Floki and the Historical Discovery of Iceland

May 28, 2021 12 min read


This article deals with the discovery of the great Iceland and the first settlement on the great island. The first settlement on the island was during 874 AD and the first man to settle was called Floki after two other explorers had tried to sail towards the island but to no vain. In addition, the political organization and the colonization of Iceland is depicted in the article. Since people can’t live without the law to guide them on their daily basis. Therefore, the article gives comprehensive report on how the community was organized politically and even their social status and living. Furthermore, the struggle for colonization and how the whole massacre was undertaken and later on how the Icelanders took steps for them to reclaim their original states and living behavior. It is during the 19th century that Iceland attained its full independence from the Danish rule. The religious organization, the rituals performed to the introduction of Christianity in Iceland is evident in the article. Before the introduction of Christianity, in Iceland the people of Iceland practiced and believed in nose paganism. It was not until the political organization in Iceland decided that Christianity to become the main religion in Iceland.




Iceland is a Nordic Iceland country in the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of 356,996 people and an area of 103,000 kilometers squared. This factor makes Iceland to be the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Iceland is boarded by the Greenland Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The national language in Iceland is English since the ninth century. Moreover, Iceland is mostly known for it contains the most active volcanoes in the world and also the largest glaciers in Europe. Iceland is nicknamed the Land of Fire. This is because of the active volcanoes and the presence of ice in it. Other names given to Iceland are called the Land of Light and Darkness.

Iceland was discovered by a great man called Floki as he was the first Norseman to intentionally sail to Iceland and this was during the Viking Age. Before him Srarsson and Naddoddur had circumnavigated to the island but Floki was the first one of them all to settle in Iceland. The discovery of Iceland was during the ninth century. In addition, Floki is accredited to have climbed the highest mountain that is believed to be Mt. Nonfell in the Westjords. It is on the mountain where he saw a large land which was completely covered by ice. As a result of this discovery, Floki then decided to name the entire island Iceland. That’s how Iceland got its name (Wilsin). Iceland was first settled on by early settlers who were kings from Norway who were fleeing the terrain of Herald the fair-haired who wanted to unify Norway under one king. In the year 930, the Icelandic settlers established their central parliament which was called Alpin. (Wilsin)

Iceland was colonized by the Norse settlers and the people from the wetlands. These were the Norwegian king who was later overthrown by the Danish king in the year 1831. Iceland

 was under the Danish government until the year 1944 when it attained its full independence. (Sveinsson). The main religion which was practice was Norse paganism but later was changed to Christianity. Iceland attained its full independence in the year 1944. Main economic activity carried in Iceland is farming due to the presence of fertile soils which were discovered by Floki and his crew.

                Historical discovery of Iceland by Floki

Floki was the first Norse man to intentionally sail to Iceland and this was during the Viking Age and Floki is accredited to the discovery of Iceland and also giving it its current name after later discovering that the land was completely covered by ice. Before him, Floki, Gardar and Naddoddur had circumnavigated to the same island but they did not settle on the island but Floki discovered it and settled there. Floki on his journey to the discovery of the great island was accompanied by his wife and his children. He used the western Norway route to the Shetlands Island. On arrival on Shetlands Island he took three ravens to guide him and followed them and left his ship behind. It is because of three ravens he used that he got his nickname. Floki was nicknamed Ravens- Floki.

Floki on arrival in Iceland he set up a winter camp at Vatnsfordur before he explored the entire island. He climbed the highest mountain while on his work of exploring the land with his crew and that’s when he discovered that the whole island was covered by ice. By that Floki decided to name it Iceland. Floki later returned to his home Scandinavia to greatly spread the good news of the newest discovery though at first he talked of no good of the land but also returned and lived there. (Veinsteinsson)

Despite that Floki did not discover anything good in the new land; his crew had something good to report.  They reported that every blade of grass dripped with butter which was an attractive image. This was because at this time butter was the means for long term storage of excess dairy production since at this time the people were great farmers and livestock keeping was their main activity. This discovery was a representation of wealth and ease of living in the newly discovered land. In addition, they discovered that the land was very fertile and this made it suitable for any kind of farming which they would have been familiar with in their homelands. Furthermore, Iceland was a land discovered to be full of meadows. This provide fodder for livestock and the presence of woodlands provided wood for building, fuel and even materials for ship building since the usage of ships was the only means of transport available. Iceland is known for its mostly active volcanoes and this provided hot springs for washing and bathing. The availability of birds, fish and sea mammals provided food and raw materials. (Johannesson)

After Floki discovered the island, many got interested to live in there. The first settlers in Iceland were small lords and kings from the Norway who were fleeing the terrain of Herald whose main agenda was to unify Norway under one king. One of those great settlers in Iceland discovered Greenland which meant to attract settlers. He was called Eirikur Raudi. In addition, his son Leifur Heppni discovered the American continent which he named it Vinland. (Tomasson)

