Online Encyclopedia

ICELAND (Dan. Island)

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V14, Page 232 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
ICELAND (Dan. Island), an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, belonging to Denmark. Its extreme northerly point is touched by the Arctic Circle; it lies between 13° 22' and 24° 35' W., and between 63° 12' and 66° 33' N., and has an area of 40,437 sq. m Its length is 298 M. and its breadth 194 III., the shape being a rough oval, broken at the north-west, where a peninsula, diversified by a great number of fjords, projects from the main portion of the island. The total length of the coast-line is about 3730 m., of which approximately one-third belongs to the north-western peninsula. Iceland is a plateau or tableland, built up of volcanic rocks of older and younger formation, and pierced on all sides by fjords and valleys. Compared with the tableland, the lowlands have a relatively small-area, namely, one-fourteenth of the whole; but these lowlands are almost the only parts of the island which are inhabited. In consequence of the rigour of its climate, the central tableland is absolutely uninhabitable. At the outside, not more than one-fourth of the area of Iceland is inhabited; the rest consists of elevated deserts, lava streams and glaciers. The north-west peninsula is separated from the main mass of the island by the bays Hunafl6i and Brei5ifjor5r, so that there are really two tablelands, a larger and a smaller. The isthmus which connects the two is only 4 m. across, but has an altitude of 748 ft. The mean elevation of the north-west peninsula is 2000 ft. The fjords and glens which cut into it are shut in by precipitous walls of basalt, which plainly shows that they have been formed by erosion through the mass of the plateau. The surface of this tableland is also bare and desolate, being covered with gravel and fragments of rock. Here and there are large straggling snowfields, the largest being Glamu and Drangajokull,1 on the culminating points of the plateau. The only inhabited districts are the shores of the fjords, where grass grows capable of supporting sheep; but a large proportion of the population gain their livelihood by fishing. The other and larger tableland, which constitutes the substantial part of Iceland, reaches its culminating point in the south-east, in the gigantic snowfield of Vatnajokull, which covers 3300 sq. m. The axis of highest elevation of Iceland stretches from north-west to south-east, from the head of Hvammsfjorlr to Hornafjortr, and from this water-parting the rivers descend on both sides. The crest of the water-parting is crowned by a chain of snow-capped mountains, separated by broad patches of lower ground. They are really a chain of minor plateaus which rise 4500 to 6250 ft. above sea-level and 2000 to 3000 It. above the tableland itself. In the extreme east is Vatnajokull, which is separated from Tungnafellsjokull by Vonarskard (3300 ft.). Between Tungnafellsjokull and Hofsjokull lies the broad depression of Sprengisandr (2130 ft.). Coni:nuing north-west, between Hofsjokull and the next snow-capped mountain, Langjokull, lies Kjolur (2000 ft.); and between Langjokull and Eiriksjokull, Flosaskard (2630 ft.). ' To the' north of the ioklar last mentioned there are a number of lakes, all well stocked with fish. Numerous valleys or glens penetrate into the tableland, especially on the north and east, and between them long mountain spurs, sections of the tableland which have resisted the action of erosion, thrust themselves towards the sea. Of these the most considerable is the mass crowned by Myrdalsjokull, which stretches towards the south. The interior of the table-land consists for the most part of barren, grassless deserts, the surface being covered by gravel, loose fragments of rock, lava, driftsand, volcanic f jokull (390). The glaciers which stream off from these snowfields ashes and glacial detritus. are often of vast extent, e.g. the largest glacier 'of Vatnajokull Save the lower parts of the larger glens, there are no lowlands j has an area of 150 to 200 sq. m., but the greater number are on the north and east. The south coast is flat next the sea; 1 small. Altogether, more than 120 glaciers are known in Iceland. but immediately underneath Vatnajokull there is a strip of gravel and sand, brought down and deposited by the glacial streams. The largest low-lying plain of Iceland, lying between Myrdalsjokull and Reykjanes, has an area