Iceland was settled in the period 870 to 930 AD, the last of the European countries. Majority of the settlers were of Norse origin although many women were of Celtic origin. At that time Harald the Fairhair was unifying Norway into a single kingdom and many of the first settlers were Norwegian Magnates who had fled the king´s rule.
The Icelanders established Althing (the Parliament) in the year 930, where the meetings took place every summer at Thingvellir (parliament fields). The Althing was attended by 36 Chieftains (later 39) who could require every ninth self supporting farmer to attend the sessions with them. The parliament had legislative and judicial powers but there was no executive power – no king, military or police. The parliamentary sessions were also social occasions with fun and games which attracted many other men and women.
Parliamentary sessions were presided over by the Lawspeaker, elected for a 3 year period, who among other duties had to memorize and recite the laws, before written language. The Chieftains sat in the Lögrétta (Law Council) each accompanied by two advisers.
Spring assemblies were held in the regions, each assembly attended by three Chieftains. The spring assemblies were primarily judicial in nature and the chieftains nominated farmers to judge cases arising within their districts.
The period from 930 to 1262 is usually called the Old Commonwealth. The westward progress of the Vikings did not cease with Iceland. Before long they observed another land farther west and in the late 10th century Erik the Red established a permanent settlement in Greenland. His son was Leif Eriksson, who some years later discovered America.
The first settlers were pagans, believing in the Norse Gods, such as Odin, Thor, Freyr, Frigg and Freyja. Late 10th century the first Christian missionaries came to Iceland and soon Christianity gained ground in Iceland. At the parliamentary session in the year 1000 the situation was becoming critical , with two equally big factions, heathen and Christian, who could not agree on common jurisdiction. This crisis was eventually solved when the general assembly agreed that everybody should take the Christian religion. This is a remarkable solution as in most cases Christianity was forced on conquered peoples by victorious kings.
In the 13th century there were a few powerful families fighting for control of Iceland and the country was on the brink of a civil war. To make a long story short it was finally decided, in order to preserve the peace, to give up Iceland´s independence to the King of Norway, in year 1262. Thus Iceland was part of the Norwegian Kingdom until Denmark took power in Norway in the 16th century. Iceland remained part of the Danish Kingdom until 1944 when the Icelandic Democratic Republic was established.
The history of the Icelanders is marked by the harsh climate and rough nature. Volcanic eruptions and arctic winters which wiped out life stock and part of the population from time to time. And geographical isolation which helped us to preserve our language and at the same time created the basis for national identity and unique classical literature, the Icelandic Sagas. More about that under the heading Culture