A look at the events and history of Iceland between the ninth and fifteenth centuries.
Iceland’s history begins with its exploration and settlement, with a unique type of nation forming. By the mid-thirteenth century it would suffer its own civil war and then come under the control of Norway (and later Denmark). During the later Middle Ages, Iceland would be hit hard by natural disasters and plague.
Early-ninth century – a few Irish monks are the only inhabitants of Iceland
860 – a Norse sailor named Naddoðr gets lost while sailing to the Faroe Islands. He lands in Iceland and explores the territory for a short time before sailing back to the Faroes. He names the land Snæland (Snowland).
860s – a Swedish Viking named Garðarr Svavarsson was sailing to the Hebrides when a storm blew his ship off course. He arrived in Iceland and circumnavigated the island before returning east. He named the island ‘Garðarshólmi’.
c.868 – Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarsson leads an expedition to Iceland and explores it. He is the first to name the island ‘Iceland’.
c.874 – Ingólfr Arnarson becomes the first permanent settler in Iceland, establishing himself at Reykjavík. He had been exiled from Norway after being convicted of murder.
884 – Þórólfur Mostráskegg settles in Iceland and builds a Norse temple
c.895 – Auðr Ketilsdóttir, also called Aud the Deep-Minded, settles in Iceland after her husband, Olaf the White, King of Dublin, is killed. Her history is told in several Icelandic sagas.
Late-ninth century – between 4,300 and 24,000 people settle in Iceland, mostly coming from Norway. In the words of Ari Þorgilsson, “Wise people have also said that after sixty years, Iceland was fully settled, so that there was no more left.”
920 – Auðr Ketilsdóttir dies while attending the wedding feast of her youngest son.
930 – The Icelandic Commonwealth is founded with the establishment of the Icelandic parliament, known as the AlÞing, at Þingvellir.
934 (or 939) – Katla, a large volcano in southern Iceland, has a major eruption which affects global temperatures for several years. Iceland’s history includes many recorded volcanic eruptions.
981 – Þorvaldr Konráðsson, also known as Thorvald the Far Traveller, leads a mission to convert Iceland to Christianity.
c.995 – Egil Skallagrímsson, an Icelandic warrior who is the subject of Egil’s Saga, dies in Mosfellsbær.
1000 – Iceland adopts Christianity as the official religion during a meeting of the AlÞing. Some Norse pagan religious practices are allowed to remain, including private worship.
1011 – Njáll Þorgeirsson and his family are killed when their home is burned down during a feud. His story is recounted in Njáls saga.
c.1030-1040 – Grettir Ásmundarson, also known as Grettir the Strong, dies in Iceland. The story of this famous Icelandic outlaw is told in Grettis saga.
1056 – Skálholt becomes the first diocese in Iceland, with Ísleifur Gissurarson becoming the first bishop.
1104 – The volcano Hekla erupts, resulting in the devastation in parts of southern Iceland.
1106 – Hólar, located in the north of Iceland, becomes the country’s second diocese. Jón Ögmundsson becomes its first bishop – he is canonized as a saint in 1202.
1112 – The first monastery in Iceland is founded at Þingeyraklaustur. It is not formally established until 1133.
1117 – The Grágás, Iceland’s law code, is put into writing.
1122 – Ari Þorgilsson begins to write the historical work Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders).
1186 – Iceland’s first woman’s monastery, Kirkjubæjar Abbey, is established.
1208 – Battle of Víðines – Kolbeinn Tumason leads 400 men to Holar, residence of Bishop Guðmundur Arason, who is protected by 300 men. After a short battle, Kolbeinn is killed by a stone and his force flees. Bishop Arason is forced to abandon his bishopric the next year.
1215 – Snorri Sturluson becomes lawspeaker of the AlÞing, serving until 1218.
1221 – Battle of Breiðabólstaðir – Björn Þorvaldsson and 70 men defend a farm against an attack by Loftur biskupssonur (Loft the Bishop’s son) and his 100 men. Björn is killed and his side is defeated.
1222 – Snorri Sturluson again becomes lawspeaker, serving until 1232. It was during this period he was considered the most powerful figure in Iceland.
1237 – Battle of Bær – Sturla Sighvatsson raises an army of 720 men and defeats Thorlief Thorðarson and his force of nearly 400 men.
1238 – Battle of Ørlygsstaðir – Kolbeinn ungi Arnórsson and Gizurr Þorvaldsson raise a force of 1700 men to attack Sturla Sighvatsson and his father Sighvatr Sturluson. The latter two are defeated and executed.
1241 – Gizurr Þorvaldsson attacks Snorri Sturluson at his home in Reykholt; Snorri is killed.
1244 – Battle of Flóabardagi – naval battle fought in Húnaflói Bay between Þórður kakali Sighvatsson and Kolbeinn ungi Arnórsson.
1246 – Battle of Haugsnes – Þórður kakali Sighvatsson wins the bloodiest battle in Iceland’s history, defeating and killing Brandur Kolbeinsson. About 110 people were killed.
1253 – The Flugumýri Arson, where Eyjólfur Þorsteinsson and his followers attack Gizurr Þorvaldsson’s home during a wedding celebration. Twenty-five people were killed in the attack.
1255 – Battle of Þverá – Eyjólfur Þorsteinsson is defeated and killed by a coalition of several chieftains.
1258 – King Haakon IV of Norway appoints Gizurr Þorvaldsson as Jarl of Iceland. Gizurr works to bring all of Iceland under Norwegian rule.
1262-1264 – Icelanders agree to become subjects of the King of Norway, ending the Icelandic Commonwealth.
1281 – New law code, known as Jónsbók, compiled by Jón Einarsson. It further established Norwegian rule over Iceland.
1311 – Volcano at Katla erupts – this leads to crop failures the following year.
1362 – The largest ash eruption in Icelandic history takes place at Knappafellsjökull. This was a major environmental disaster with several communities destroyed, while some ash reaches Western Europe. The volcano is renamed Öræfajökull.
1380 – Olaf II, King of Denmark, becomes the King of Norway and ruler of Iceland. From then on, Iceland will be under Danish rule until 1944.
1397 – Denmark, Sweden and Norway all become part of the Kalmar Union. Iceland is automatically included in this state.
1402–1404 – Plague strikes the country for the first time. It is estimated to have killed more than one-half of the population.
1408-1409 – First records of English merchants coming to Iceland to trade and fish, although this probably began earlier. This century would see English, German and other merchants coming to Iceland despite efforts from the Danish crown to stop this.
1425 – The Danish governor of Iceland is captured by English merchants and taken to England.
1433 – Jöns Gerekesson, Bishop of Skálholt, is murdered by drowning after a dispute with two Icelandic chieftains.
1467 – Björn Þorleifsson, the governor of Iceland, is murdered by English merchants. This would help spark a war between Denmark and the Hanseatic League against England from 1468 to 1473.
1470 – Hanseatic League merchants begin sailing to Iceland, with most of their trading being done at the port of Hafnarfjörður.
1490 – Denmark and England make an agreement to allow Englishmen to fish and trade in Iceland freely.