of about 1550 sq. in. In its lowest parts this plain barely keeps above sea-level, but it rises gradually towards the interior, terminating in a ramification of valleys. Its maximum altitude is attained at 381 ft. near Geysir. On the west of Mount Hekla this plain connects by a regular slope directly with the tableland, to the great injury of its inhabited districts, which are thus exposed to the clouds of pumice dust and driftsand that cover large areas of the interior. Nevertheless the greater part of this lowland plain produces good grass, and is relatively well inhabited. The plain is drained by three rivers—Markarflj6t, Titj6rsa and Oelfusa—all of large volume, and numerous smaller streams. Towards the west there exist a number of warm springs. There is another lowland plain around the head of Faxafl6i, nearly 400 sq. m. in extent. As a rule the surface of this second plain is very marshy. Several dales or glens penetrate the central tableland; the eastern part of this lowland is called Borgarf jor;5r, the western part M ffrar. The great bays on the west of the island (Faxafloi and Breiis'ifjormr);t as well as the many bays on the north, which are Jokull, plural joklar, Icel. snowfield, glacier. ' Floi, bay; fjor6r, fjord. separated from one another by rocky promontories, appear to owe their origin to subsidences of the surface; whereas the fjords of the north-west peninsula, which make excellent harbours, and those of the east coast seem to be the result chiefly of erosion. Glaciers.—An area of 5170 sq. m. is covered with snowfields and glaciers. This extraordinary development of ice and snow is due to the raw, moist climate, the large rainfall and the low summer temperature. The snow-line varies greatly in different parts of the island, its range being from 1300 to 4250 ft. It is highest on the tableland, on the north side of Vatnajokull, and lowest on the north-west peninsula, to the south of North Cape. Without exception the great neees of Iceland belong to the interior tableland. They consist of slightly rounded domes or billowy snowfields of vast thickness. In external appearance they bear a closer resemblance to the glaciers of the Polar regions than to those of the Alps. The largest snowfields are Vatnajokull (3280 sq. m.), Hofsjokull (520) Langjokull (500) and Myrdals- It is on the south side of Vatnajokull that they descend lowest; the lower end of Breidamerkurjokull was in the year 1894 only 30 ft. above sea-level. The glaciers of the north-west peninsula also descend nearly to sea-level. The great number of streams of large volume is due to the moist climate and the abundance of glaciers, and the milky white or yellowish-brown colour of their waters (whence the common name Hvfta, white) is due to the glacial clays. The majority of them change their courses very often, and vary greatly in volume; frequently they are impetuous torrents, forming numerous waterfalls. Iceland also possesses a great number of lakes, the largest being Thingvallavatn s and Thorisvatn, each about 27 sq. m. in area. Myvatn, in the north, is well known from the natural beauty of its surroundings. Above its surface tower a great number..of volcanoes and several craters, and its waters are alive with water-fowl, a multitude of ducks of various species breeding on its islands. The lakes of Iceland owe their origin to different causes, some being due to glacial erosion, others to volcanic subsidence. Myvatn fills a depression between lava streams, and has a depth of not more than 84 ft. The group of lakes called Fiskivotn (or Veidivotn), which lie in a desolate region to the west of Vatnajokull, consist for the most part of crater lakes. The groups of lakes which lie north-west from Langjokull occupy basins formed between ridges of glacial gravel; and in 2 Vain, lake. the valleys numerous lakes are found at the backs of the old (slog ft.), which was in eruption eighteen times within the historic period down to 1845. Katla during the same period was active thirteen times down to 1860. The largest volcano is Askja, situated in the middle of the lava-field of Oda6ahraun. ,Its crater measures 34 sq. m. in area. At Myvatn there are moraines. Volcanoes.