In 330 BC an explorer Pytheas of Massalia tried to sail from today’s Marseilles to the north in order to find how far the world would reach in that direction. He navigated the British Isles and the northern seas and upon returning home wrote about an island that he called Thule or Ultima Thule, which either he had learned about from others or discovered himself. This island was six days north of Britain and one day removed from “the end of the world”. The island he found is thought to have been Iceland.
During Medieval period, before 800 AD., Irish explorers again came upon the island of Iceland. Far North though it was, it was warmed by the gulf and it’s abundant geysers and hot springs must have made it seem an unlikely sanctuary, and they settled there. A handful of Irish monks regarded it as a sort of hermitage.
The next arrivals here were the Norwegians, headed by Ingólfr Arnarson, who arrives in Rekyavik in 874. They brought their Irish and Scottish slaves with them. This was the Age of Settlement, traditionally defined as the period between 870 and 930, when political strife on the Scandinavian mainland caused many to flee.
The first Althing (parliament) was held at Thingvellir in 930 AD. It is the one of the oldest parliamentary system in Europe, and it will continue to function till the end of 18 century.
Iceland now becomes a launching pad for some amazing explorers. Eiríkr Thorvaldsson (Eric the Red) discovers Greenland in 982 after being ordered out of Iceland for manslaughter by the Althing. In 986 sail away from Iceland bound for Greenland together with many families willing to settle there. The Greenland colonies were continue to struggle on until the fourteenth century, when the independent trade of unique goods from Greenland that supports them collapsed. This westward expansion across the North Atlantic takes nearly two centuries to complete, with each new colony, especially in its vulnerable early years, greatly dependent upon the preceding ones for settlers, livestock, and supplies.
Iceland becomes a Christian country in 999. In this period country got some semblance of national unity at a time when squabbles were arising among its leaders and allegiances were being questioned, but private worship of the old gods will linger on for at least a generation.
The country flourishes during the next century, and established a thriving agrarian economy with little unrest. Explorer Leifr Eríksson (“Leif the lucky”) sails further to North America in search of new lands, posterity and more walrus ivory, and names it Vinland for the grapes they find growing abundantly on it’s shores. Alas, the attempts at settling both Greenland and Vinland is doomed to eventual failure, but some small settlements linger on and may have contributed some of their genes to the native population.
Iceland, however, grows steadily in the arable lands-if not exactly booming, at least stable and prosperous, mainly dependent on barley as the chief grain and hardy sheep supplying meat, wool and milk. The forests have been culled too severely for pigs and cattle do not fare well on these fields. The weather is milder than present day, and the farms reach further inland, using the rich volcanic soil that lies thin on the surface.
The fishing was excellent, cod plentiful and seals abundant. Already many of the species of sheepdog, sheep and horses brought with the Norse are becoming distinctly adapted to the harsher climate of Iceland. Trade is brisk in eiderdown and stock-fish and a great literary tradition is about to flower. With coming of Christianity and literacy, the great sagas will be committed to the page and doom the purely oral poetic tradition of the Norsemen, while creating anew a lasting Icelandic fascination for the written word.