(redirected from Ice land)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical.


Iceland, Icel. Ísland, officially Republic of Iceland, republic (2015 est. pop. 330,000), 39,698 sq mi (102,819 sq km), the westernmost state of Europe, occupying an island in the Atlantic Ocean just S of the Arctic Circle, c.600 mi (970 km) W of Norway and c.180 mi (290 km) SE of Greenland. The republic includes several small islands, notably the Vestmannaeyjar off the southern coast of Iceland. Reykjavík is the capital and largest city.

Land and People

Deep fjords indent the coasts of Iceland, particularly in the north and west. The island itself is a geologically young basalt plateau, averaging 2,000 ft (610 m) in height (Öraefajökull, c.6,950 ft/2,120 m high, is the highest point) and culminating in vast icefields, of which the Vatnajökull, in the southeast, is the largest. There are about 200 volcanoes, many of them active; among them are Katla (4,961 ft/1,512 m), Hekla (4,892 ft/1,491 m), and Laki (2,684 ft/818 m). The eruptions of Iceland's volcanoes have at times also affected the rest of Europe, as with the sulfur-dioxed haze produced by Laki's 1783 eruption, and the ash ejected into the atmosphere during the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull interfered with air travel in much of Europe. Hot springs abound and are used for inexpensive heating; the great Geysir is particularly famous. The watershed of Iceland runs roughly east-west; the chief river, the Jökulsá, flows N into the Axarfjörður (there are several other rivers of the same name).

The climate is relatively mild and humid (especially in the west and south), owing to the proximity of the North Atlantic Drift; however, N and E Iceland have a polar, tundralike climate. Grasses predominate; timber is virtually absent, and much of the land is barren. Some of this is a result of human habitition, which led to deforestation and overgrazing. Prior to settlement, forests covered about one quarter of the land, largely near the coast, and the government is attempting to reforest some areas of the country. Only about one fourth of the island is habitable, and practically all the larger inhabited places are located on the coast; they are Reykjavík, Akureyri, Hafnarfjörður, Siglufjörður, Akranes, and Isafjörður.

The population, until recently largely homogeneous and isolated, is descended mainly from Norse settlers and their slaves. (This homogeneity, combined with longstanding genealogical records, has made Icelanders the subject of fruitful genetic study.) More than 85% of the people belong to the established Lutheran Church, but there is complete religious freedom. The national language is Icelandic (Old Norse), although English, other Nordic languages, and German are also spoken. Virtually all Icelanders are literate; they read more books per capita than any other nation.


About 15% of the land is potentially productive, but agriculture, cultivating mainly hay, potatoes, and turnips, is restricted less than 1% of the total area. Fruits and vegetables are raised in greenhouses. There are extensive grazing lands, used mainly for sheep raising, but also for horses and cattle. Fishing, long the most important industry, is now second in importance to tourism. Aside from aluminum smelting and ferrosilicon production, Iceland has little heavy industry and relies on imports for many of the necessities and luxuries of life. More than half of Iceland's gross national product comes from the communications, trade, and service industries. The country has expanded its hydroelectric and geothermal energy resources to reduce dependence on oil imports, and roughly 90% of all homes are now heated by geothermal energy.

Fish and fish products, aluminum, animal products, ferrosilicon, and diatomite are the main exports; machinery and equipment, petroleum products, foodstuffs, textiles, and manufactured goods are imported. Most trade is with Germany, Great Britain, the United States, and the Netherlands.)


Iceland is governed under the constitution of 1944 as amended. The president, who is the head of state, a largely ceremonial post, is popularly elected to a four-year term; there are no term limits. The head of government is the prime minister. The legislature is the unicameral Althing, whose 63 members are popularly elected to four-year terms. Administratively, Iceland is divided into eight regions.


Settlement and Subjection

Iceland may be the Ultima Thule of the ancients. Irish monks visited it before the 9th cent., but abandoned it on the arrival (c.850–875) of Norse settlers, many of whom had fled from the domination of Harold I. The Norse settlements also contained many Irish and Scottish slaves, mainly women. In 930 a general assembly, the Althing, was established near Reykjavík at Thingvellir, and Christianity was introduced c.1000 by the Norwegian Olaf I, although paganism seems to have survived for a time. These events are preserved in the literature of 13th-century Iceland, where Old Norse literature reached its greatest flowering. (Modern Icelandic is virtually the same language as that of the sagas.)

Politically, Iceland became a feudal state, and the bloody civil wars of rival chieftains facilitated Norwegian intervention. The attempt of Snorri Sturluson (1179–1241) to establish the full control of King Haakon IV of Norway over Iceland was a failure; however, Haakon incorporated Iceland into the archdiocese of Trondheim and between 1261 and 1264 obtained acknowledgment of his suzerainty by the Icelanders. Norwegian rule brought order, but high taxes and an imposed judicial system caused much discontent. When, with Norway, Iceland passed (1380) under the Danish crown, the Danes showed even less concern for Icelandic welfare; a national decline (1400–1550) set in. Lutheranism was imposed by force (1539–51) over the opposition of Bishop Jon Aresson; the Reformation brought new intellectual activity.

The 17th and 18th cent. were, in many ways, disastrous for Iceland. English, Spanish, and Algerian pirates raided the coasts and ruined trade; epidemics and volcanic eruptions killed a large part of the population; and the creation (1602) of a private trading company at Copenhagen, with exclusive rights to the Iceland trade, caused economic ruin. The private trade monopoly was at last revoked in 1771 and transferred to the Danish crown, and in 1786 trade with Iceland was opened to all Danish and Norwegian merchants. The exclusion of foreign traders was lifted in 1854.

National Revival

The 19th cent. brought a rebirth of national culture (see Icelandic literature) and strong agitation for independence. The great leader of this movement was Jón Sigurðsson. The Althing, abolished in 1800, was reestablished in 1843; in 1874 a constitution and limited home rule were granted; and in 1918, Iceland became a sovereign state in personal union with Denmark. The German occupation (1940) of Denmark in World War II gave the Althing an opportunity to assume the king's prerogatives and the control of foreign affairs. Great Britain sent (1940) a military force to defend the island from possible German attack, and this was replaced after 1941 by U.S. forces.

In 1944 an overwhelming majority of Icelanders voted to terminate the union with Denmark; the kingdom of Iceland was proclaimed an independent republic on June 17, 1944. Sveinn Björrnsson was the first president. Iceland was admitted to the United Nations in 1946; it joined in the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 1946, Iceland granted the United States the right to use the American-built airport at Keflavík for military as well as commercial planes. Under a 1951 defense pact, U.S. forces were stationed there (the base was closed in 2006). Björnsson was succeeded by Ásgeir Ásgeirsson.

Relations with Great Britain were strained when Iceland, in order to protect its vital fishing industry, extended (1958) the limits of its territorial waters from 4 to 12 nautical miles (7.4–22.2 km). The conflict, which at times led to exchanges of fire between Icelandic coast guard vessels and British destroyers, was resolved in 1961 when Great Britain accepted the new limits. Kristjárn Eldjárn was elected president in 1968 and reelected in 1972 and 1976. Iceland joined the European Free Trade Association in 1970. In 1971 elections the Independence party–Social Democratic party coalition government, which had governed for 12 years, lost its majority, and a leftist coalition came to power.

The dispute with Britain over fishing rights (widely known as the “cod wars”) was renewed in 1972 when Iceland unilaterally extended its territorial waters to 50 mi (80 km) offshore and forbade foreign fishing vessels in the new zone. An interim agreement was reached in 1973, whereby the British would limit their annual catch and restrict themselves to certain fishing areas and specified numbers and types of vessels.

