Icelandic Commonwealth

Icelandic Commonwealth

Þjóðveldið Ísland
c. 930–1262
Map of Iceland by Abraham Ortelius (c. 1590)
Map of Iceland by Abraham Ortelius (c. 1590)
Common languagesOld Norse (later Old Icelandic)
Important chieftains (goðar) 
• 1199–1238
Sturla Sighvatsson
• 1208–1245
Kolbeinn ungi Arnórsson
• 1210–1256
Þórður kakali Sighvatsson
• 1208–1268
Gissur Þorvaldsson
• 1214–1284
Sturla Þórðarson
• 985–1001
Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði
• 1004–1030
Skapti Þóroddsson
• 1031-1033
Steinn Þorgestsson
• 1034–1053
Þorkell Tjörvason
• 1054–1062/1072–1074
Gellir Bolverksson
• 1063–1065/1075
Gunnar Þorgrímsson the Wise
• 1066–1071
Kolbeinn Flosasson
• 1076–1083
Sighvatur Surtsson
• 1084–1107
Markús Skeggjason
• 1108–1116
Úlfhéðin Gunnarsson
• 1117–1122
Bergþór Hrafnsson
• 1215–1218/1222–1231
Snorri Sturluson
• 1248–1250/1252
Ólafur Þórðarson
• 1251
Sturla Þórðarson
LegislatureLögrétta of Alþingi
Historical eraHigh Middle Ages
• Alþingi established
c. 930
• Norwegian kingship
950103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi)
• 950
ISO 3166 codeIS
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Settlement of Iceland
Kingdom of Norway (872–1397)
Today part of Iceland

The Icelandic Commonwealth, Icelandic Free State, or Republic of Iceland[1] (Icelandic: þjóðveldið or, less commonly, goðaveldið) was the state existing in Iceland between the establishment of the Alþingi (Althing) in 930 and the pledge of fealty to the Norwegian king with the Old Covenant in 1262. With the probable exception of Papar, Iceland was an uninhabited island until around 870.

Goðorð system

The medieval Icelandic state had a unique judicial structure. The first settlers of Iceland were greatly influenced by their Norwegian roots when creating their own form of government. They wanted to avoid the strong centralized authority of Harald Fairhair from which some of them had fled, but they also wanted to replicate the Norwegian tradition of laws and district legal assemblies (Þing). This created a unique structure.[2][dubious ]

The most powerful and elite leaders in Iceland were the chieftains (sing. goði, pl. goðar). The office of the goði was called the goðorð. The goðorð was not delimited by strict geographical boundaries. Thus, a free man could choose to support any of the goðar of his district. The supporters of the goðar were called Þingmenn ("assembly people"). In exchange for the goði protecting his interests, the Þingmaðr would provide armed support to his goði during feuds or conflicts. The Þingmenn were also required to attend regional and national assemblies.[3]

On a regional level, the goðar of the thirteen district assemblies convened meetings every spring to settle local disputes. The goðar also served as the leaders of the Alþingi, the national assembly of Iceland. Today, the Alþingi is the oldest parliamentary institution in existence. It began with the regional assembly at Kjalarness established by Þorsteinn Ingólfsson, son of the first settler. The leaders of the Kjalarnessþing appointed a man named Úlfljótr to study the laws in Norway. He spent three years in Norway and returned with the foundation of Úlfljótr's Law, which would form the basis for Iceland's national assembly. Sections of his law code are preserved in the Landnámabók, ("Book of Settlements"). The first Alþingi assembly convened around the year 930 at Þingvellir, ("Assembly Plains"). The Alþingi served as a public gathering at which people from all over the country met for two weeks every June. The Alþingi revolved around the Lögrétta, the legislative council of the assembly, which was responsible for reviewing and amending the nation's laws. The Lögrétta comprised the 39 goðar and their advisors. They also appointed a Lawspeaker (lögsögumaður) once every three years. The Lawspeaker recited and clarified laws at Lögberg ("Law Rock"), located at the center of Þingvellir.[4] The descendants of Ingólfr Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland, held the ceremonial position of allsherjargoði and had the role of sanctifying the Alþingi each year.