—Iceland is one of the most volcanic regions of the earth; volcanic activity has gone on continuously from the formation of the island in the Tertiary period down to the present time. So far as is known, there have in historic times been eruptions from twenty-five volcanic vents. Altogether 107 volcanoes are known to exist in Iceland, with thousands of craters, great and small. The lava-streams which have flowed from them since the Glacial epoch now cover an area of 4650 sq. m. They are grouped in dense masses round the volcanoes from which they have flowed, the bulk of the lava dating from outbreaks which occurred in prehistoric times. The largest volume of lava which has issued at one outflow within historic times is the stream which came from the craters of Laki at Skapta. This belongs to the year 1783, and covers an area of 218 sq. m., and amounts to a volume represented by a cube each of whose sides measures 72 M. The largest unbroken lava-field in Iceland is Oda6ahraun (Lava of Evil Deeds), upon the table-land north from Vatnajokull (2000 to 4000 ft. above sea-level). It is the accretion of countless eruptions from over twenty volcanoes, and covers an area of 1300 sq.m. (or, including all its ramifications and minor detached streams, 1700 sq. m.), and its volume would fill a cube measuring 13.4 M. in every direction. As regards their superficies, the lava-streams differ greatly. Sometimes they are very uneven and jagged (apalhraun), consisting of blocks of lava loosely flung together in the utmost confusion. The great lava-fields, however, are composed of vast sheets of lava, ruptured and riven in divers ways (helluhraun). The smooth surface of the viscous billowy lava is further diversified by long twisted " ropes," curving backwards and forwards up and down the undulations. Moreover, there are gigantic fissures, running for several miles, caused by subsidences of the underlying sections. The best-known fissure of this character is Almannagja at Thingvellir. On the occasion of outbreaks the fine ashes are scattered over a large portion of the island, and sometimes carried far across the Atlantic. After the eruption of Katla in 1625 the ashes were blown as far as Bergen in Norway, and when Askja was in eruption in 1895 a rain of ashes fell on the west coast of Norway 11 hours 40 minutes, and at Stockholm 15 hours, afterwards. The volcanic ash frequently proves extremely harmful, destroying the pastures so that the sheep and cattle die of hunger and disease. The outbreak of Laki in 1783 occasioned the loss of 11,500 cattle, 28,000 horses and 190,500 sheep—that is to say, J3 % of the cattle in the island, 77% of the horses and 82% of the sheep. After that the island was visited by a famine, which destroyed 95oo people, or one-fifth of the total population. The Icelandic volcanoes may be divided into three classes: (1) cone-shaped, like Vesuvius, built up of alternate layers of ashes, scoriae and lava; (2) cupola-shaped, with an easy slope and a vast crater opening at the top—these shield-shaped cupolas are composed entirely of layers of lava, and their inclination is seldom steeper than 7°-8° ; (3) chains of craters running close alongside a fissure in the ground. For the most part the individual craters are low, generally not exceeding 300 to 500 ft. These crater chains are both very common and often very long. The chain of Laki, which was formed in 1783, extends 20 m., and embraces about one hundred separate craters. Sometimes, however, the lava-streams are vomited straight out of gigantic fissures in the earth without any crater being formed. Many of the Icelandic volcanoes during their periods of quiescence are covered with snow and ice. Then when an outbreak occurs the snow and ice melt, and in that way they sometimes give rise to serious catastrophes (jokulhlaup), through large areas being suddenly inundated by great floods of water, which bear masses of ice floating on their surface. Katla caused very serious destruction in this way by converting several cultivated districts into barren wastes. In the same way in the year 1362 Oera?fajokull, the loftiest mountain in Iceland (6424 ft.), swept forty farms, together with their inhabitants and live stock, bodily into the ocean. The best-known volcano is Heklaseveral volcanoes, which were particularly active in the years 1724-1730. On several occasions there have been volcanic out-breaks under the sea outside the peninsula of Reykjanes, islands appearing and afterwards disappearing again. The crater chain of Laid has only been in eruption once in historic times, namely, the violent and disastrous outbreak of 1783. Iceland, however, possesses no constantly active volcano. There are often long intervals between the successive outbreaks, and many of the volcanoes (and this is especially true of the chains of