, and isozymes revealed a
more variable population than expected from these genetic standpoints,
comparable to the diversity of some other Europeans. Another study
shows that quite a big group of Scandinavian males, in particular
Icelanders (up to 31% of samples), carry Haplogroup
Results of the mitochondrial DNA studies have been consistent with the
genealogical records that trace the ancestry of most
Ireland and Scotland, though there may have been a minor
contribution from other European groups.
Founder effects and the
effects of genetic drift are more pronounced for the Icelandic gene
pool than other nearby populations, supporting the assumed genetic
isolation of the population.
The last written records of the Norse Greenlanders are from a 1408
Hvalsey Church – today the most well-preserved of the
Main article: History of Greenland
The first Europeans to emigrate to and settle in
Icelanders who did so under the leadership of
Erik the Red
Erik the Red in the late
10th century, CE and numbered around 500 people. Isolated fjords in
this harsh land offered sufficient grazing to support cattle and
sheep, though the climate was too cold for cereal crops. Royal trade
Norway occasionally went to
Greenland to trade for walrus
tusks and falcons. The population eventually reached a high point of
perhaps 3,000 in two communities and developed independent
institutions before fading away during the 15th century. A papal
legation was sent there as late as 1492, the year Columbus attempted
to find a shorter spice route to Asia but instead encountered the
See also: Immigration to the
United States and History of immigration
Gimli, Manitoba, pop. 5,720 (Statistics Canada, 2011) is home to the
largest concentration of
Icelanders outside of Iceland.
According to the Saga of Eric the Red, Icelandic immigration to North
America dates back to
Vinland circa 1006. The colony was believed to
be short-lived and abandoned by the 1020s.  European settlement of
the region was not archeologically and historically confirmed as more
than legend until the 1960s. The former Norse site, now known as
L'Anse aux Meadows, pre-dated the arrival of Colombus in the Americas
by almost 500 years.
A more recent instance of Icelandic immigration to North America
occurred in 1855, when a small group settled in Spanish Fork,
Utah. Another Icelandic colony formed in Washington Island,
Wisconsin. Immigration to the
United States and
Canada began in
earnest in the 1870s, with most migrants initially settling in the
Great Lakes area. These settlers were fleeing famine and overcrowding
on Iceland. Today, there are sizable communities of Icelandic
descent in both the
United States and Canada. Gimli, in Manitoba,
Canada, is home to the largest population of
Icelanders outside of the
main island of Iceland.
Main article: Culture of Iceland
Language and literature
Main article: Icelandic language
A poem from the Poetic Edda
Kjartan Ólafsson and Bolli Þorleiksson, characters in Laxdæla saga,
written in the 13th century.
Icelandic, a North Germanic language, is the official language of
Iceland (de facto; the laws are silent about the issue). Icelandic has
inflectional grammar comparable to Latin, Ancient Greek, more closely
Old English and practically identical to Old Norse.
Icelandic literature can be divided into several categories, of
which three are best known to foreigners: Eddic poetry, skaldic
poetry, and saga literature, if saga literature is understood broadly.
Eddic poetry is made up of heroic and mythological poems. Poetry that
praises someone is considered skaldic poetry or court poetry. Finally
Saga literature is prose, ranging from pure fiction to fairly factual
Written Icelandic has changed little since the 13th century. Because
of this, modern readers can understand the Icelanders' sagas. The
sagas tell of events in
Iceland in the 10th and early 11th centuries.
They are considered to be the best-known pieces of Icelandic
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
The elder or Poetic Edda, the younger or Prose Edda, and the sagas are
the major pieces of Icelandic literature. The
Poetic Edda is a
collection of poems and stories from the late 10th century, whereas
the younger or
Prose Edda is a manual of poetry that contains many
stories of Norse mythology.
Main article: Religion in Iceland
Church in Húsavík, Iceland
Christianity in c. AD 1000, in what is called the
kristnitaka, and the country, while mostly secular in observance, is
still predominantly Christian culturally. The Lutheran church claims
some 84% of the total population. While early Icelandic
Christianity was more lax in its observances than traditional
Catholicism, Pietism, a religious movement imported from
the 18th century, had a marked effect on the island. By discouraging
all but religious leisure activities, it fostered a certain dourness,
which was for a long time considered an Icelandic stereotype. At the
same time, it also led to a boom in printing, and
Iceland today is one
of the most literate societies in the world.
Catholicism was supplanted by
Protestantism during the
Reformation, most other world religions are now represented on the
island: there are small Protestant Free Churches and Catholic
communities, and even a nascent Muslim community, composed of both
immigrants and local converts. Perhaps unique to
Iceland is the
fast-growing Ásatrúarfélag, a legally recognized revival of the
Nordic religion of the original settlers. According to
Roman Catholic Diocese of Reykjavík, there were only
approximately 30 Jews in
Iceland as of 2001. The former First Lady
Dorrit Moussaieff was an Israeli-born Bukharian Jew.
Main article: Icelandic cuisine
Icelandic cuisine consists mainly of fish, lamb, and dairy. Fish was
once the main part of an Icelander's diet but has recently given way
to meats such as beef, pork, and poultry.
Iceland has many traditional foods called Þorramatur. These foods
include smoked and salted lamb, singed sheep heads, dried fish, smoked
and pickled salmon, and cured shark. Andrew Zimmern, a chef who has
traveled the world on his show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,
responded to the question "What's the most disgusting thing you've
ever eaten?" with the response "That would have to be the fermented
shark fin I had in Iceland." Fermented shark fin is a form of
Music of Iceland
Sigur Rós has gained international fame performing mostly in
The earliest indigenous Icelandic music was the rímur, epic tales
Viking era that were often performed a cappella. Christianity
played a major role in the development of Icelandic music, with many
hymns being written in the local idiom. Hallgrímur Pétursson, a poet
and priest, is noted for writing many of these hymns in the 17th
century. The island's relative isolation ensured that the music
maintained its regional flavor. It was only in the 19th century that
the first pipe organs, prevalent in European religious music, first
appeared on the island.
Many singers, groups, and forms of music have come from Iceland. Most
Icelandic music contains vibrant folk and pop traditions. Some more
recent groups and singers are Voces Thules, The Sugarcubes, Björk,
Sigur Rós, and Of Monsters and Men.
The national anthem is "Ó Guð vors lands" (English: "Our Country's
God"), written by Matthías Jochumsson, with music by Sveinbjörn
Sveinbjörnsson. The song was written in 1874, when
its one thousandth anniversary of settlement on the island. It was
originally published with the title A Hymn in Commemoration of
Iceland's Thousand Years.
Main article: Sport in Iceland
Iceland's national football team has yet to participate in the FIFA
World Cup. However they have qualified for the finals of the 2016
European Championship. Their first Olympic participation was in the
1912 Summer Olympics; however, they did not participate again until
the 1936 Summer Olympics. Their first appearance at the winter games
was at the 1948 Winter Olympics. In 1956,
Vilhjálmur Einarsson won
the Olympic silver medal for the triple jump. The Icelandic
national handball team has enjoyed relative success. The team received
a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games and a 3rd place at the 2010
European Men's Handball Championship.
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