In Jan., 1973, the Helgafell volcano on Heimaey island erupted, damaging the town of Vestmannaeyjar. Later in the year Iceland and the United States began revising the 1951 defense pact, with a view toward ending the U.S. military presence.

A split in the ruling coalition over economic policies caused the Althing to be dissolved in 1974; following elections, the Independence party formed a new government. Iceland extended its fishing limits to 200 mi (320 km) in 1975, which, after more skirmishes with Great Britain, was finally recognized in 1976. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was elected president in 1980, thus becoming the world's first popularly elected female head of state; she was reelected in 1984, 1988, and 1992. Davíð Oddsson, of the conservative Independence party, became prime minister in 1991; his center-right coalition was returned to office in 1995, 1999, and, narrowly, 2003. In 1996, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was elected to succeed Finnbogadóttir, who retired as president. The highly popular Grímsson was reappointed to the post by parliament without an election in 2000; he was reelected in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

Oddsson resigned and exchanged posts with coalition partner and foreign minister Halldór Ásgrímsson, of the Progressive party, in Sept., 2004 (Oddsson stepped down as foreign minister a year later). In June, 2006, after the Progressive party suffered losses in local elections, Ásgrímsson resigned as prime minister; he was succeeded in the post by Geir Hilmar Haarde, the foreign minister and a member of the Independence party. The next year, in the May, 2007, parliamentary elections, the Progressives suffered sharp losses and left the ruling coalition; the Independence party formed a new coalition with the center-left Social Democrats; Haarde remained prime minister.

In Oct., 2008, the global financial crisis led to the collapse and government nationalization of Iceland's largest banks, which had taken on enormous debt in order to expand aggressively internationally. Many of the banks' depositors were individuals, companies, organizations, and local governments elsewhere in Europe, and the banks' collapse was aggravated and accelerated when Britain seized their British assets. As a result of the banking crisis, Iceland's currency also dropped sharply in value. The situation stabilized in November when Iceland secured significant loans from the International Monetary Fund and Scandinavian countries, but Iceland experienced a sharp rise in interest rates and unemployment and a sharp drop in housing prices.

In Jan., 2009, the country's severe economic crisis forced the government to resign. An interim center-left minority government, consisting of the Social Democrats and the Left-Green Movement, was formed in February. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, a Social Democrat and former social affairs minister, became prime minister; she was Iceland's first woman prime minister and the modern world's first openly gay head of government. Early elections, held in April, resulted in a majority for the ruling center-left coalition.

In June, 2009, the government agreed to a 15-year plan to repay British and Dutch governments for outlays they made to depositors who lost money in Icelandic banks. The Althing narrowly voted in July in favor of applying to join the European Union. Legislation enacted in August concerning repayment terms for the British and Dutch met with objections from them. A new, more stringent law narrowly passed in December, but broad public opposition to it led the president to refuse to sign it and submit it to a referendum (Mar. 2010) in which the voters overwhelmingly rejected it. A less stringent repayment plan was agreed upon in Dec., 2010, and enacted in Feb., 2011, but the president again refused to sign it and a majority of Icelanders rejected it in a referendum (Apr., 2011). Despite these disagreements over repayment, by the end of the 2011 the country had emerged from its financial collapse and begun to grow again economically.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Haarde, who had been accused of negligence by a special investigation into the 2008 banking crisis, was indicted by the Althing in 2010. Some charges were dropped before his 2012 trial, and special court found him not guilty of all charges except that of failing to hold cabinet meetings on the developing crisis; he was not sentenced, and he denounced the verdict as political. In Jan., 2013, the European Free Trade Association Court ruled that Iceland's government was not obligated to provide immediate repayment of the losses of the British and Dutch depositors in the failed Icelandic banks.

In the Apr., 2013, elections the Independence and Progressive parties won a majority of the seats, and they subsequently formed a conservative coalition government with Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, leader of the Progressives, as prime minister. The new government suspended talks on joining the EU, and later (2015) ended membership negotiations. In Apr., 2016, Gunnlaugsson resigned after it was revealed (in the Panama Papers) that his wife controlled an offshore investment company that owned the bonds of the collapsed banks. Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, also a member of the Progressive party, became prime minister. In June, 2016, Guðni Jóhannesson, a history professor and political newcomer, was elected president.

Parliamentary elections in Oct., 2016, resulted in a plurality for the Independence party and large losses for the Progressives; the Left-Green Movement and the Pirate party placed second and third. A new, center-right government was formed in Jan., 2017, by the Independence, Reform, and Bright Future parties, and Bjarni Benediktsson, of the Independence party, became prime minister, but a scandal involving the prime minister's father led to the coalition's collapse in September. New elections reduced the Independence party's plurality significantly, and the Left-Green's Katrín Jakobsdóttir ultimately became prime minister of a coalition with the Independence and Progressive parties. President Jóhannesson was reelected in June, 2020.


See V. H. Malmström, A Regional Geography of Iceland (1958); A. Líndal, Ripples from Iceland (1962); B. Guthmundsson, The Origin of the Icelanders (tr. 1967); B. Gröndal, Iceland: From Neutrality to NATO Membership (1971); V. Stefansson, Iceland (1939, repr. 1971); J. J. Horton, Iceland (1983); M. S. Magnusson, Iceland in Transition (1985); E. P. Durrenberger and G. Palsson, ed., The Anthropology of Iceland (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Republic of Iceland, Lydveldid Island)

Iceland is a state on an island of the same name in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is bounded by the Greenland Sea on the north and by the Norwegian Sea on the east; in the west the Denmark Strait separates Iceland from Greenland. Area, 103,000 sq km. Population, 206,700 (1971, estimate). The capital is Reykjavik.

Administratively, Iceland is divided into districts (s-slur); the capital and several other cities are administered separately.

Iceland is a republic. The present consitution came into force on June 17, 1944. The head of the state is the president, who is elected by the people for a four-year term. Legislative power is vested in the president and a bicameral parliament, the Althing. The 60 deputies to the Althing are elected to a four-year term by universal, equal, direct, and secret voting on the basis of proportional representation; two-thirds of the deputies make up the lower house, the rest constituting the upper house. All citizens who have attained the age of 21 may vote. Executive power is vested in the president and the government, which is responsible to the parliament and president. Local governing bodies are the elected municipal councils. Districts are administered by officials appointed by the central government.

The court system consists of lower courts, town courts, and a supreme court, , which is the highest appellate court.


Although the southern coast of Iceland is smooth and sandy, the remaining coastline is indented by numerous fjords and bays, such as the Faxafloi, the Breidafjordur, and the Hunafloi.

Terrain. The greater part of Iceland is a plateau 400–800 m high, above which rise massifs 1,000–1,500 m high and volcanoes. Iceland has about 200 volcanoes, of which thirty have been active over the past 1,000 years; the best-known volcanoes are the Hekla, Laki, Askja, and Hvannadalshnukur (the highest point in Iceland, attaining 2,119 m). There are numerous lava fields, covering 6 percent of Iceland, and other traces of volcanic activity. There are also many basal, terminal, and lateral moraines, outwash plains, and other traces of activity of ancient glaciers. Lowland plains extend along the coast, mainly in the west and south.


Geological structure and minerals. The northwestern and southeastern parts of the island are composed of basalts of the Cenozoic age. Extending through the central part of the country from southwest to northeast is a graben-type zone 100–150 km wide, which is part of the rift valley of the North Atlantic Range. It is composed of a palagonite series of rocks of the Pleistocene and Neocene, formed during Quaternary glacial periods. The region in which contemporary volcanoes developed coincides with the zone of Quaternary volcanism. Rectilinear rows of volcanic domes are associated with large fissures. Earthquakes are frequent. Minerals (Iceland spar), sulfur, hot springs, superheated steam, and mineral springs are associated with volcanism. There are also small deposits of peat and lignite.


