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The Land of the Vikings - Iceland

Updated: Jan 9

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Picture this: A desolate island, covered in snow and ice, isolated in the vast expanse of the North Atlantic Ocean. This was the rugged canvas that the Vikings discovered around the 9th century. Clearly, they had a thing for dramatic backdrops.

They must have thought, "Why not build a civilization here? It's not like we'll be freezing our toes off or anything!" Well, they were Vikings after all—tough and fearless.

Welcome, to a frosty adventure through the captivating history of Iceland and its notorious Viking past where the battles were fierce, the winters were cold, and the mead was plentiful! So, grab your warmest parka, put on your horned helmet (just kidding!), and let's embark on a journey through time.

First things first, let's clear up a common misconception: not all Icelanders were Vikings, and not all Vikings were from Iceland. Vikings were actually seafaring warriors from the Scandinavian region, including countries like Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. They were known for their plundering and pillaging ways, exploring new lands, and leaving their mark on history. Iceland, however, was settled by Norse Vikings around the 9th century, led by a chap named Ingólfur Arnarson. And boy, did they make an entrance!

Imagine sailing across treacherous seas, battling fierce storms and sea monsters (okay, maybe not sea monsters), only to arrive on a volcanic island covered in glaciers. "Well, this is a bit different from the fjords of Norway," they must have thought. But hey, Vikings love a good adventure, and Iceland had plenty to offer.

The Sun Voyager Reykjavik
The Sun Voyager - An ode to the Sun

The Saga Begins

Now, let's talk sagas—those epic tales of love, betrayal, adventure, and Viking drama. Iceland is famous for its sagas, which were written during the 13th and 14th centuries. They were written in Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, and Icelanders were particularly skilled at crafting these stories. In fact, Iceland is often referred to as the "Land of Sagas," and rightfully so.

These sagas tell stories of feuding families, brave warriors, and explorers who set sail for unknown lands. Think of them as medieval soap operas, with a sprinkle of Viking machismo and a dash of mead.

These sagas are not just fantastical tales but also valuable historical records. They provide insights into Viking society, their laws, and their way of life. So, if you're tired of binge-watching TV shows, grab an Icelandic saga, cozy up by the fire, and get lost in a world of Viking shenanigans.

But Iceland's Viking history isn't just about battles and bloodshed. It's also about exploration and discovery. Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red (a name that screams "Viking"), is believed to have been the first European to set foot on North American soil, a good 500 years before Christopher Columbus claimed the same title. Leif and his crew sailed westward, stumbling upon a place they called Vinland (modern-day Newfoundland, Canada). Now, that's what I call some serious Viking swagger.

Of course, Iceland's Viking heritage wasn't also all about conquest and exploration. The Vikings were also savvy traders, establishing connections across Europe and beyond. They brought goods like furs, fish, and, of course, their famous Icelandic horses to trade with other cultures. It's said that the Vikings even reached as far as Baghdad, a city known for its opulence and riches. Can you imagine a Viking bartering for spices and silks? "I'll give you three beaver pelts and an extra-large barrel of mead for that shiny dagger." Vikings were the original entrepreneurs, I tell you.

Now, let's address the elephant in the room (or rather, the longhouse): Viking fashion. When you think of Vikings, you probably picture burly men with wild beards, wearing horned helmets and fur-lined cloaks. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but the horned helmets were mostly a fabrication of 19th-century opera costumes. Vikings actually wore simpler, more practical helmets, often made of iron, and adorned with crests or wings for added flair. As for the beards, well, those were the real deal.

Icelandic Countryside
Icelandic Farms

The Viking Way of Living in Iceland

The Vikings, known for their seafaring prowess and pillaging tendencies, quickly realized that Iceland was an ideal place to settle down. They traded their longships for fishing boats, their swords for fishing nets (although maybe they kept a few hidden under their fishing gear, just in case), and began establishing their agricultural communities.

