Christians), Helgi Biolan, Biorn the Eastern, Helgi the Lean,
Ketil the Foolish, &c., who settled the best land in the island
(west, north-west and north), and founded families who long
swayed its destinies. There also came from the Western Islands a
fellowship of vikings seeking a free home in the north. They had
colonized the west in the viking times; they had “fought
at Hafursfirth,” helping their stay-at-home kinsmen against
the centralization of the great head-king, who, when he had
crushed opposition in Norway, followed up his victory by compelling
them to flee or bow to his rule. Such were Ingimund
the Old, Geirmund Hellskin, Thord Beardie (who had wed
St. Edmund’s granddaughter,) Audun Shackle, Bryniulf the
Old, Uni, to whom Harold promised the earldom of the new
land if he could make the settlers acknowledge him as king
(a hopeless project), and others by whom the north-west, north
and east were almost completely “claimed.” (3) In 900-930
a few more incomers direct from Norway completed the settlement
of the south, north-east and south-east. Among them were
Earl Hrollaug (half-brother of Hrolf Ganger and of the first
earl of Orkney), Hialti, Hrafnkell Frey’s priest, and the sons of
Asbiorn. Fully three-quarters of the land was settled from the
west, and among these immigrants there was no small proportion
of Irish blood. In 1100 there were 4500 franklins, i.e. about
Table of Icelandic Literature and History.
I. The Commonwealth. 400 years.
Poetry of Western Islands.
Settlement by colonists from Western Isles and Norway.
Early Icelandic poets, chiefly abroad.
Constitution worked out—Events of earlier sagas take place.
Icelandic poets abroad.
Christianity comes in—Events of later sagas take place.
First era of phonetic change.
The Literary Age.
Ari and his school—Thorodd—Vernacular writing begins.
Saga-Writers—Second generation of historians.
First civil wars—1208-22—Rise of Sturlungs.
Snorri and his school—Biographers.
Second civil wars, 1226-58—Fall of Great Houses.
Sturla—Second era of phonetic change.
Change of law, 1271—Submission to Norwegian kings.
II. Medievalism. 250 years.
Continental Influence chiefly Norse.
Collecting and editing—Foreign romances.
Foreign influence through Norway.
Annalists—Copyists—New Medieval poetry begins.
Great eruptions, 1362 and 1389—Epidemics—Danish rule, 1380.
Death of old traditions, &c.
Epidemics—Norse trade—Close of intercourse with Norway.
Only Medieval poetry flourishes.
Isolation from Continent—English trade.
III. Reformation—Absolute Rule—Decay. 320 years.
Odd—Printing—Third era of phonetic change.
Religious struggle—New organization—Hanse trade.
Danish monopoly—Pirates’ ravages.
Hallgrim—Paper copies taken.
Jon Vidalin—Arni Magnusson—MSS. taken abroad.
Smallpox kills one-third population, 1707.
Great famine, 10,000 die, 1759—Sheep plague, 1762 —Eruption, 1765.
Great eruption, 1783.
Beginnings of recovery—Travellers make known island to Europe —Free constitution in Denmark, 1848.
Finn Jonsson—Icelandic scholars abroad.
Rationalistic movement—European influences first felt.
IV. Modern Iceland.
Recovery of Iceland.
Modern thought and learning—Icelandic scholars abroad.
Increasing wealth and population—Free trade, 1854 —Jon Sigurdsson and home rule struggle.
Home rule granted.
The unit of Icelandic politics was the homestead with its
franklin-owner (buendi), its primal organization the hundred-moot
(thing), its tie the goðorð (godar) or chieftainship.
The chief who had led a band of kinsmen and dependants
to the new land, taken a “claim” there, and
parcelled it out among them, naturally became their leader,
presiding as priest at the temple feasts and sacrifices of heathen
times, acting as speaker of their moot, and as their representative
towards the neighbouring chiefs. He was not a feudal lord nor
a local sheriff, for any franklin could change his goðorð when
he would, and the rights of “judgment by peers” were in full
use; moreover, the office could be bequeathed, sold, divided
or pledged by the possessor; still the goði had considerable
power as long as the commonwealth lasted.