Climate. Iceland has a subarctic oceanic climate, strongly influenced by the Gulf Stream. At the end of winter and in the spring polar ice drifts close to the island. Along the coast the mean January temperature ranges from 0’ to— 2°C and the mean July temperature from 10’ to 11 °C. Corresponding figures for the southeastern mountain regions are— IOC and 0C. The mean annual precipitation is 2,390 mm on the southern coast (in Vik), 465 mm on the northern coast (in Akureyri), and about 4,000 mm on the southern slopes of Myrdalsjokull glacier, with the maximum rainfall occurring in autumn. In winter the inland regions have a stable snow cover, lasting up to five months in some areas. Glaciers cover 11.4 percent of the country’s area. The most important glaciers are Vatnajokull (about 8,400 sq km and up to 1,000 m thick), Langjokull (1,020 sq km), Hofsjokull (1,000 sq km), and Myrdalsjökull (700 sq km).

Rivers and lakes. Iceland has a dense network of short rivers, of which the most important is the Thjorsa (237 km). The rivers have many rapids, descend at a steep gradient with waterfalls of up to 50–60 m, and are fed mainly by snow and glacial melt-water. In spring and summer there is high water. During volcanic eruptions, melting increases greatly, causing floods. The rivers, although not navigable, are an important source of hydroelectric power, with potential resources estimated at 2.5 million kilowatts. Numerous lakes of tectonic, volcanic, and glacial origin cover 3 percent of Iceland’s territory. The largest lake is Thingvallavatn (83 sq km).

Soil. In the coastal lowlands and on the low plateaus are found fertile volcanic peaty-soddy soils; in the interior, mountain arctic soils; and along the edges of glaciers, predominantly bog soils.

Flora and fauna. Vegetation is scanty, with some 440 species of higher plants. Two-thirds of the country is covered with rock streams on which mosses and lichens grow. Large areas, mainly young lava fields, are barren. Extensive areas, primarily in the west and southwest, are covered with peaty swamps and wet grassy meadows, and there are small tracts of birch trees. Arctic foxes and several rodent species of the Muridae family are typical of Iceland. Reindeer, introduced in the late 18th century, and mink inhabit the interior. Polar bears sometimes reach the northern coast on drift ice. Walruses and seals inhabit the coastal waters, and there are numerous sea birds. In the surrounding seas are some 150 species of fish, of which the commercially most important are herring, cod, and haddock.

Preserves. Thingvellir national park, which has a volcanic landscape, and five preserves together cover an area of 20,000 hectares.


Serebriannyi, L. R. Islandiia. Moscow, 1969.
Fristrup, B. Island. Copenhagen, 1948.
Nattura Islands. Reykjavik, 1961.


Iceland has a homogeneous population, with Icelanders accounting for 99 percent of the total population. Persons of foreign extraction include primarily Danes, Germans, and Norwegians. The official language is Icelandic. The believers among Icelanders are Protestants (Lutherans). The official calendar is the Gregorian. In 1703, at the time of the first census, the population numbered 50, 300, rising to 78,000 at the beginning of the 20th century and to 175,700 (88,700 males) by the 1960 census. From 1940 to 1968 the number of persons engaged in agriculture and fishing declined sharply from 32.3 percent and 14.2 percent of the population to 13 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively. In the same period the number of persons engaged in industry and construction increased to 36.4 percent, and the number of persons employed in services continues to grow rapidly. The greatest population density, up to 11.6 per sq km, is found in the southwestern part of the island. More than 70 percent of the population lives in cities, of which the largest are Reykjavik (81,500 inhabitants in 1970,40 percent of the total population of Iceland), Kopavogur (11,200), and Akureyri (10,700).

From circa 870 to the 1260’s. The settlement of Iceland began about 870. Until that time the island was uninhabited except for a few Irish hermits. The majority of the colonists were Norwegians, but there were also immigrants from Scandinavian colonies in Ireland, in Scotland, and on islands in the North Atlantic, as well as from Sweden. The colonists gave the island the name Island, land of ice. By 930 the coastal area was settled, and by the late 11th century there were more than 4,500 homesteads. The main occupations were pasture livestock raising and fishing; farming was of secondary importance, and the inhabitants had to import grain. Seafaring played an important role. Icelanders discovered Greenland in the 980’s and reached North America about 1000.

The nature of Iceland’s colonization largely determined its social and political structure. The dominant figures among the colonists were the clan chieftains, who arrived with numerous kinsmen, slaves, and freedmen. New immigrants settled on the domains of the first chieftains and came under their patronage. The chieftains exercised great influence in the local administration, acting as priests (godi) and leaders of judicial assemblies (things). The chieftains were also powerful at the national assembly, the Althing, which was first convened about 930. Under the first Icelandic law code (c. 930) the country was divided into chieftaincies, godords, each headed by a godi. In the second half of the tenth century Iceland was divided into four administrative regions (quarters), and from the 12th century the chieftaincies began to be united under the most powerful clan leaders. Clan traditions, however, survived for a long time owing to the nature of Iceland’s colonization, its isolation, and the unique features of its economic life.

Christianity, adopted by the Althing in 1000, did not entirely displace paganism for many years. The people did not completely lose political power until the 13th century; neither a class society nor a state emerged in Iceland, and the primary social stratum was composed of freemen (búendur). In Icelandic literature this period is usually called the commonwealth period. However, collective ownership of property, on which the clan system rested, had already disintegrated by this time. Throughout the Middle Ages the isolated homestead was the chief economic unit and primary social nucleus. Slaves (in the period immediately after colonization), servants, and other dependent persons lived on the homesteads of the prosperous búendur and their families. Small peasants and freedmen leased land from the leading búendur. The small peasants’ land-tenure dependence on the middle and great landholders became universal in the 13th century. However, the Icelandic tenant did not lose his personal freedom, and his relation to the landholder had not yet become a feudal dependence. In the 13th century the chieftains (especially the powerful Sturlund clan), who possessed great wealth and surrounded themselves with retainers, prevented the small búendur from participating in the government.

The feudal rule of Norway (1260’s to the mid-16th century) and Denmark (mid-16th century to the early 19th century). In 1262–64, Iceland fell under the rule of the Norwegian feudal state, which took advantage of strife among the Icelandic chieftains. After Iceland passed to the Norwegian king, the Althing lost much of its legislative function but did not cease to exist. Actual power was concentrated in the hands of the vicegerent and officials. The Icelanders were obliged to pay taxes and submit to laws laid down by the Norwegian king. The land of chieftains who had fallen into disfavor became crown domain. The process by which small peasants (búendur) were transformed into tenant farmers accelerated. Exploitation by the” Norwegian rulers and clergy was one of the chief causes of Iceland’s economic decline and of the steady impoverishment of the people. Iceland’s political dependence on Norway increased because of its need to import many articles that were not locally produced.

In 1380 Iceland, with Norway, was united with Denmark; in 1397, it became part of the Union of Kalmar joining Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The plague of 1402–04 decimated Iceland’s population and caused the country’s further decline. In the 15th century Hanseatic and English merchants, fishermen, and pirates enriched themselves at the expense of the Icelandic people; in the 16th century Danish merchants expelled the Han-seatics. When Norway lost its status as a kingdom in 1537, the administration of Iceland passed from Norway to the direct control of the Danish government. The spread of the Reformation in Iceland by the Danish government (Lutheranism was introduced in 1540) marked the loss of the remnants of Iceland’s independence. Resistance to church reform, headed by the Catholic bishop Jon Arason, therefore became a national liberation struggle; with its defeat, oppression by the Danish state intensified. The Danish trade monopoly, established in 1602, was eased only in the late 18th century, but Iceland almost totally lacked an indigenous merchant class. Reykjavik, designated a city in 1786, had only 300 inhabitants. In the early 19th century Iceland lost even the formal trappings of autonomy: in 1800 the Althing was abolished by a Danish royal decree, and in 1808 self-government was abolished in the hreppar (lower administrative units).

