Crash course in Icelandic history
You are on your way to Iceland and haven’t gotten around to reading the litterature; the Sagas, about
the process of Iceland becoming an independent nation and how Icelanders went from farmers to
an extremely high-tech nation in a short period of time. That’s why we’d like to provide you with a
short crash course in Icelandic history – so you’ll appreciate your trip to Iceland even more and be
a star in the dinner parties you might attend with the locals.
Short pieces of Icelandic history
♦ – During this period, Hákon the King of Norway was trying to influence Iceland causing many of the Chieftains to bribe him to gain their influences in Iceland. The Age of Sturlungs is believed to begin in 1220, when Snorri Sturluson became vassal for King of Norway. 15 years later, Snorri’s nephew, Sturla Sighvatsson, also became the Kings vessel which started a war within the Sturlunga family.
♦ – The end of Sturlungaöld, the Icelandic Commonwealth ceased to exist and Iceland went under the rule of Norway, by the signing of the Gamli Sáttmáli or the Old Covenant agreement in 1264.
♦ – This era is documented in Sturlungasaga.
♦ – The Chieftains protected their people and met up in Alþingi during each summer to settle disputes, and exact compensations. This era is marked by the battles of chieftains or Icelandic Goðar, which ruled Iceland during its early stages from the Viking Era.
♦ – The West of Iceland is often referred to as the Saga land due to the fact that many of the Icelandic sagas took place in that area of the country.
♦ – Few of the most significant Icelandic sagas are from the West, such as Egils saga, Gunnlaugs saga Ormstungu and Laxdæla.
♦ – Other famous Sagas are Njáls saga, about blood feud and Eiríkssaga, which tells about the discovery and settlement of Greenland and Vinland, Grettissaga and last but not least, Gísla saga Súrssonar
♦ – You can discover the Viking Era in the West by visiting the Icelandic Settlement Centre in Borgarnes, which reveals the Egils saga in a unique way.
♦ – Many of the settlers in Iceland, spent a lot of time abroad, sailed to Norway to meet up with the King, shopping or went for Viking to Britain, where they took part in battles and robberies. Therefore, many of the sagas partly take place abroad.
♦ – While Iceland was ruled by Denmark, many of Iceland´s great sagas were stored in Copenhagen, but Iceland boasts of a rich literary heritage, beginning with the skin manuscripts of Landnámsbók-or “the book of settlement”- and the Viking Sagas to the modern literature in which Icelandic history has been recorded throughout the centuries. In 1728, one of the most significant fires spread through Copenhagen, which destroyed about 28% of the city overnight. Many of the Icelandic sagas, were destroyed in the fire, especially in the library of Árni Magnússon, historian and book collector, however most of the Icelandic skin manuscripts were saved.
♦ – Egill Skallagrímsson, killed the first man at the age of 7, when he was cheated in a game by another boy, so Egill split the boys skull by an axe. Egill Skallagrímsson, later killed many more such as Rögnvaldur, the son of the Norse King Eirik and Queen Gunnhildur. Eiríkur Bloodaxe, the Norse King, sentenced Egill Skallagrímsson as outlaw and Egill cursed them, with the ultimate curse in the Viking age, of setting a horse’s head on a Níðinga (cursing) pole. The Queen Gunnhildur returned the favor and set a curse on Egill, which made him feel restless until they met again.
♦ – Egill died in his eighties and was buried with his silver. But before dying, he had to commit the last act of violence, as he murdered the servant who helped him bury his treasures.
♦ – The name Egill Skallagrímsson still lives thousand years later in the Icelandic society, as Egill among other things has brewery named after him, Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson, which brews many quality beers, makes the Icelandic malt and appelsín. Mixing malt and appelsín (a non-alcoholic blend of orange soda and malt extract) is an essential part of every Icelanders Christmas holiday. Actually, many people drink this drink all year around.
TIP – If you’ll go to Bíldudalur, you can go on a boat tour to the trails of Gísla Súrssonar saga. Afterwards, Warm up in the sauna in Bíldudalur swimming pool.