Disputes between neighbouring chiefs and their clients,
and uncertainty as to the law, brought about the Constitutionof Ulfliot (c. 930), which appointed a central moot for the whole
island, the Althing, and a speaker to speak a single “law”
(principally that followed by the Gula-moot in Norway); the
Reforms of Thord Gellir (964), settling a fixed number of moots
and chieftaincies, dividing the island into four quarters (thus
characterized by Ari: north, thickest settled, most famous;
east, first completely settled; south, best land and greatest
chiefs; west, remarkable for noble families), to each of which
a head-court, the “quarter-court,” was assigned; and the
Innovations of Skapti (ascribed in the saga to Nial) the Law-Speaker
(d. 1030), who set up a “fifth court” as the ultimate tribunal
in criminal matters, and strengthened the community against the
chiefs. But here constitutional growth ceased: the law-making
body made few and unimportant modifications of custom; the
courts were still too weak for the chiefs who misused and defied
them; the speaker’s power was not sufficiently supported to
enable him to be any more than a highly respected lord chief
justice, whereas he ought to have become a justiza if anarchy was
to be avoided; even the ecclesiastical innovations, while they
secured peace for a time, provoked in the end the struggles which
put an end to the commonwealth.
Christianity was introduced c. 1000. Tithes were established in
1096, and an ecclesiastical code made c. 1125. The first disputes
about the jurisdiction of the clergy were moved by Gudmund in the
13th century, bringing on a civil war, while the questions of
patronage and rights over glebe and mortmainland occupied Bishop
Arni and his adversaries fifty years afterwards, when the land
was under Norwegian viceroys and Norwegian law. For the civil
wars broke down the great houses who had monopolized the
chieftaincies; and after violent struggles (in which the
Sturlungs of the first generation perished at Orlygstad, 1238,
and Reykiaholt, 1241, while of the second generation Thord Kakali
was called away by the king in 1250, and Thorgils Skardi slain in
1258) the submission of the island to Norway quarter after
quarter, took place in 1262-1264, under Gizur’s auspices, and the
old Common Law was replaced by the New Norse Code “Ironside” in
The political life and law of the old days is abundantly
illustrated in the sagas (especially Eyrbyggia, Hamsa-Thori,
Reykdæla, Hrafnkell, and Niala), the two collections of
law-scrolls (Codex Regius, c. 1235, and Stadarhol’s Book, c.
1271), the Libellus, the Liberfragments, and the Landnamabók of
Ari, and the Diplomatarium. K. Maurer has made the subject his
own in his Beiträge, Island, Grágás, &c.
The medieval Icelandic church had two bishoprics, Skalholt (S.,
W., and E.) 1056, and Holar (N.) 1106, and about 175 parishes
(two-thirds of which belonged to the southern bishopric). They
belonged to the metropolitan see of Bremen, then to Lund, lastly
to Nidaros, 1237. There were several religious foundations:
Thingore (founded 1133), Thwera (1155), Hitardale (c. 1166),
Kirkby Nunnery (1184), Stad Nunnery (1296), and Saurby (c. 1200)
were Benedictine, while Ver (1168), Flatey after Holyfell (1172),
Videy (1226), Madderfield Priory (1296), and Skrid Priory (14th
century) were Augustinian. The bishops, elected by the people at
the Althing till 1237, enjoyed considerable power; two, Thorlak
of Skalholt and John of Holar, were publicly voted saints at the
Althing, and one, Gudmund, received the title of “Good” by decree
of the bishop and chapter. Full details as to ecclesiastical
history will be found in the Biskupasögur (edited by Dr
Iceland was not agricultural but pastoral, depending upon flocks
Mode of and herds for subsistence, for, though rye and other grain