Rise and development of capitalism under Danish colonial rule (to 1918). By one of the peace treaties of Kiel of 1814, Iceland remained a possession of the Danish monarchy. The industrial development that began in most West European states in the first quarter of the 19th century contributed to a revival of economic and political life in Iceland. The first small industrial enterprises for the processing of wool, fish, feathers, and other products arose in Iceland in the late 1820’s and early 1830’s. With J. Sigurdsson at its head, the Icelandic bourgeoisie led the national liberation movement. On Mar. 8, 1843, Christian VIII decreed the reestablishment of the Althing, granting it, however, only consultative powers. Under the influence of the bourgeois revolutions of 1848–49 in the European countries and of the rising national liberation movement in Iceland itself, the Danish king in 1849 was forced to promise that he would not promulgate new laws in Iceland without the Althing’s consent. The National Constituent Assembly of Iceland (Thjodfundur), which was convened in 1851, demanded autonomy for Iceland, and Denmark made several concessions: the Danish trade monopoly in Iceland, which had lasted for more than 250 years, was abolished in 1854; a law establishing freedom of the press was passed in 1855; and the equality of the Icelandic and Danish languages in state administration was established in 1859. In 1871, under the impact of the growing movement for independence among the peasantry, the only broad-based class in Iceland, the Danish monarchy granted Iceland autonomy in domestic affairs (according to a law adopted by the Danish Rigsdag). In 1874 the Danish king, without consulting the Althing, promulgated a constitution for Iceland under which the vicegerent was the highest administrative authority in Iceland and the king retained an absolute veto. In the early 20th century Iceland’s autonomy was greatly strengthened. Beginning in 1904 local administration was in the hands of an Icelandic minister in Reykjavik, responsible to the Althing, and the office of the vicegerent was abolished.

Capitalist relations became firmly established in Iceland in the late 19th and early 20th century. A sharp differentiation took place in agriculture; large sheep-raising farms appeared, a fishing industry for export developed, and fishing and marketing cooperatives were established (the first cooperative was founded in 1882). The National Bank of Iceland was established in 1885. The Independence Party (conservative), to which belonged mainly the leaders of the fishing industry and the commercial bourgeoisie, began to form in the late 19th century; it was officially founded in 1929. In 1907, under the influence of Norway’s separation from Sweden, the Icelandic bourgeoisie demanded that Denmark grant full independence to Iceland. During World War I (1914–18) Iceland’s ties with Denmark were much weakened, and trade and economic relations with Great Britain and the USA were strengthened. The war saw the rise of political and public organizations in Iceland: the Social Democratic and the Progressive (agrarian) parties and the Trade Unions Association of Iceland were founded in 1916. The same year Icelandic pressure forced Denmark to consent to the formation of an Icelandic government consisting of three ministers, and the question of the reexamination of Icelandic-Danish state relations arose.

Union with Denmark (1918–44). On Nov. 30, 1918, Iceland and Denmark concluded a treaty of personal union and Iceland’s permanent neutrality was proclaimed. By the terms of the union the two countries had a common king and Denmark assumed responsibility for Iceland’s defense and foreign policy; in all other matters Iceland’s sovereignty was recognized. Under the Constitution adopted on May 18,1920 (and remaining in force until 1944), the government was responsible to the Althing although it was formally appointed by the king. In the 1920’s economic life declined, the Icelandic economy became more dependent on British capital, and the political struggle in the country intensified. The world economic crisis of 1929–33 further depressed Iceland’s economic position. Exports fell from 66.1 million kronur in 1926–30 to 48.6 million kronur in 193135, and unemployment rose sharply.

The Communist Party of Iceland was founded in 1930. In 1938 it merged with the left wing of the Social Democratic Party to form the United Socialist Party of Iceland, which existed until the end of 1968.

At the beginning of World War II, after the occupation of Denmark by fascist German troops in April 1940, British military units landed in Iceland on May 10, 1940. In July 1941 the government of the USA concluded an agreement with Iceland providing for the defense of Iceland during the war, under which British military units in Iceland were replaced by American units. Subsequently Iceland played an important role in assuring communications by sea between the USSR and its Western allies. In December 1943 the Danish-Icelandic Treaty of Union expired. In a referendum held on May 20–23, 1944, the overwhelming majority of Icelanders voted for the dissolution of the union and the proclamation of a republic. On June 16, 1944, the Althing adopted a republican constitution and on June 17, Iceland was proclaimed a republic. The USSR was one of the first states to recognize the Icelandic Republic (direct diplomatic relations between the USSR and Iceland had been established in 1943; from 1926 they had been maintained through Denmark).

After the dissolution of the union with Denmark (from 1944). In the postwar years the progressive forces in Iceland stepped up their struggle against the antinational policy of the ruling circles. In September 1946 the Althing, disregarding public protest and under pressure from the USA, adopted a decision transferring the airfield in Keflavik (50 km from Reykjavik) to the USA for a period of not more than five years. In 1948, Iceland was included in the Marshall Plan, and in 1949 it became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). From May 18 to May 21, 1951, there was a general workers’ strike, the largest in Iceland’s history, in protest against the Icelandic-American “defense” treaty of May 5, 1951, by which Iceland became virtually a military base of the USA. Under public pressure the Althing adopted on Mar. 28, 1956, a resolution to review the treaty with the aim of prohibiting military construction at the Keflavik base and bringing about the withdrawal of American troops from the country. The left-center government (Progressive Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the United Socialist Party of Iceland) in power from 1956 to 1958 began negotiations with the USA toward implementing the provisions of the Althing’s resolution. But the USA, utilizing NATO, succeeded in postponing the matter for an indefinite period of time.

In April and May 1957 the government took measures to restrict the activity of large monopolies and to weaken their influence. In 1958 it extended Iceland’s fisheries limits from 4 to 12 miles. The coalition government of conservatives and Social Democrats that came to power in 1959 consented in 1964 to the construction of a US naval base on the shore of the Hval Fjord. In the late 1950’s and the 1960’s the policies of the ruling circles further eroded the living standards of the working people, causing a wave of strikes. Sailors and workers and employees in industry and transport struck in 1961, and sailors of the trawler fleet in 1962. In the late 1960’s the government’s attempts to solve economic difficulties, caused by a declining fish catch, at the expense of the working class (devaluation of the krona by 25 percent in 1967 and by 35 percent in 1968) brought about a new upsurge of the strike movement. One of the largest strikes in Iceland’s history, involving more than 24,000 persons, occurred in March 1968, and a general workers’ strike took place from May to June 1970. In July 1971 the government of conservatives and Social Democrats was replaced by a left-center government (a coalition of the Progressive Party, the People’s Union, and the Union of Liberals and Leftists) headed by O. Johannesson, chairman of the Progressive Party. The new government’s political program, announced in July 1971, contained measures designed to improve the national economy and raise the living standards of the working people. The governement announced Iceland’s refusal to join the Common Market (EEC); it agreed, however, to seek opportunities for establishing a special form of cooperation with the EEC that would guarantee mutual rights in matters of tariffs and trade. It also called for a revision of the Icelandic-American “defense” treaty of 1951 with a view to the withdrawal of American troops from Iceland within four years. At the same time the government announced that Iceland would remain a member of NATO, but it would follow developments and revise its position accordingly. On Dec. 10, 1973, at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, the Icelandic government suggested the replacement of American troops in Iceland by civilian personnel. In July 1972, Iceland signed a free-trade agreement with the EEC, and in September 1972 the government extended Iceland’s fisheries limits to 50 miles. This led to strained relations between Iceland and Great Britain and other West European countries. Under the terms of the agreement between Iceland and Great Britain of November 1973, British fishing vessels were permitted an annual catch of 130,000 tons within the 50-mile zone (previously their catch was about 180,000 tons).

