The Establishment of the Parliament (Alþingi)
Icelanders took their outlook and ideas about legal procedures from Norway and held their assembly according to the Norwegian model. The Viking assemblies in Norway were brought together in various parts of the country, but in 930 the first national parliament in the world was established in Iceland, that is, a single legislature for the entire country. When this development occurred, representatives from all parts of the country were brought together at Þingvellir. They passed a common law and an institution was established which alone could amend it. There is no other example of a similar state having come into existence by the time of, or during, the Middle Ages. The other states of the time were royal kingdoms.
The meetings of the Alþingi were held every summer, to which people came from all over the country and enjoyed various kinds of national celebrations: as well as legal business, all kinds of entertainments were held and trading carried on.
Although the Alþingi was held for only two weeks each year, it was nevertheless a very important institution: laws were passed and novel legal matters were dealt with. There were also four courts, one for each Quarter of the country. A fifth court was added a little later, which functioned as a kind of high court.
At first, the laws were preserved in the memories of just a few people. A designated Law Speaker had the task of reciting, at the Law Rock, one-third of the laws each year. With the introduction of writing culture to Iceland, the laws were the first things to be written down in Iceland. These laws are known as the Hafliðaskrá (that is, Hafliði’s Code) and were written down during the winter 1117-1118. These laws are usually said to mark the beginning of a writing culture in Iceland. The Hafliðaskrá is no longer extant, but the nation’s early laws were later given the name Grágás (lit. Grey Goose) which are preserved in manuscripts.
The state which was constituted by the Alþingi of 930 was maintained for about 330 years, or until the Icelanders yielded their sovereignty to the Norwegian king, after a difficult civil war between the large chieftain families.
When Norway came under Danish control in 1380, Iceland too became part of the Danish kingdom, a situation which remained until 1944.