But, you might ask, why did they choose Iceland in the first place? Rumor has it that the name Iceland was actually a cunning ploy by its first Norse settler, Ingólfur Arnarson. He named the land Iceland to discourage potential competition, hoping they would settle elsewhere. Clever move, Ingólfur!

In the vast, untamed landscapes of Iceland, a land forged by fire and ice, the Vikings found a new home. Their way of living in this rugged, unforgiving land was a testament to their resilience, adaptability, and unyielding spirit. Let's journey back in time and explore the Viking way of life in Iceland, where nature and Norsemen collided in a fascinating dance.

When the Norse Vikings first set foot on the shores of Iceland, they encountered a land teeming with geological wonders: towering glaciers, steaming hot springs, and cascading waterfalls. But they also faced immense challenges. The island's climate was harsh, with long, dark winters and short, cool summers. Survival in such conditions required resourcefulness and a deep understanding of the environment.

One of the key aspects of the Viking way of living in Iceland was self-sufficiency. The settlers had to rely on their own skills and ingenuity to survive. They were farmers, cultivating the land and rearing livestock. The fertile valleys and geothermal energy sources provided them with the means to grow crops and raise animals despite the inhospitable climate. They cultivated barley, oats, and rye, and their animals included sheep, cows, horses, and even goats. These hardy creatures adapted to the harsh conditions and provided the Vikings with sustenance, clothing, and materials for trade.

Speaking of trade, the Vikings of Iceland were not isolated from the rest of the world. They were skilled seafarers and traders, maintaining contact with other Viking settlements in Scandinavia, as well as with other cultures across Europe. Ships were their lifelines, enabling them to explore, trade, and connect with distant lands. With their sturdy longships, they sailed the treacherous North Atlantic, navigating the tumultuous seas with skill and courage.

The Viking way of living in Iceland also involved a strong sense of community. Settlements, known as "þings," were established, where the community would gather to discuss matters of governance, resolve disputes, and share news. These gatherings fostered a sense of unity and cooperation among the settlers. It was a way to maintain order and justice in an evolving society.

But let's not forget the Viking love for storytelling. Iceland's Vikings were renowned for their oral tradition and the rich tapestry of sagas that emerged from their society. These sagas were epic tales of heroes, warriors, and everyday life, passed down through generations. They captured the essence of Viking culture, exploring themes of honor, loyalty, and adventure. The sagas were the heartbeat of the community, binding people together through shared narratives.

While the Viking way of living in Iceland was marked by practicality and resilience, the settlers also found solace and inspiration in the beauty of their surroundings. Nature was not just a challenge to overcome; it was a source of wonder and awe. The Vikings revered the land's natural wonders, attributing them to their gods and incorporating them into their mythology. They believed in the existence of hidden worlds, where elves and other mythical creatures dwelled. This connection with nature shaped their spiritual beliefs and their deep respect for the environment.

Alþingi, the World's Oldest Parliament

Now, let's fast-forward a bit to the year 930. While the rest of Europe was still arguing about who had the fanciest crown, Iceland established some

thing truly groundbreaking—the Alþingi. What, you ask, is that? Well, it was the world's oldest parliamentary institution, gathering chieftains from all over the island to discuss matters of law and governance.

Imagine Viking chiefs, all sitting in a circle, bellowing their opinions and disputes. It was like a medieval version of the United Nations, but with fewer suits and more fur coats. This tradition continues to this day, as Iceland still boasts a vibrant democracy.

Icelandic City Reykjavik at Sunset
The City of Reykjavik at Sunset

The Viking Legacy

Even though the Viking Age officially ended in the 11th century, the spirit of the Vikings still lives on in modern Iceland. From the landscape's raw beauty to the resilience of its people, the Viking legacy remains ingrained in the country's DNA. Iceland's language, for instance, has remained remarkably similar to Old Norse—the language spoken by the Vikings. The Viking way of living in Iceland was a remarkable testament to human adaptability and courage. They cultivated a self-sufficient society, built upon farming, trade, storytelling, and a strong sense of community. Iceland became a crucible for their Viking spirit, leaving an indelible mark on the history and culture of this remarkable island.

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