Iceland has been a member of the UN since 1946, of the Nordic Council since 1952, and of the European Free Trade Association since 1970. Economically, Iceland is closely associated with the leading countries of NATO, especially the USA.


Olgeirsson, E. Iz proshlogo islandskogo naroda. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from Icelandic.)
Gurevich, A. Ia. “Kolonizatsiia Islandii.” Uch. zap. Kalininskogo gos. ped. in-ta, 1963, vol. 35.
Benediktsson, G. Islandiia v bor’be za nezavisimosf (1940–1955). Moscow, 1958. (Translated from Icelandic.)
Kristjansson, S. Velikaia Oktiabr’skaia sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia i Islandiia. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from Danish.)
Thordarson, B. Iceland Past and Present. 2nd ed. London, 1945.
Gjerset, K. History of Iceland. London, 1922.
Porsteinsson, B. Islenzka pjodveldid. Reykjavik, 1953.
Maurer, K. Island von seiner ersten Entdeckung bis zum Untergange des Freistaats. Munich, 1874.
Sveinsson, E. 6. The Age of the Sturlungs. Ithaca (N.Y.), 1953.
Stefansson, V. Iceland, the First American Republic. New York, 1945.
Nuechterlein, D. E. Iceland, Reluctant Ally. Ithaca (N.Y.), 1961.
Griffiths, J. C. Modern Iceland. London, 1969.

A. IA. GUREVICH (to the early 19th century) and

I. IU. KORCHAGIN (from the early 19th century)

Political parties. The Independence (conservative) Party (Sjalfstaedisflokkurinn), established in 1929, includes fishing industrialists and fish merchants, representatives of the commercial bourgeoisie, and wealthy farmers. The Progressive (agrarian) Party (Framsoknarflokkurinn), founded in 1916, represents the interests of wealthy farmers and part of the urban bourgeoisie. The People’s Union (Althydubandalag) was founded in late 1956 as an electoral bloc and declared itself a party in 1968. It comprises former members of the United Socialist Party of Iceland, left-wing Social Democrats, and former members of the Party for the Defense of the Nation, which existed between 1953 and 1968. The Social Democratic Party of Iceland (Althyduflokkurinn) was founded in 1916. The Union of Liberals and leftists (Samtok frjalslyndra og vinstrismanna), founded in 1969, is composed of former members of the People’s Union, the Social Democratic Party, and conservatives. The liberal Party was founded in December 1973.

Trade unions and other public organizations. The Trade Unions Association, founded in 1916, had more than 45,000 members in 1971. It is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The Iceland-USSR Association was founded in 1950. The Women’s League for the Struggle for Culture and Peace belongs to the Women’s International Democratic Federation. The Federation of Youth Organizations of Iceland is a coordinating center for the youth movement. The Nordic Council promotes the development of friendly relations between Iceland and other countries of northern Europe.


General state of the economy. Iceland is a capitalist country at the intermediate stage of development. Prior to the mid-19th century the principal branches of the economy—fishing and the raising of animals for meat and wool—developed very slowly. In the second half of the 19th century the economy was stimulated by the abolition of the Danish trade monopoly and the introduction of new methods and equipment in the fishing industry. Since the early 20th century fishing and fish processing have become the country’s chief export industries. Iceland is a leading exporter of fish products on the world market.

Since World War II the power, cement, chemical, and construction industries have been developing, along with the fishing industry; the early 1970’s have been marked by increasing capital investments in transportation, communications, trade, and housing. In agriculture, both dairy farming and sheep raising are developing, satisfying domestic needs and producing for export. Fish processing, the leading branch of the economy, is dominated by private capital (the Thorsa concern). Producers’ and marketing cooperatives, which play an active part in the economy, account for 80 percent of agricultural production and 30 percent of frozen fish products. The state-monopoly sector is of growing significance, and state capital is important in trawl fishing, herring processing, and shipping, as well as in the cement, nitrogen fertilizer, and hydroelectric power industries. Foreign capital (American, West German, Swiss, and Swedish) participates in the economy. Foreign trade is of major importance in Iceland’s economy: in 1970 exports represented 48.3 percent of the gross national product.

Industry. The chief industries are fishing and fish processing, accounting for 25 to 30 percent of the gross national product in 1970. Iceland holds seventh place in Western Europe in total fish catch, primarily herring and cod (about 0.7 million tons in 1971), and first place in the world in per capita catch (as much as 4 tons a year). The chief fish-processing centers are Reykjavik, Siglu-fjordur, Akureyri, and Vestmannaeyjar. Principal products in 1970 were frozen fish (277,000 tons), salt fish (herring) and dried fish (137,000 tons), fish oil (13,000 tons), and fish meal (67,000 tons). There is whaling along the coast. The total output of electric power was 1.6 billion kilowatt-hours in 1971. Heat from hot springs is used in Reykjavik’s heating system and in greenhouses, whose total area exceeds 100,000 sq m. Power-intensive industries are developing with the aid of foreign capital; nitrogen fertilizers are produced at Gufunes (25,000 tons of ammonium nitrate) and aluminum is produced near Hafnarfjordur and in Straumsvik (41,500 tons of metal in 1971). Other industries include the production of cement (a plant in Akranes, 120,000 tons; a diatomite plant on Lake Myvatn, 22,000 tons), the construction and repair of fishing vessels (Reykjavik and Akureyri), and the manufacture of paints, textiles, knitted goods, shoes, wood products, and furniture.

Agriculture. Small-scale farming predominates, and much parcellation of land has occurred. Agricultural land amounts to 23 percent of Iceland’s total area—2.3 million hectares (ha)— and is used chiefly for meadows and pastures. Sheep raising for meat and wool and dairying are the basis of agriculture. In 1971 there were 740,000 sheep, 51,000 head of cattle (including 36,000 cows), and 33,000 horses (Icelandic ponies). Only 1,000 ha are under cultivation, and the chief crops are hay and potatoes; tomatoes and cucumbers are grown in greenhouses.

Transportation. Shipping is important, and the merchant marine totaled 105,000 gross registered tons in 1971. The fishing fleet numbers 816 vessels, with about 80,000 gross registered tons. Iceland has ice-free ports. Air transportation is also important (Loftleidir and Flugfelag Airlines). In 1971 there were more than 10,000 km of roads and 54,700 motor vehicles; there are no railroads.

Foreign trade. In 1971 fish products accounted for 84 percent of exports, other industrial goods for 13 percent, and animal products for 3 percent. The most important imports include liquid fuel and machinery, light industrial goods, and foodstuffs. Over three-fifths of exports and about nine-tenths of imports pass through the port at Reykjavik. Iceland’s leading trade partners are the USA, Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Scandinavian countries; in 1970 the USSR and other socialist countries accounted for 10.5 percent of Iceland’s total foreign trade. More than 60,000 tourists visited Iceland in 1971. The monetary unit is the krona; according to the exchange rate of the State Bank of the USSR (October 1972), 100 kronur equal 0.94 rubles.


Serebriannyi, L. R. Islandiia. Moscow, 1969.