craters) have only vented themselves in a solitary outburst. Earthquakes are frequent, especially in the districts which are peculiarly volcanic. Historical evidence goes to show that they are closely associated with three naturally defined regions: (1) the region between Skjalfandi and Axarfjdrl r in the north, where violent earth tremblings are extremely common; (2) at Faxafl6i, where minor vibrations are frequent; (3) the southern lowlands, between Reykjanes and 1Vlyrdalsjokull, have frequently been devastated by violent earthquake shocks, with great loss of property and life, e.g. on the 14th-16th of August 1784, when 92 farmsteads were totally destroyed, and 372 farmsteads and 11. churches were seriously damaged; and again in August and September 1896, when another terrible earthquake destroyed 161 farmsteads and damaged 155 others. Hot springs are found in every part of Iceland, both singly and in groups; they are particularly numerous in the western portion of the southern lowlands, where amongst others is the famous Geyser (q.v.). Sulphur springs and boiling, mud lakes are also general in the volcanic districts; and in places there are carbonic acid springs, these more especially on the peninsula of Snxfellsnes, north of Faxafl6i. Geology.—Iceland is built up almost entirely of volcanic rocks, none of them older, however, than the middle of the Tertiary period. The earlier flows were probably contemporaneous with those of Green-land, the Feeroes, the western islands of Scotland and the north-east of Ireland. The principal varieties are basalt and palagonitic breccias, the former covering two-thirds of the entire area, the latter the remaining one-third. Compared with these two systems, all other formations have an insignificant development. The palagonitic breccias, which stretch in an irregular belt across the island, are younger than the basalt. In the north-west, north and east the coasts are formed of basalt, and rise in steep, gloomy walls of rock to altitudes of 3000 ft. and more above sea-level. Deposits of. clay, with remains of plants of the Tertiary period, lignite and tree-trunks pressed flat, which the Icelanders call suriarbrandur, occur in places in the heart of the basalt formation. These fossiliferous strata are developed in greatest thickness in the north-west peninsula. Indeed, in some few places well-marked impressions of leaves and fruit have been discovered, proving that in Tertiary times Iceland possessed extensive forests, and its annual mean temperature must have been at least 48° Fahr., whereas the present mean is 35.6°. The palagonitic breccias, which attain their greatest development in the south of the island and on the tableland, consist of reddish, brown or yellowish rocks, tuffs and breccias, belonging to several different groups or divisions, the youngest of which seems to be of a date subsequent to the Glacial epoch. All over Iceland, in both the basalt and breccia formations, there occur small intrusive beds and dikes of liparite, and as this rock is of a lighter colour than the basalt, it is visible from a distance. In the south-east of the island, in the parish of L6n, there exist a few mountains of gabbro, a rock which does not occur in any other part of Iceland. Near Hfisavik in the north there have been found marine deposits containing a number of marine shells; they belong to the Red Crag division of the Pliocene. In the middle of Iceland, where the geological foundation is tuff and breccias, large areas are buried under ancient outflows of lava, whit''h bear evidences of glacial scratching. These lava streams, which are of a doleritic character, flowed before the Glacial age, or during its continuance, out of lava cones with gigantic crater openings, such as may be seen at the present day. During the Glacial epoch the whole• of Iceland was covered by a vast sheet of inland ice, except for a few small isolated peaks rising along its outer margins. This ice-cap had on the tableland a thickness of 2300 to 2600 ft. Rocks scored by glacial ice and showing plain indications of striation, together with thousands of erratic blocks, are found scattered all over Iceland. Signs of elevation subsequent to the Glacial epoch are common all round the island, especially on the north-west peninsula. There are found strikingly developed marine terraces of gravel, shore lines and surf beaches marked on the solid rock. In several places there are traces of shells; and sometimes skeletal remains of whales and walruses, as well as