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Íslendingabók (Icelandic pronunciation:  [ˈistlɛntiŋkaˌpouk] , Old Norse pronunciation: [ˈiːslɛndɪŋgaˌboːk], Book of Icelanders; Latin : Libellus Islandorum) is a historical work dealing with early Icelandic history. The author was an Icelandic priest, Ari Þorgilsson, working in the early 12th century. The work originally existed in two different versions but only the younger one has survived. The older contained information on Norwegian kings, made use of by later writers of kings' sagas.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an alphabetic system of phonetic notation based primarily on the Latin alphabet. It was devised by the International Phonetic Association in the late 19th century as a standardized representation of the sounds of spoken language. The IPA is used by lexicographers, foreign language students and teachers, linguists, speech-language pathologists, singers, actors, constructed language creators and translators.

History of Iceland occurrences and people in Iceland throughout history

The recorded history of Iceland began with the settlement by Viking explorers and their slaves from the east, particularly Norway and the British Isles, in the late ninth century. Iceland was still uninhabited long after the rest of Western Europe had been settled. Recorded settlement has conventionally been dated back to 874, although archaeological evidence indicates Gaelic monks from Ireland, known as papar according to sagas, had settled Iceland before that date.

Kings sagas

Kings' sagas are Old Norse sagas which principally tell of the lives of semi-legendary and legendary Nordic kings, also known as saga kings. They were composed during the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries in Iceland and Norway.


The priest Jón Erlendsson in Villingaholt (died 1672) in the service of bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson made two copies of Íslendingabók (now AM 113 a fol and AM 113 b fol at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies), the latter one because the bishop was unhappy with the first version. The original copied from is assumed to have dated to ca. 1200. It was lost in the course of the late 17th century, and when Árni Magnússon looked for it, it had disappeared without a trace.

Brynjólfur Sveinsson Icelandic bishop

Brynjólfur Sveinsson served as the Lutheran Bishop of the see of Skálholt in Iceland. His main influence has been on modern knowledge of Old Norse literature. Brynjólfur is also known for his support of the career of the Icelandic poet and hymn writer Hallgrímur Pétursson. Brynjólfur Sveinsson is currently pictured on the Icelandic 1000 krónur bill.

Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies

The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies is an institute of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Iceland which conducts research in Icelandic and related academic studies, in particular the Icelandic language and Icelandic literature, to disseminate knowledge in those areas, and to protect and develop the collections that it possesses or those placed in its care. It is named after Árni Magnússon, a 17th-18th century collector of medieval Icelandic manuscripts.

Style and sources

Íslendingabók is a concise work which relates the major events of Icelandic history in terse prose. While the author is forced to rely almost exclusively on oral history he takes pains to establish the reliability of his sources and mentions several of them by name. He avoids supernatural material and Christian bias. The prologue of the book explicitly states that whatever might be wrong in the account must be corrected to "that which can be proven to be most true". Due to these qualities of the work and the early time of its writing, historians consider it the most reliable extant source on early Icelandic history.

Oral history collection of information about something recorded through interviews

Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews. These interviews are conducted with people who participated in or observed past events and whose memories and perceptions of these are to be preserved as an aural record for future generations. Oral history strives to obtain information from different perspectives and most of these cannot be found in written sources. Oral history also refers to information gathered in this manner and to a written work based on such data, often preserved in archives and large libraries. Knowledge presented by Oral History (OH) is unique in that it shares the tacit perspective, thoughts, opinions and understanding of the interviewee in its primary form.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with about 2.4 billion followers.


Apart from a prologue and a genealogy at the end, Íslendingabók is split into ten short chapters.(only 7 listed)


1. Settlement of Iceland

Iceland is settled in the days of Harald I of Norway by immigrants from Norway. The first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson, arrives in Reykjavík. When the first settlers arrive Iceland is said to be forested "from the coast to the mountains".

Norway Country in Northern Europe

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country in Northern Europe whose territory comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula; the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Antarctic Peter I Island and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island are dependent territories and thus not considered part of the kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.

Reykjavík Capital and largest city in Iceland

Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland. It is located in southwestern Iceland, on the southern shore of Faxaflói bay. Its latitude is 64°08' N, making it the world's northernmost capital of a sovereign state. With a population of around 128,793, it is the center of Iceland's cultural, economic and governmental activity, and is a popular tourist destination.

2. Bringing of laws from Norway

When Iceland had largely been settled a man named Úlfljótr becomes the first man to bring laws there from Norway. Another man, Grímr Goatshoe (or possibly Goatbeard), investigates all of Iceland before Alþingi can be established. Ari's text is somewhat unclear here. Presumably Grímr explored the country to find a good meeting place.

Úlfljótr brought law to Iceland and is regarded by some as Iceland's first lawspeaker. In around 927-930 AD Úlfljótr was sent to Norway by a group of chieftains to study law and culture and bring back to Iceland sufficient understanding to help establish Iceland's legal framework and form of government. And while he was in Norway, where he stayed for around three years, Grimur Geitskor, Úlfljótr's half-brother, made a survey of Iceland to find the best place for the establishment of the Althing. Úlfljótr is commemorated with the first law enacted at the Alðing, Úlfljót's Law, with the Lake Úlfljótsvatn and by the Úlfljótur Law Review.

