Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia


Icelandic: Ísland
Yselond, Ysland

Iceland is a Nordic island country situated at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

It had not been discovered during the Arthurian period but, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Arthur conquered from King Malvasius. Layamon calls the conquered king Alcus, and says that Malvasius ruled it later. Warriors from Iceland assisted Arthur in the invasion of Gaul and in the Roman War.

In Meriadeuc, the Queen of Iceland is the sweetheart of King Ris of Outre-Ombre, Arthur’s enemy. Ris conquered nine kings in her honor and made a mantle for her out of their beards. She asked Ris to conquer Arthur for the final beard, but Ris was unsuccessful. The Queen’s sister was the Lady of the Isles.

Layamon says its king was Aelens. He was married to the King of Russia’s daughter and they had a son named Escol. Aeleus voluntarily submitted to Arthur and gave him Escol to be his man.

In some romances, Iceland is confused with Ireland.

Iceland | 0 to the 9th century AD

Pre-Norse Period
Prior to the Norse arrival, Iceland was uninhabited by humans. The island’s natural environment consisted of volcanoes, glaciers, fjords, rivers, and diverse flora and faunta. Iceland was likely known to some seafaring peoples, such as Irish monks and Viking explorers, but there is no evidence of permanent settlement before the ninth century.

The settlement of Iceland is traditionally dated to the late ninth century, with the establishment of the first permanent Norse settlement around 870-930. The primary settlers were Norse people, including individuals and families who sought new opportunities, freedom, and escape from conflicts in their homelands, particularly in Norway. Iceland was one of the last places in Europe to be settled.

According to Icelandic sagas and historical accounts, the first known Norse settler in Iceland was Ingólfur Arnarson, who arrived with his family around 874. He settled in what is now Reykjavik. The settlement period was characterized by waves of Norse immigrants who came to Iceland seeking new land and opportunities. They established farmsteads and small communities along the coast and in fertile valleys.

The early centuries of settlement saw challenges, including harsh climatic conditions, volcanic activity, and conflicts among settlers. However, Iceland’s relative isolation also contributed to its ability to maintain a distinct cultural identity.

The Landnámabók
The Landnámabók, or Book of Settlements, is an Icelandic medieval manuscript that chronicles the settlement of Iceland. It provides information on the early settlers, their farms, and the geographical features of the island.

In 930 AD, the Althing, one of the world’s oldest parliaments, was established at Thingvellir. It served as a legislative and judicial assembly where free men could gather annually to make laws, settle disputes, and socialize.

Cultural Development
The settlers brought with them their Norse cultural traditions, including language, religious beliefs (Norse paganism), and oral traditions. The isolation of Iceland allowed for the preservation of Old Norse language and literature, including the sagas, which are medieval narratives about historical events and legendary figures.

Chieftain System
Icelandic society in the early period was organized around a chieftain system, where powerful families held leadership roles, and disputes were often resolved through the legal system of the Althing.

During the early medieval period, Iceland developed a unique culture and legal system known as the Icelandic Commonwealth. The Icelandic sagas, written in the thirteenth century but based on earlier oral traditions, provide invaluable insights into the history, culture, and social structure of early Icelandic society.

Viking Exploration
Icelandic settlers and explorers, including Erik Thorvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red, were involved in Viking exploration. Erik the Red’s son, Leif Erikson, is believed by some to have explored parts of North America, making him one of the first Europeans to reach the continent.

In the year 1000 AD, Iceland adopted Christianity as its official religion at the Althing, the national assembly. The decision was partly influenced by the increasing influence of Christianity in Europe and the efforts of Icelandic leaders like Þorgeir Þorkelsson.

Union of Iceland and Norway
While Iceland was largely self-governing, it had occasional contact with Norway, which had asserted sovereignty over Iceland in the thirteenth century. The Union of Norway and Iceland formally occured in 1262 under the terms of the Old Covenant, which recognized Norweigan rule but allowed Iceland considerable autonomy.

Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Brut | Layamon, late 12th century to mid-13th century