Medicine and public health. In 1969 the birth rate was 20.7 per thousand, the general mortality rate 7.1 per thousand, and the child mortality rate 11.7 per thousand live births. In 1961–65 the average life expectancy was 76.2 years for women and 70.8 years for men. Noninfectious diseases predominate. Major causes of death are cardiovascular diseases, malignant tumors, pneumonia, children’s diseases, and the diseases of old age. Iceland has a high incidence of gastritis and malignant tumors of the digestive tract. Hospitals offer free treatment, but patients pay for the services of private general practitioners. In 1968, Iceland had 271 physicians (one for every 738 persons), 87 dentists, 87 pharmacists, and about 700 junior medical personnel; there were 2,500 hospital beds (12.5 beds per thousand inhabitants). The major hospital is the state hospital in Reykjavik (220 beds in 1964), which is also the clinical hospital of the university’s medical faculty. Eight cities have public health centers providing such services as maternity and child care and vaccination.


Veterinary services. Iceland has a relatively low incidence of infectious and parasitic diseases of animals owing to the country’s geographic isolation, to the successful adaptation of local breeds to severe natural conditions, and to prohibitions against the import of livestock. Paratuberculous enteritis of sheep is widespread (4,894 new outbreaks in 1970). Sheep are also afflicted with braxy (ten outbreaks in 1970), mange (seven outbreaks in 1970), coccidiosis, and infectious enterotoxemia; leukemia of fowls is prevalent. Cases of paratuberculosis of cattle have occurred, and mastitis of cows is widespread. Deficiency diseases have been observed in all types of domestic animals. There were 20 veterinarians in the country in 1970.


The present system of public education is based on the law adopted in 1946 providing for compulsory free education for children between the ages of seven and 15. Since much of Iceland is sparsely populated, there are many “traveling” schools, which are being replaced by boarding schools. The primary school offers a six-year program. Upon passing the primary school’s final examinations, the student may continue his education in middle-level schools, such as the two-year junior schools in small villages, the three-year middle schools in settlements and small towns, or the four-year Realschule in the large towns. After three years of study at a middle school or Realschule, the student may enroll in a four-year Gymnasium with either a language or mathematics orientation, or he may enter a specialized secondary school, such as those for navigation, radio engineering, commerce, agriculture, and pedagogy. Gymnasium graduates may continue their studies at the university. In 1970–71 there were 29,000 pupils in primary schools, about 15,400 students in general-education secondary schools, and 21,400 students in specialized secondary schools. Higher education is provided by the University of Iceland in Reykjavik; founded in 1911, the university has faculties of theology, medicine, economics, law, philosophy, art, and engineering. There were 1,700 university students in 1970–71.

The National Library, founded in 1818 and containing 280,000 volumes, is located in Reykjavik, as well as the Public Library (115,000 volumes), the National Museum of Iceland (founded in 1863), the Museum of Natural History (founded in 1889), and the Art Gallery of Iceland (founded in 1885).


The National Research Council, a coordinating agency, is active in organizing new branches of technology, in evaluating the prospects for utilizing geothermal energy, and in prospecting for and mining minerals. The major scientific organizations are located in Reykjavik. An important research institute is the university’s Science Institute (founded in 1937), with departments of fisheries, agronomy, and industrial research and management. Research in the natural sciences is carried out by the National Museum of Iceland and by various societies and special government bureaus. The Fish Industrial Research Institute, with its hatcheries and laboratories, studies problems of hydrobi-ology, ichthyology, and oceanography. The Agricultural Society conducts research on fodder resources, pastures, and geobotani-cal and soil cartography, and the Bureau of Energy studies hydroelectric power resources. The university has institutes of bacteriology and pathology.

The series Vinsindafelags Islendinga Rit (since 1923) and Grei-nar (since 1935) publish studies in mathematics, physics, geology, geography, geophysics, glaciology, botany, zoology, and anthropology. Since 1946 the National Museum of Iceland has published work in the natural sciences in Acta Naturalia Islandica.


Gislason, G. “Islenzk rannonsoknarstarfsemi og gildi hennar.” Idnadarmdl, 1963, vol. 10, nos. 1–2.
Thorsteinsson, A. “Forskningsproblemer i Island.” IVA Tidskrift forteknisk-vetenskaplig forsknig, 1953, vol. 24, no.7.
Náttura Islands. [Reykjavik, 1961.]


Books were first printed in Iceland in 1530. The first monthly magazine was published in 1773 and the first newspapers in the mid-19th century. In 1974 there were about 80 newspapers and several dozen magazines. The total circulation of the largest daily newspapers published in the capital is about 90,000 copies; only weekly newspapers are published in the provinces. Major Reykjavik newspapers are Morgunbladid (founded in 1913; 1974 circulation, 41,000), which reflects the views of the Independence Party, and Timinn (from 1917; circulation 18, 500), the organ of the Progressive Party. The newspaper Thjodviljinn (from 1936, circulation 8, 200) was the organ of the United Socialist Party of Iceland until its dissolution; since early 1969 it has called itself the “organ of socialism, the labor movement, and national liberation,” and today it reflects the views of the People’s Union. Other important newspapers are Althydubladid (from 1916, circulation 12,000), the organ of the Social Democratic Party, and Nytt Land—Frjdls Thjod (from 1952, circulation about 5,000), the organ of the Union of Liberals and Leftists. There is no Icelandic news agency. Information is received mainly from the Norwegian Telegraph Bureau, Reuters, and the Associated Press (USA). A state radio station broadcasting in Icelandic has been operating since 1930. Television programs have been broadcast since 1966.


Icelandic literature derives from ancient Scandinavian folklore, which has been passed down in manuscripts dating from the 13th century or later. The Poetic Edda is a collection of mythological and heroic lays. The poetry of the skalds, the greatest of whom was Egill Skallagrimsson (c. 910–90), describes events of the ninth through the 13th centuries and is characterized by complex alliteration, rhyme, and traditional periphrases. The sagas are Iceland’s greatest contribution to world literature. The most interesting are the family sagas, prose works linked to oral popular tradition and realistically describing the life of the first Icelandic settlers and their immediate descendants. The best known are Njals saga and Egils saga. The kings’ sagas are tales from the history of Norway to the mid-13th century. The best of these, the Heimskringla (c. 1230), was composed by Snorri Sturluson (1178–1241), who also wrote the Prose Edda, a work about pagan mythology and the poetry of the skalds. The sagas of ancient times, composed in the 13th and 14th centuries, deal with events prior to the tenth century. Christian poetry, also developing at this time, gave more attention to human experiences than did skaldic poetry; it attained its culmination in the mid-14th century in E. Asgrimsson’s poem The Lily. In addition to religious works, the rimur became a principal literary genre. The rimur, which were composed until the 19th century, were poetic renderings of a great variety of subjects. The collection and study of ancient manuscripts began in the late 16th century. A. Jonsson (1568–1648) and T. Torfaeus (1636–1719) wrote in Latin about ancient Icelandic history and literature.

The 17th-century poet H. Petursson (1614–74), the author of Hymns on the Passion (1666), largely followed German and Danish models. The work of E. Olafsson (1726–68), a writer of the Enlightenment, contributed to the awakening of national consciousness. His didactic narrative poems heralded the revival of Icelandic poetry after the stagnation resulting from the country’s long domination by Norway and Denmark. In the 18th century Icelandic literature was greatly influenced by European literary developments, mainly English literature, through the intermediary of Norwegian and Danish works. In the late 18th century S. Petursson (1759–1827) wrote the first Icelandic comedies.

A renaissance of Icelandic literature took place in the 19th century, during the period of romanticism, which in Iceland was closely associated with the political struggle for autonomy. The progressive writers rallied around the journal Fjblnir (1835–39, 1844–47), which published the works of the poet J. Hallgrimsson (1807–45). Another romantic poet was B. Thorarensen (1786— 1841). The Icelandic romantic poets glorified the national past, the period of Iceland’s political independence, and strove to purify the language; they did not, however, follow the models of folk poetry. The works of S. Breidfjord (1798–1846) and H. Jonsson (1796–1875), who adhered closely to the rimur tradition, stood apart from the literary mainstream. Late romanticism was represented by G. Thomsen (1820–96), S. Thorsteinsson (1831–1913), and M. Jochumsson (1835–1920).

