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History of Iceland

The first people who (most likely) arrived and the first to permanently settled on what is today known as Iceland were the Norsemen (from modern-day Norway), who arrived in the late 800s and early 900s. From this point on the island was quickly settled as most of the people arriving were Norsemen or Irish and Christianity was soon after adopted by many of the settlers.

Iceland's population grew through the 1000s and 1100s but little else changed until the 1200s when Norway fully incorporated Iceland into their country, giving the Norwegian government further control over the island.

Just prior to 1400 Norway and Denmark were united, putting Iceland under their joint rule (with Denmark the dominant partner). Just after this political action came disaster in Iceland as agricultural production vastly decreased on the island and, as a result, well over half the population died.

In the 1500s the Danish king introduced Lutheranism to replace Catholicism on Iceland, a transition that the people soon accepted. However, the Danish crown pushed the people of Iceland further in the 1600s and 1700s as they limited the scope of trade that Iceland could participate in. This came at a bad time, as also during this period there was great volcanic activity on the island leading to the loss of more lives, loss of livestock, and the loss of arable lands.

In the early 1800s Denmark & Norway joined forces with Napoleon, who was sweeping over Europe, however with the loss of Napoleon's France, Denmark and Norway parted ways, leaving Iceland solely under the authority of Denmark. This did little to help the still disastrous conditions in Iceland, which continued to suffer as more of their population either died or emigrated (primarily to Canada) during the 1800s.

Throughout the 1800s though, Iceland grew a stronger identity and pride, resulting in movements that encouraged Denmark to give the island limited self-rule in the late 1800s. This movement continued in the early 1900s when Denmark gave Iceland a degree of independence, although Denmark continued to handle numerous issues including diplomacy and military defense.

Near the start of World War II (WWII), Denmark was occupied by Germany so most Danish governmental affairs were shifted to Iceland, however with no true defense, the British, and later the Americans protected and occupied (with Iceland's approval) the island until the war ended.

In 1944 Iceland was given the decision to remain with Denmark or to declare an independent country; the people overwhelmingly choose to gain independence. Since this time, Iceland has become somewhat active on the international stage as they joined NATO and allied with the United States for defense protection. However, Iceland has decided to remain out of the European Union (EU).

This page was last updated: March, 2013