During the discovery of Iceland Floki experienced many challenges. Firstly, Floki was not sure of the precise location of the island. However, he had faith since other explorers had gone before him in search of the island. These explorers were; Naddodd the Viking who is believed to sail through the Norway to the Faeroe island but he was blown off the course. The second explorer was Gardar who is also believed to be blown before fully discovering the land. He established a small settlement on the shore of a bay in the north of the island and named the place Gadars Island before sailing back home. As a result of this, Floki was more determined and was assured that an island was present.  He was led by three ravens to discovering of the island. Moreover, Floki after discovering the island he was forced to stay much longer than he had planned. This was due to ice blockage that blocked his way hindering him to sail back home and report the good news of the discovery. On arrival home he had nothing good to say and this made people lack trust in him but his crew saved him for they praised the land and this created interest for migration due to the arable land for farming. It is after the occupation and settlement that Iceland became one of the last large areas of the globe to be settled. The settlement occupation of Iceland was rapid and geographically extensive. This was due to the availability of the fertile soils which encouraged farming and the availability of food for the livestock. After the discovery of Iceland different features play a key role in its identity. One is the extensive corpus of Icelandic Sagas which is currently described in the heritage list. These Sagas were largely read as truthful descriptions of a Viking golden age in Iceland where land was plentiful and men were free. Moreover, the Sagas preserved historical realities of Iceland. Secondly, the Sagas were marshaled and used in the creation of a national identity symbol during the struggle for independence from the Danish colonial rule. (D. Zori)

                      Paganism, pre-Christianism and Christianity in Iceland.

Nose paganism was dominant in Scandinavia when Iceland was settled and communal identity of Icelanders was Norse paganism. Majority of the settlers practiced pre-Christian paganism. However, Norse paganism lacked orthodoxy, hierarchical structure and crystalized religious texts which are present in a universalizing religious like Christianity. Despite this, Norse paganism was diverse, changeable and decentralized in Iceland. Norse paganism in Iceland performed several rituals. These rituals were generally called blot. They included sacrifices of animals and mostly of humans, feasting, veneration of idols which were made in images of gods such as tyr, thor and frey. These sacrifices took place in temples, in chieftain’s houses and outdoors in graves.

Sometimes sacrifice offering involved reddening of sacrificial stone. However, despite the presence and practice of Norse paganism in Iceland, pre-Christian also existed in Iceland.it mostly existed in the parts of Scandinavia. This is evident because of the presence of blothus which is found at Holmur cult site in eastern Iceland and contained several artifacts. Archaeologists argue that cult houses existed in pre-Christian areas. The pre-Christian Icelanders mostly in Scandinavia performed ritual activities in several locations and varied contexts. This included both in their homes and in different temples. (Urbanczyk)

The presence of pre-Christian Norse graves reveals the considerable variability in pagan ritual practices. The pre-Christian burial custom conforms generally to the larger corpus of graves from the wider Viking world. Moreover, they also show the development of a uniquely Icelandic pattern indication of a newly emerging identity of Iceland. The burial customs had outstanding features; no large man-made burial mounds, no chamber graves, no memorial stone and no burial inside stone settings. This was different from the Icelandic typical burial customs which consisted of a shallow pit but was big enough for an outstretched body, the grave was surrounded by stones and was covered by a law mound of large stones soil.

In addition, a common similarity existed between the pre-Christian and pagan burial customs that graves were left open as arena of interaction even after the burial event was over. This can be proved by the burial monuments in Scandinavia and the Oseberg ship grave and the little- Nupur boat burial which was opened on multiple occasions during the Viking age. Furthermore, pre-Christian Scandinavians in the Viking age also practiced the deposition of sacrificed animals in graves but human sacrifice was not common though it was once identified from the Isle of Man to Birka. In the recent days, more archaeological features are being discovered in the cemeteries. These features are like enigmatic turf walls and post holes supporting grave superstructures. This implies that there were different types of graves and mortuary practices during the burial practices. (Veisteinsson)

During 999 AD and 1000AD, the council of chieftains decided that the people of Iceland would be publicly and purely be Christians. The Christianization process involved individual churches of worship, as well as degree of synthetization of paganism and Christianity. Initially before Christianity was fully instituted, some pre-Christian activities practices were permitted but this only took place in individual homes. Ideological power changed gradually as ritual system changed and shifted from the relatively diffuse power of pre-Christian paganism to the hierarchy organize and institutionalized Christian church.

During the pagan period, claim to status, group membership and territory were expressed in mound burials along routes of travel and at the borders of old territorial divisions were evident. However, after the conversion to Christianity the locus for ritual practice became centralized at small private churches built and controlled by Icelandic chieftains and land-owning farmers. It is during this time that a handful of churches emerged in Iceland. These churches are built in simple nave and chancel style. The centralization of ritual practice and material expression of ideology yielded to a new and stronger potential for the creation of social power.