The first Icelandic novel, Lad and Lass by J. Thoroddsen (1818–68), was published in 1850; the first romantic play was M. Jochumsson’s Skugga Sveinn (1864); and the historical novel appeared in the 1880’s (G. Thomsen). The work of the Icelandic realists developed under the influence of G. Brandes’ literary criticism. The 19th-century realist G. Palsson (1852–91) exposed the hypocrisy of the society of the time. Iceland’s attainment of sovereignty in 1918 after a century of struggle gave impetus to the development of literature. Achievements in drama in the early 20th century include Eyvind of the Hills (1911) and Loftur the Sorcerer (1915) by J. Sigurjonsson (1880–1919) and The Sword and the Crozier (1899) and The Dance at Hruni (1921) by I. Einarsson (1851–1939). T. Erlingsson (1858–1914), the first Icelandic socialist writer, published the collection of lyrical and satirical poems Thorns in 1897. Stephan G. Stephansson (18531927), whose poems had much in common with Erlingsson’s, was a representative of the literature of the Icelandic emigrants in Canada. The country’s rapid economic and political development was reflected in the poetry of E. Benediktsson (1864–1940), who glorified Iceland’s natural wealth and technological progress. The poetry of D. Stefansson (born 1895), Stefan fra Hvita-dal (1887–1933), and T. Gudmundsson (born 1901) is characterized by a subtle analysis of man’s feelings and experiences. Iceland’s past and present are portrayed in the novels The Mountain Church (vols. 1–4, 1923–29) by G. Gunnarsson (born 1889), Life’s Morning (1929) by K. Gudmundsson (born 1902), Skdlholt (vols. 1–4, 1930–35) by G. Kamban (1888–1945), Kris-triin From Hamravik (1933) by G. Hagalin(born 1898), and The Brothers of Grashagi (1935) by G. Danielsson (born 1910). Of special importance in the development of social consciousness was the politically fervent Letters to Laura of T. Thordarson (born 1889), showing the crisis of capitalist society, as well as his novels The Icelandic Nobility (1938) and The Stones Speak (1956). H. K. Laxness (born 1902) continued the traditions of 19th-century realism. His novel Salka Valka (vols. 1–2, 193132) describes the early days of the workers’ movement in Iceland. Laxness combines sharp criticism of bourgeois reality with profound psychological insight, as in his novels Independent People (vols. 1–2, 1934–35), World Light (vols. 1–4, 1937–40), and The Atom Station (1948). The literature of the 1940’s reflected the growth of public consciousness resulting from the successful struggle for the proclamation of Iceland as an independent republic (1944). The realist literature of these years is represented by the short stories of H. Stefansson (born 1892), by the lyrical novels The Mount and the Dream (1944) and The Clockwork (1955) of 6. J. Sigurdsson (born 1918), and by the poetry of Johannes ur Kotlum (born 1899), G. Bodvarsson (born 1904), and S. Hjartarson (born 1906). S. Steinarr (1908–58) has played a prominent role in contemporary Icelandic poetry, and the prose writer T. Vilhjalmsson (born 1925), the playwright A. Bogason (born 1917), and the publicist J. Arnason (born 1922) have gained recognition.


Andresson, K. E Sovremennaia islandskaia literatura, 1918–1948. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from Icelandic.)
Steblin-Kamenskii, M. I. Kul’tura Islandii. Leningrad, 1967.
Steblin-Kamenskii, M. I. Mir sagi. Leningrad, 1971.
Jonsson, F. Den oldnorske og oldislandske litteraturs historie, 2nd ed., vols. 1–3. Copenhagen, 1920–24.
Islason, B. M. Islands litteratur efterSaga tiden, c.a. 1400–1948. Copenhagen, 1949.
Beck, R. History of Icelandic Poets, 1800–1940. New York, 1950.
Einarsson, S. A History of Icelandic Literature. New York, 1957.
Einarsson, S. History of Icelandic Prose Writers, 1800–1940. New York, 1966.


From ancient times Icelanders have built “long houses,” often sunk in the ground and made of sod and peat, with a sod roof and a series of rooms from front to back. Beginning in the 11th and 12th centuries wood-carving was widely practiced (interlace ornaments, reliefs, crucifixes, and statues), exhibiting traits of Romanesque art and of the Norman animal style. Silver cups of the 12th and 13th centuries, Gothic miniatures of the 14th and 15th centuries, and embroidered altar cloths were also decorated with the traditional interlace design. In the mid-18th century stone buildings were first built in the towns, mainly according to designs by Danish architects, such as the cathedrals in Holar and Reykjavik. In the 19th century there developed a type of two-or three-story house made of imported lumber, tufa, and basalt, with a corrugated iron facing.

With the growth of the national liberation movement in the 19th century painting appeared, notably the portraiture of Sigurdur Gudmundsson and the landscape painting of Thora-rinn Thorlaksson and Asgrimur Jonsson, who used images of Iceland’s wild, unspoiled nature to symbolize the national awakening. The realist painting of the 20th century is imbued with national romanticism, as in Kjarval’s and Jon Stefansson’s severe northern landscapes, Gudmundur Thorsteinsson’s paintings of fairy tales and legends, and Kristin Jonsdottir’s and Gunnlaugur Scheving’s scenes from the life of the working people, peasants, and fishermen. The sculpture of the versatile artist Einar Jonsson and of Asmundur Sveinsson and Sigurjon Olafsson truthfully depicts subjects from the history, life, and folklore of the Icelandic people.

Since the 1920’s architecture has been employing modern forms, structural materials (cast reinforced-concrete, steel frames), and methods of design and layout (for example, the new buildings in Reykjavik and Akureyri). Apartment houses of four and five stories and public, administrative, and industrial buildings are being constructed (architects, Sigurdur Gudmundsson, Gudjon Samiielsson and Sigvaldi Thordarsson).

In contemporary painting both the realist tradition (Sigurdur Sigurdsson) and modernist currents (Snorri Arinbjarnar, Thor-valdur Sktilasson) are represented. Folk art is expressed in wood carving, embroidery, and knitting.


Vystavka zhivopisi Islandii: Katalog. Moscow, 1959.
Kolli, N. “Arkhitektura Islandii.” In the collection Sovetskaia arkhitektura, no. 12. Moscow, 1960.
Fridriksson, K., ed. Art in Iceland. Reykjavik, 1943.
Eldjarn, K. Icelandic Art. New York, 1961.

The roots of Icelandic folk music lie in the distant past, as shown by the folk epics, which include parable songs. The introduction of Christianity led to the spread of Gregorian chant, followed by the Protestant hymns of the Reformation. Folk music, developing side by side with church music, consisted mainly of unaccompanied songs. Two popular genres were the heroic rimur and the vikivakar, songs about chivalric heroes. Folk music was almost exclusively vocal; among the few stringed instruments in use were the langspil (a bowed instrument) and the fiddle. Today folk songs are usually sung in two voices and have a diatonic melody, an odd beat, and a free and irregular meter.

Professional music began developing in Iceland in the late 19th century. Independence and expanding relations with the outer world contributed to the spread of European culture. The first professional musician was the composer S. Sveinbjornsson, who wrote the national anthem. The turn of the 20th century is marked by the instrumental and choral compositions of H. Hel-gason and J. Laxdal and by the work of B. Thorsteinsson, the first Icelandic folklore scholar. Composers of the 20th century—educated in European conservatories and using modern musical techniques in their work—attempted to create a national music based on Icelandic folklore. The best-known Icelandic musicians are the composers P. Isolfsson, J. Leifs, E. Thor-oddsen, K. Runolfsson, and J. Thorarinsson, the singers G. Simonar, F. Palsdottir, S. Islandi, and F. Veishappel, and the pianist A. Beitenenson.