ancient driftwood, have been discovered at tolerable distances from the present coast. The ancient shore-lines occur at two different altitudes. Along the higher, 23o to 26o ft. above the existing sea-level, shells have been found which are characteristic of high Arctic latitudes and no longer exist in Iceland; whereas on the lower shore-line, loo to 13o ft., the shells belong to species which occur amongst the coast fauna of the present day. The geysers and other hot springs are due to the same-causes as the active volcanoes, and the earthquakes are probably manifestations of the same forces. A feature of special interest to geologists in the present conditions of the island is the great power of the wind both as a transporting and denuding agent. The rock sculpture is often very similar to that of a tropical desert.' Climate.—Considering its high latitude and situation, Iceland has a relatively mild climate. The meteorological conditions vary greatly, however, in different parts of the island. In the south and east the weather is generally changeable, stormy and moist; whilst on 11e north the rainfall is less. The climate of the interior tableland approximates to the continental type and is often extremely cold. The mean annual temperature is 37.2° F. in Stykkisholmr on Breiclifjorii'r, 38.3° at Eyrarbakki in the south of Iceland, 41° at Vestmannmyjar, 36° at Akureyri in the north, 36.7° on Berufjor5r in the east, and 3o•6° at Modrudalr on the central tableland. The range is great not only from year to year, but also from month to month. For instance, at Stykkisholmr the highest annual mean for March. was 39.7°, and the lowest 8°, during a period of thirty-eight years. Iceland lies contiguous to that part of the north Atlantic in which the shifting areas of low pressure prevail, so that storms are frequent and the barometer is seldom firm. The barometric pressure at sea-level in the south-west of Iceland during the period 1878-1900 varied between 3o•8 and 27.1 in. The climate of the coasts is relatively mild in summer, but tolerably cold in winter. The winter means of the north and east coasts average 31.7° and 31.3° F. respectively; the summer means, 42.8° and 44.6°; and the means of the year, 33.1° and 35.6°, The winter means of the south and west coasts average 32° and 31.7° respectively; the summer means, 48.2° and 50°; the annual means, 37.40 and 39.2°. The rainfall on the south and east coasts is considerable, e.g. at Vestmanne yjar, 49.4 in. in the year; at Berufjor6r, 43.6 in. On the west coast it is less, e.g. 24.3 in. at Stykkisholmr; but least of all on the north coast, being only 14.6 in. on the island of Grimsey, which lies off that coast. Mist is commonly prevalent on the east coast; at Berufjor5r there is mist on no fewer than 212 days in the year. The south and west coasts are washed by the Gulf Stream, and the north coast by an Arctic current, which frequently brings with it a quantity of drift-ice, and thus exercises a considerable effect upon the climate of the island; sometimes it blocks the north coast in the summer months. On the whole, during the 19th century, the north coast was free from ice on an average of one year in every four or five. The clearness of the atmosphere has been frequently remarked. Thunderstorms occur mostly in winter. Flora.—The vegetation presents the characteristics of an Arctic European type, and is tolerably uniform throughout the island, the differences even on the tableland being slight. At present 435 species of phanerogams and vascular cryptogams are known; the lower orders have been little investigated. The grasses are of the greatest importance to the inhabitants, for upon them they are dependent for the keep of their live stock. Heather covers large tracts, and also affords pasture for sheep. The development of forest trees is insignificant. Birch woods exist in a good many places, especially in the warmer valleys; but the trees are very short, scarcely attaining more than 3 to to ft. in height. In a few places, however, they reach 13 to 20 ft. and occasionally more. A few mountain ash or rowan trees (Sorbus aucuparia) are found singly here and there, and attain to 3o ft. in height. Willows are also pretty general, the highest in growth being Salix phyllicifolia, 7 to so ft. The wild flora of Iceland is small and delicate, with bright bloom, the heaths being especially admired. Wild crowberries and bilberries are the only fruit found in the island. Fauna.