During 950-1100 AD ritual systems were hybrids ideology shifted from pagan to full Christian practices. This was the syncretization period. The shifting was a gradual one in which the accommodation of old symbols and practices resulted in a period of intermixed ritual systems. The newly adopted religion of Christianity was intertwined with the materialized symbols of ideological power that tied the local leaders to the landscape, their ancestors and their claims to land and status. The institution of the church in Iceland began fully around1100 AD two major legal vehicles. These were the imposition of the tithe vehicle in 1097 and the legislation of exclusive burial rights to burial churches selected by bishop. Burial at private household churches declined the early twelfth century as the interment of the dead was concentrated at parish churches. The parish churches boundaries articulate the presence of early churches also provided to further our understanding on the development of church hierarchy in the early period of institutionalization. (Veisteinsson). Since then, Christianity became the main religion in Iceland till date despite the rise of other religions.

                  Political organization and colonization of Iceland.

Iceland was colonized by the Norse settlers and the people from the Westland. These were Ireland and Scottish lands. The colonization of Iceland took place in the second half of the ninth century.

 Iceland was decentralized, stratified society which comprised of chiefs, free farmers, attached farmers and slaves. In 1930, the Icelanders established the Athling. This was an island – wide governing and held its meetings two weeks around the summer solstice. Further, they established a system with a cultural focus on law that functioned without a king or any form of executive power. This body was formed due to emigration of free farmers and main aim of this body was for maintenance of household autonomy.

A laws speaker was also available in the governance of Icelanders. The law speaker mediated the yearly Athling, recited one third of the laws each and every year but no executive power bestowed on him. In addition, a legislative branch and a judicial power that made decisions concerning disputes and conflicts was also present in Iceland. (Zoega)

 In 960, court reforms took place in Iceland which led to the division of the island into four quarters and gave each quarter a separate court. Each quarter contained three assemblies and was led by 3 Gondar and had nine chieftains. Since chieftains could share a single chieftaincy the number of chieftains only varied while in theory the number of chieftaincies would remain constant. To maintain political balance in Iceland, each of the quarters was given three extra gods. When Iceland was Christianized, the islands two bishops were given positions in the government.

By twelfth century, chieftaincies which could be traded, bought or sold were centralizing to the hands of a few families that were solidifying political control as an emergent issue. These two families competed for political control, territorial control and support of local leaders in highly violent confrontations. The chieftains rivaled with armed bands destroying farms with an aim to weaken the economic base. At this time the Icelandic political system was undergoing process of state formation. (Zoega)

 The social evolution in Iceland came to an end in 1262 as Icelanders officially bent to the will of the Norwegian king and accepted the incorporation into the kingdom of Norway. This led to the start of the colonization error in Iceland.

It started under the Norwegian king. However, due to the rise of wars and scramble for the leadership in Iceland, the colonization fell under the Danish king. This was 1381. During the rule Danish monarchy, Iceland suffered greatly. In the year 1550, Iceland was forced to disown catholic which was originally their religion and adopt immediately Lutheranism. It became the state religion and this gave Danish monarch more power and it is during this period that the population of Icelanders greatly reduced at a very high rate. The reduction in the population in Iceland was due to the great oppression by the Danish monarch, poor harvest and epidemics. The Danish government enforced trade monopoly with Iceland with volcanic eruptions becoming rapid. (Sveinsson)

Due to this Icelanders were greatly disturbed and affected both economically and emotionally. Their day to day mode of living was greatly altered by the rule of the Danish kingdom. Furthermore, not forgetting leaving their original way of worship. in the 19thcentury a long journey and a big battle was organized as need for independence was highly needed with immediate effect in Iceland. This time the Danish government became more arrogant, violent and insecurity was all day activity in Iceland. The presence of Danish government had great effects to the people of Iceland. The Danish government stripped Iceland almost all-natural birch forests for wood resources, farming and grazing fields. This led to the death of livestock of the Icelanders. Moreover, with no forests soil became loose and was prone to erosion. This led to loss of fertile soil due to erosion hence poor harvest in that time. Moreover, low harvest led to inadequate food hence loos of lives leading to decline in population in Iceland. (Sveinsson)

Mostly the battle for independence aimed at the political arena. During this struggle for independence, Iceland’s most prominent champion named Ion Sigurdsson, a national hero was both a statesman and a scholar led the battle. Although the fight and search for independence in Iceland started in the late 19th century, it was not until the 17 June 1944 that Iceland gained its full independence and established the current republic of Iceland.


The present Iceland has got a long history since from its mysterious discovery by Floki. Recently it is widely known for its active volcanoes. From the article it can depicted that Iceland is one of a kind regarding its change as per their religion is concerned from the paganism era to the pre-Christian era where Christian norms and nose paganism rituals where both carried out. The colonial era is another part of interest. The scramble by the Norse settlers and then the Danish kingdom. The climax is achieved during the struggle for independence and full attaining of independence in the year 1944.






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