Taking the North Atlantic
Room 6
Jónsbók Manuscript
Jonsbok Manuscript
Arni Magnusson Institute, Reykjavik, Iceland 3269A
Photo: Johanna Olafsdottir

In the mid 9th century, Vikings in Norway and Scotland as well as in the Orkney and Shetland Islands, turned their attention to uninhabited islands reported further west - first the Faeroe Islands, then Iceland, and later Greenland. In these virgin and delicate island ecosystems, the Viking settlers had a sudden, dramatic impact on the environment by cutting down forests, hunting unsuspecting wildlife, and introducing new animals and plants. This process was known as landnám, literally “land-taking.”

These hearty settlers came from all over the Viking world, and brought with them new ideas about everything from house building to law, creating a unique culture known as Norse. Sagas, an innovative literature found only in Iceland, were a blending of Viking oral poetry and storytelling with Christian and Irish written traditions.

Jonsbok Manuscript
In the newly created society in Iceland, common law became a necessity. Originally recited orally, the Icelandic laws were first written down in the 12th century. The page shown here is from the revised lawcode of 1264, and lists rules governing maritime trade and transport.

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Lake Thingvellir, Iceland
Lake Thingvellir, Iceland
Photo: Carl Hansen


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