—The Icelandic fauna is of a sub-Arctic type. But while the species are few, the individuals are often numerous. The land ' See Th. Thoroddsen, " Explorations in Iceland during the years 1881-1898 " Geographical Journal, vol. xiii. (1899), pp. 251-274, 480-513, with map.mammals are very poorly represented; and it is doubtful whether any species is indigenous. The polar bear is an occasional visitant, being brought to the coast by the Greenland drift-ice. Foxes are common, both the white and the blue occurring; mice and the brown rat have been introduced, though one variety of mouse is possibly indigenous. Reindeer were introduced in 177o. The marine mammalia are numerous. The walrus is now seldom seen, although in prehistoric times it was common. There are numerous species of seals; and the seas abound in whales. Of birds there are over moo species, more than one-half being aquatic. In the interior the whistling swan is common, and numerous varieties of ducks are found in the lakes. The eider duck, which breeds on the islands of Breiifjor&, is a source of livelihood to the inhabitants, as are also the many kinds of sea-fowl which breed on the sea-cliffs. Iceland possesses neither reptiles nor batrachians. The fish fauna is abundant in individuals, some sixty-eight species being found off the coasts. The cod fisheries are amongst the most important in the world. Large quantities of herring, plaice and halibut are also taken. Many of the rivers abound in salmon, and trout are plentiful in the lakes and streams. Population and Towns.—The census of 1890 gave a total population of 70,927, and this number had increased by 1905 to 78,489. The increase during the 19th century was 27,000, while at least 15,600 Icelanders emigrated to America, chiefly to Manitoba, from 1872 to the close of the century. The largest town is Reykjavik on Faxafl6i, with 6700 inhabitants, the capital of the island, and the place of residence of the governor-general and the bishop. Here the Althing meets; and here, further, are the principal public institutions of the island (library, schools, &c.). The town possesses a statue to Thorvaldsen, the famous sculptor, who was of Icelandic descent. The remaining towns include Isafjor6r (pop. moo) on the north-west peninsula, Akureyri (woo) on the north and Seydisfjor6r (800) in the east. Industries.—The principal occupation of the Icelanders is cattle-breeding, and more particularly sheep-breeding, although the fishing industries have come rapidly to the front in modern times. In r85o, 82% of the population were dependent upon cattle-breeding and 7% upon fishing; in 1890 the numbers were 64% and 18% respectively. The culture of grain is not practised in Iceland; all bread-stuffs are imported. In ancient times barley was grown in some places, but it never paid for the cost of cultivation. Cattle-breeding has declined in importance, while the number of sheep has increased. Formerly gardening was of no importance, but considerable progress has been made in this branch in modern times, as also in the cultivation of potatoes and turnips. Fruit-trees will not thrive; but black and red currants and rhubarb are grown, the last-named doing excellently. Iceland possesses four agricultural schools, one agricultural society, and small agricultural associations in nearly every district. The fisheries give employment to about 12,000 people. For the most part the fishing is carried on from open boats, notwithstanding the dangers of so stormy a coast. But larger decked vessels have come into increasing use. In summer the waters are visited by a great number of foreign fishermen, inclusive of about 300 fishing-boats from French ports, as well as by fishing-boats from the Faeroes and Norway, and steam trawlers from England. Excellent profit is made in certain parts of the island from the herring fishery; this is especially the case on the east coast. There are marine insurance societies and a school of navigation at Reykjavik. The export of fish and fish products has greatly increased. In 1849 to 1855 the annual average exported was 148o tons; whereas at the close of the century (in 1899) it amounted to 11,J39 tons and 68,079 barrels of oil, valued at £276,596. Commerce.