Reykjavik is the site of the Icelandic National Symphony Orchestra (founded in 1950), the male choir Fostbroedur (Invited Brothers, founded in 1916), the choir Icelandic Singers, and several chamber orchestras. The National Theater, founded in 1950, regularly stages operas. Concerts are given in a special concert hall and in motion picture theaters. Reykjavik also has three music schools, th-Musica Islandica Publishing House, and several musical societies. There are also music societies in Akureyri, Akranes, Hafnarfjbrdur, and other cities.


Leifs, J. Islenzkl lonlistaredli. Reykjavik, 1922.
Leifs, J. Islands kiinstlerische Anregung. Reykjavik, 1951.


Iceland’s skaldic poetry and ancient sagas contained elements of the drama. The first theatrical performances were given in 1720 at the Latin School in Skalholt, which moved to Reykjavik in 1799 and remained the center of Iceland’s theatrical culture up to the second half of the 19th century. One of the first important figures in the Icelandic theater of the second half of the 18th and early 19th century was the dramatist S. Petursson. In the second half of the 19th century amateur theatrical groups were organized, staging plays by M. Jochumsson and I. Einarsson. The Reykjavik Dramatic Society, founded in 1897, laid the foundation for a professional theater. From its beginning the society staged plays by the leading Icelandic playwrights, J. Sigurjons-son, G. Kamban, E. Kvaran, and D. Stefansson. The National Theater, founded in 1950 as a successor to the Dramatic Society, stages dramatic and musical plays. The performance of Laxness’ plays was an important theatrical event. The theater’s repertory also includes plays by H. Ibsen, G. B. Shaw, J. A. Strindberg, N. V. Gogol, A. P. Chekhov, and A. N. Arbuzov. Outstanding theatrical figures include J. Waage, L. Palsson, B. Halldorsson, A. Bjornsdottir, H. Bjornsson, H. Valtysdottir, and R. Arnfinn-son. There are several semiprofessional acting companies in Reykjavik and other towns.


Poestion, J. C. Zur Geschichte des isldndischen Dramas und Theaterwes-ens. Vienna, 1903.
Sigurbjornsson, J. “Reykjavik Teater.” In Del moderne Island. Copenha-gen, 1948. [10–1450-3; updated]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Republic of Iceland

Capital city: Reykjavik

 Internet country code: .is

Flag description: Blue with a red cross outlined in white extending to the edges of the flag; the vertical part of the cross is shifted to the hoist side in the style of the Dan­nebrog (Danish flag)

National anthem: “Ó, Gu vors lands” (O, God of Our Land), lyrics by Matthías Jochumsson, music by Svein­björn Sveinbjörnsson

Geographical description: Northern Europe, island between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the United Kingdom

Total area: 39,600 sq. mi. (103,000 sq. km.)

Climate: Temperate; moderated by North Atlantic Current; mild, windy winters; damp, cool summers

Nationality: noun: Icelander(s); adjective: Icelandic

Population: 301,931 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norwegians and Celts 94%, population of foreign origin 6%

Languages spoken: Icelandic, English, Nordic languages, German widely spoken

Religions: Lutheran Church of Iceland 85.5%, Reykjavik Free Church 2.1%, Roman Catholic Church 2%, Hafnar­fjorour Free Church 1.5%, other Christian 2.7%, other or unspecified 3.8%, unaffiliated 2.4%

Legal Holidays:

Boxing DayDec 26
Christmas DayDec 25
Christmas EveDec 24
Commerce DayAug 1, 2011; Aug 6, 2012; Aug 5, 2013; Aug 4, 2014; Aug 3, 2015; Aug 1, 2016; Aug 7, 2017; Aug 6, 2018; Aug 5, 2019; Aug 3, 2020; Aug 2, 2021; Aug 1, 2022; Aug 7, 2023
Easter MondayApr 25, 2011; Apr 9, 2012; Apr 1, 2013; Apr 21, 2014; Apr 6, 2015; Mar 28, 2016; Apr 17, 2017; Apr 2, 2018; Apr 22, 2019; Apr 13, 2020; Apr 5, 2021; Apr 18, 2022; Apr 10, 2023
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
Independence DayJun 17
Labour DayMay 1
Maundy ThursdayApr 21, 2011; Apr 5, 2012; Mar 28, 2013; Apr 17, 2014; Apr 2, 2015; Mar 24, 2016; Apr 13, 2017; Mar 29, 2018; Apr 18, 2019; Apr 9, 2020; Apr 1, 2021; Apr 14, 2022; Apr 6, 2023
New Year's DayJan 1
New Year's EveDec 31
Whit MondayJun 13, 2011; May 28, 2012; May 20, 2013; Jun 9, 2014; May 25, 2015; May 16, 2016; Jun 5, 2017; May 21, 2018; Jun 10, 2019; Jun 1, 2020; May 24, 2021; Jun 6, 2022; May 29, 2023
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


an island republic in the N Atlantic, regarded as part of Europe: settled by Norsemen, who established a legislative assembly in 930; under Danish rule (1380--1918); gained independence in 1918 and became a republic in 1944; contains large areas of glaciers, snowfields, and lava beds with many volcanoes and hot springs (the chief source of domestic heat); inhabited chiefly along the SW coast. The economy is based largely on fishing and tourism. Official language: Icelandic. Official religion: Evangelical Lutheran. Currency: kr?na. Capital: Reykjavik. Pop.: 291 000 (2004 est.). Area: 102 828 sq. km (39 702 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
"We are in the stage of preparing the business plan, so the investment plan would be revealed at a later stage," said Santokh Chawla, managing director of Polo RAK Amusements, which owns a 49 per cent stake in Ice Land. The local government holds 51 per cent stake through the RAK Investment Authority and RAK Properties PJSC.
Ice Land Water Park will open its doors to the public from September 29 with more than 50 exhilarating water attractions and water slides.
Ice Land Water Park is open from 11am to 8pm on weekdays and 10am to 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
The 'Ice land Water Park' is part of the WOW RAK theme park resort being developed in Ras Al Khaimah by Polo RAK Amusements.
He slides across ravines and icebergs in the Ice Land in an attempt to dodge Itsy the Ice Demon.
Taipei Arena Ice Land is offering spring specials from now through May 31, according to a news release issued by Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation issued on March 1.
JEDDAH: Ric Nangel and Mildred Florentino earned their places on the Bowler of the Month honor roll by winning their respective divisions during the OFBC monthly tournament for August recently at the Ice Land Bowling Center.
Ice Land Water Park, in Al Hamra, Ras Al Khamaih, will hold its official opening ceremony on Wednesday from 6pm until midnight.
JEDDAH: Fedelyn Bustinera prevented what could have been a husband-and-wife double by Alexander and Carmen Duma but barely, as she edged out Carmen for the ladies Bowler of the Month title for July during the OFBC monthly tournament at the Ice Land Bowling Center.
JEDDAH: Saudi German Hospital staff who are bowling enthusiasts got together on Friday at Ice Land Bowling Center for the 1st SGH Fun Games.
JEDDAH: OFBC bowlers swung back into action after the Ramadan break during the OFBC Monthly Tournament for June at the Ice Land Bowling Center here recently.
The venues for the festival-related activities are Corniche, King Abdulaziz Cultural Center, Abar Al Roghama, North Obhar, Old Airport Al Salam Mall, Hifa Mall, Arab Mall, Prince Sultan Street Park next to Ice Land, Literary Cultural Club Theatre and Arts and Culture Society Theatre.