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Iceland’s 1100 Years

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‘Iceland’s 1100 Years’ recounts the history of a society on the margin of Europe as well as on the margin of reaching the size and wealth of a proper state. Iceland is unique among the European societies in being founded as late as the Viking Age, and in surviving for centuries without any central power after Christianity had introduced the art of writing. This was the age of the Sagas, which are not only literature but also a rare treasury of sources about a stateless society. In sharp contrast to the prosperous society portrayed by the Sagas, early modern Iceland appears to have been extremely poor and miserable. It is challenging to question whether the deterioration was due to foreign rule, to a colder climate, or to an unfortunate internal power structure. Or was the Golden Age perhaps the invention of 19th-century nationalists? Iceland adopted nationalism quickly and thoroughly. In the mid-nineteenth century about 60,000 inhabitants, mostly poor peasants, set out to gain independence from Denmark, which was finally achieved in 1944 with the foundation of a republic. In recent decades Iceland has caught up economically with its closest neighbours. This has come about mainly through the mechanisation of fishing, which gave rise to a second battle for sovereignty, this time over the country’s fishing grounds.