—From the first colonization of the island down to the 14th century the trade was in the hands of native Icelanders and Norsemen; in the 15th century it was chiefly in the hands of the English, in the r6th of Germans from the Hance towns. From 1602 to 1786 commerce was a monopoly of the Danish government; in the latter year it was declared free to all Danish subjects and in 1854 free to all nations. Since 1874, when Iceland obtained her own administration, commerce has increased considerably. Thus the total value of the imports and exports together in 1849 did not exceed £170,000; while in 1891-1895 the imports averaged £356,000 and the exports £340,000. In 19oz imports were valued at £596,193 and exports at £511,083. Trade is almost entirely with Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Norway and Sweden, in this order according to value. The principal native products exported are live sheep, horses, salt meat, wool and hides, to which must be added the fish products—cod, train-oil, herring and salmon—eiderdown and woollen wares. The spinning, weaving and knitting of wool is a wide-spread industry, and the native tweed (vamal) is the principal material for the clothing of the inhabitants. The imports consist principally of cereals and flour, coffee, sugar, ale, wines and spirits, tobacco, manufactured wares, iron and metal wares, timber, salt, coal, &c. The money, weights and measures in use are the same as in Denmark. The Islands Bank in Reykjavik (1904) is authorized to issue bank-notes up to £133,900 in total value. Communications.—All land journeys are made on horseback, and in the remoter parts all goods have to be transported by the same means. Throughout the greater part of the island there exist no proper roads even in the inhabited districts, but only bridle-paths, and in the uninhabited districts not even these. Nevertheless much has been done to improve such paths as there are, and several miles of driving roads have been made, more particularly in the south. Since 1888 many bridges have been built; previous to that year there was none. The larger rivers have been spanned by iron swing-bridges, and the Blanda is crossed by a fixed iron bridge. Postal connexion is maintained with Denmark by steamers, which sail from Copenhagen and call at Leith. Besides, steamers go round the island, touching at nearly every port. Religion.—The Icelanders are Lutherans. For ecclesiastical purposes the island is divided into 20 deaneries and 142 parishes, and the affairs of each ecclesiastical parish are administered by a parish council, and in each deanery by a district (hjera6) council. When a living falls vacant, the governor-general of the island, after consultation with the bishop, selects three candidates, and from these the congregation chooses one, the election being subsequently confirmed by the governor-general. In the case of certain livings, however, the election requires confirmation by the crown. In 1847 a theological seminary was founded at Reykjavik, and there the majority of the Icelandic ministry are educated; some, however, are graduates of the university of Copenhagen. Health.—The public health has greatly improved in modern times; the death-rate of young children has especially diminished. This improvement is due to greater cleanliness, better dwellings, better nourishment, and the increase in the number of doctors. There are now doctors in all parts of the country, whereas formerly there were hardly any in the island. There is a modern asylum for leprosy at Laugarnes near Reykjavik, and a medical school at Reykjavik, opened in 1876. The general sanitary affairs of the island are under the control of a chief surgeon (national physician) who lives in Reykjavik, and has superintendence over the doctors and the medical school. Government.—According to the constitution granted to Iceland in 1874, the king of. Denmark shares the legislative power with the Aithing, an assembly of 36 members, 30 of whom are elected by household suffrage, and 6 nominated by the king. The Aithing meets every second year, and sits in two divisions, the upper and the lower. The upper division consists of the 6 members nominated by the king and 6 elected by the representatives of the people out of their own body. The lower division consists of the remaining 24 representative members. The minister for Iceland, who resided in Copenhagen until 1903, when his office was transferred to Reykjavik, is responsible to the king and the Aithing for the maintenance of the constitution, and he submits to the king for confirmation the legislative measures proposed by the Aithing. The king appoints a governor-general (landshoftsingi) who is resident in the island and carries on the government on the responsibility of the minister. Formerly Iceland was divided into four quarters, the east, the