Iceland History

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Iceland is an island country in the North Atlantic about the size of the state of Kentucky. It is one of the most active volcanic regions of the earth. There are about 200 volcanoes of various types. Within recent times, major volcanic eruptions occurred in 1765, 1783, 1878, 1947, 1961, 1963, and 1995.

History[edit | edit source]

In spite of Iceland's physical isolation nearly 500 miles from Scotland, its nearest European neighbor, it has remained very much a part of European civilization throughout its history. Today, Iceland is a Nordic country, modern in every respect.

The people of Iceland are a homogeneous population, descendants of the settlers who began arriving in AD 874 and continued in heavy influx for about the next 50 years. Between 60 and 80 percent were of Nordic stock from Norway; the remainder, from Scotland and Ireland, was largely of Celtic stock.

When Olaf II, King of Denmark, gained the Norwegian throne in 1380, Iceland was placed under Danish sovereignty. In 1550, the Danish king imposed a Protestant religious Reformation on the island.

During the 1700s, famine, smallpox, sheep disease, and volcanic eruptions in 1765 and 1783 took a great toll of life and property. Iceland was captured by Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, but was returned to Denmark in 1815 by the Treaty of Vienna.

The Icelandic people struggled for political reforms during the 1800s. The nation won complete domestic autonomy in 1903. By the terms of the Icelandic-Danish Act of Union in 1918, Iceland became a sovereign nation under the crown of Denmark.

In February of 1944 the Althing unanimously adopted a resolution ending the Icelandic-Danish Act of Union. The resolution was approved by a plebiscite held in May. Iceland was formally proclaimed a republic on 17 June 1944.

In 1946 all American troops were withdrawn from the island, with the provision however, that an airport be made available for use by both civil and military aircraft operated by or on behalf of the U.S. obligations in occupied Germany. The Icelandic government accepted these proposals.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

872 - 1397 Possession of Iceland passed from the Kingdom of Norway to the Kalmar Union in 1415, when the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united
1523 - After the break-up of the kalmar union in 1523, it remained a Norwegian dependency, as a part of Denmark–Norway
1783 - The Laki volcano erupted, with devastating effects, over half of all livestock in the country died. Around a quarter of the population starved to death in the ensuing famine
1874 - Denmark granted Iceland a constitution and limited home rule and this was expanded in 1904
1918 - The Danish–Icelandic Act of Union, an agreement with Denmark and valid for 25 years, recognised Iceland as a fully sovereign and independent state in a personal union with Denmark
1944 - Iceland formally became a republic

Population Statistics[edit | edit source]

By the year 1000, not long after the island was settled, it is estimated that as many as 60,000-70,000 people already lived in Iceland. By 1311 the population had likely risen as high as 72,000. But disasters, famines, and disease continually beset the settlement. The first Black Plague epidemic in 1404-1406 is said to have killed two-thirds of the island’s inhabitants. The second wave of plague in the 1490s was only slightly less deadly. Smallpox also ravaged the country at frequent intervals before vaccination was imposed by law in 1821. The first official census in 1703 found only 53,358 souls. By 1769 the population had dropped to 46,201 and had risen only to 47,227 in 1801. The population grew slowly, with 56,000 in 1835, 59,000 in 1850, and 72,500 in 1880. Between 1870 and 1901 there was a large-scale emigration to North America because of unfavorable economic conditions in Iceland. For some areas of the north as much as 20% of the population left. This heavy emigration resulted in another population decrease, down to 71,900 in 1890. By 1901, there were 78,500 people. In 1910 the population was up to 85,000 plus there were some 15,000 Icelanders living in North America. A rapid growth in population paralleled accelerated economic growth in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1940 the country had 121,474 inhabitants; in 1970 the count was up to 204,930. The census of 1984 showed 240,443. During that year, the population of major cities was: Reykjavík 88,745; Kópavogur 14,546; Akureyri 13,711; Hafnarfjördur 12,979; Keflavík 6,907. The 1990 population was estimated at 250,000. Presently, 96.9% of the country's population is Lutheran with 3.1% professing other religions.

Websites[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]