Althing unicameral parliament of Iceland

The Alþingi is the national parliament of Iceland. It is the oldest surviving parliament in the world, a claim shared by Tynwald. The Althing was founded in 930 at Þingvellir, situated approximately 45 kilometres (28 mi) east of what later became the country's capital, Reykjavík. Even after Iceland's union with Norway in 1262, the Althing still held its sessions at Þingvellir until 1800, when it was discontinued. It was restored in 1844 and moved to Reykjavík, where it has resided ever since. The present parliament building, the Alþingishús, was built in 1881, made of hewn Icelandic stone. The unicameral parliament has 63 members, and is elected every four years based on party-list proportional representation.

3. Establishment of Alþingi

The Alþingi is established on Þingvellir, which becomes public property - it was confiscated from a man who had killed a slave. After 60 years the settlement of Iceland is complete. Ulfljótr becomes the first Lawspeaker.

Þingvellir place in southwestern Iceland

Þingvellir, anglicised as Thingvellir, is a national park in the municipality of Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, about 40 km northeast of Iceland's capital, Reykjavík. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

4. Fixing of the calendar

The wisest men of Iceland notice that the calendar is slowly moving out of sync with the seasons. The problem lies in the fact that the calendar in use had 52 weeks to the year, only 364 days. As people come to the conclusion that something like a day is missing they are still reluctant to use a year which doesn't contain a whole number of weeks. A man named Þorsteinn surtr comes up with an ingenious solution - a whole week should be added once every seven years. The proposal is enacted into law by the assembly around 955.

5. Partition of Iceland into judicial quadrants

The system of ad hoc local judicial assemblies becomes unwieldy and a need is felt for standardization. A man named Þórðr gellir describes to Alþingi his recent difficulties in prosecuting a certain case in a local assembly. He suggests that the country should be split into judicial quadrants, each of which should contain three assemblies. Each quadrant, then, should contain a special assembly for appeals. The motion passes with the amendment that the northern quadrant should have four assemblies, since the northerners couldn't agree on any three.

6. Discovery and settlement of Greenland

Greenland is discovered and settled from Iceland around 985. Erik the Red gave the country its pleasant name to encourage people to move there. The Norse settlers find remnants of previous human habitation and deduce that the people who lived there were related to the skrælingjar of Vínland.

7. Conversion of Iceland to Christianity

King Olaf I of Norway sends the missionary priest Þangbrandr to Iceland to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. He has some success in baptizing chieftains but also meets opposition and ends up killing two or three men who had composed libellous poetry about him. He returns to Norway after one or two years with a litany of complaints and tells the king that he has little hope that the country can be converted. The king is furious at hearing the news and threatens to hurt or kill Icelanders in Norway. Two of the Icelandic chieftains previously converted by Þangbrandr meet with the king and pledge their aid in converting the country.

In the summer of 999 or 1000 the issue of religion reaches a crisis point at the Alþingi. The Christian faction and the pagan faction do not want to share the same laws and the Christians choose a new lawspeaker for themselves, Hallr á Síðu. He reaches an agreement with Þorgeirr Ljósvetningagoði, the pagan lawspeaker, that Þorgeirr will find a compromise acceptable to everyone.

Þorgeirr goes to his camp and stays under a skin for the remainder of the day and the following night. The day after he gives a speech at Lögberg. He says that the only way to maintain peace in the country is for everyone to keep to the same laws and the same religion.

Þat mon verða satt, es vér slítum í sundr lǫgin, at vér monum slíta ok friðinn.

"It will prove true that if we tear apart the laws we will also tear apart the peace."

Before reciting the compromise he has come up with Þorgeirr gets his audience to pledge themselves to a solution with one set of laws for all the country. Þorgeirr then decrees that everyone not already baptized must convert to Christianity. Three concessions are made to the pagans.

  1. The old laws allowing exposure of newborn children will remain in force.
  2. The old laws on the eating of horsemeat will remain in force.
  3. People can make pagan sacrifices in private.

Some years later those concessions are abolished.

8-10. Bishops and lawspeakers in Iceland


The genealogy at the end of the book was a langfedgatal. [1]


A website named islendingabok.is contains a full genealogy of 720,000 Icelanders starting with the information contained in Íslendingabók. The genealogy was started by an Icelandic programmer, Fridrik Skúlason using a DOS program called Espólín in 1988. [2] In 1997 Kári Stefánsson and his company deCODE genetics created a website with Skúlason which has been expanded using genetic analysis to cover 95% of the Icelanders who have lived in the last three centuries. It has given rise to a popular app which young Icelanders use to check whether they are related. [3]

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  1. Quinn, Judy., From orality to literacy in medieval Iceland, p. 60 in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) Old Icelandic Literature and Society, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  2. "The Iceland family tree". Iceland Review on line. 30 January 2014 [8 February 2007]. Retrieved Dec 21, 2014.
  3. Khazan, Olga (Oct 7, 2014). "How Iceland's Genealogy Obsession Leads to Scientific Breakthroughs". Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved Dec 21, 2014.