south. the west and north. Now the north and the east are united under one governor, and the south and the west underanother. The island is further divided into 18 syslur (counties), and these again into 169 hreppur (rapes) or poor-law districts. Responsible to the governors are the sheriffs (s9slumenn), who act as tax gatherers, notaries public and judges of first instance; the sheriff has in every hreppur an assistant, called hreppstjOri. In every hreppur there is also a representative committee, who administer the poor laws, and look after the general concerns of the hreppur. These committees are controlled by the committees of the syslur (county boards), and these again are under the control of the amtsrdl5 (quarter board), consisting of three members. From the sheriff courts appeals lie to the superior court at Reykjavik, consisting of three judges. Appeals may be taken in all criminal cases and most civil cases to the supreme court at Copenhagen. Iceland has her own budget, the Althing having, by the constitution of 1874, the right to vote its own supplies. As the Aithing only meets every other year, the budget is passed for two years at once. The total income and expenditure are each about £70,000 per financial period. There is a national reserve fund of about £6o,00o, but no public debt; nor is there any contribution for either military or naval purposes. Iceland has her own customs service, but the only import duties levied are upon spirits, tobacco, coffee and sugar, and in each case the duties are fairly low. Education.—Education is pretty widespread amongst the people. In the towns and fishing villages there are a few elementary schools, but often the children are instructed at home; in some places by peripatetic teachers. It is incumbent upon the clergy to see that all children are taught reading, writing and arithmetic. The people are great readers; considering the number of the inhabitants, books and periodicals have a very extensive circulation. Eighteen newspapers are issued (once and twice a week), besides several journals, and Iceland has always been distinguished for her native literature. At Reykjavik there are a Latin school, a medical school and a theological school; at M6druvellir and Hafnarfjor6r, modern high schools (Realschulen); and in addition to these there are four agricultural schools, a school of navigation, and three girls' schools. The national library at Reykjavik contains some 40,000 volumes and 3000 MSS. At the same place there is also a valuable archaeological collection. Amongst the learned societies are the Icelandic Literary Society (Bokmentafjelag), the society of the Friends of the People, and the Archaeological Society of Reykjavik. Joles, Summer Travelling in Iceland (London, 1882) ; H. J. ohnston Lavis, "Notes on the Geography, Geology, Agriculture and Economics of Iceland," Scott. Geog. Mag. xi. (1895) ; W. Bisiker, Across • Iceland (London, 1902) ; J. Hann, " Die Anomalien der Witterung auf Island in dem Zcitraume 1851-1900, &c.," Sitsungsberichte, Vienna Acad. Sci. (1904) ; P. I-lermann, Island in Vergangenheit and Gegenwart (Leipzig, 1907). Also Geografisk Tidskrift, and the Geographical Journal (London), passim. (Tn. T.) HISTORY Shortly after the discovery of Iceland by the Scandinavian, c. 85o (it had long been inhabited by a small colony of Irish Culdees), a stream of immigration set in towards it, which lasted for sixty years, and resulted in the establishment of some 4000 homesteads. In this immigration three distinct streams can be traced. (I) About 870–890 four great noblemen from Norway, Ingolf, Ketil Hwng, Skalla-Grim and Thorolf, settled with their dependants in the south-west of the new found land. (2) In 890–900 there came from the western Islands Queen And, widow of Olaf the White, king of Dublin, preceded and followed by a number of her kinsmen and relations (many like herself being 1 870- 930 Heroic Age. 930- 980 980-1030 Saga Telling. I03o-IIO0 I100-I150 The Literary J 1150-1220 Age. 1 1220-1248 11248-1284 Continental ( 1284-1320 Influence -s 1320-1390 chiefly Norse. `1390-1413 Dark Age. 1413-1530 Reformation. 1530-1575 1 1575-1640 2 1640-1700 i 1700-1730 1730-1768 Decay. 1768-1800 1 1800--1850 Gradual f 1850-1874 1874 Poetry of Western Islands. Early Icelandic poets, chiefly abroad. Icelandic poets abroad. First era of phonetic change.
End of Article: ICELAND (Dan. Island)
ICEBERG (from ice and Berg, Ger. for hill, mountain...

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.