Iceland was settled by Vikings with strong Celtic elements in the late 9th century. Tradition has it that the first Norse settlers arrived in AD 874, but there is some evidence that Irish monks landed even earlier. Icelanders today speak a language remarkably similar to the ancient Viking tongue in which the sagas were recorded in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Norse settlers brought to the island sturdy horses, robust cattle, and Celtic slaves. Perhaps Irish tales of the supernatural inspired Iceland's traditional lore of the huldufólk, or hidden people, said to reside in splendor in rocks, crags, caves, and lava tubes.
Iceland's near-universal literacy might be attributed to its long tradition of participatory democracy, dating from AD 930, when the first parliament met at Þingvellir. Icelandic tribal chiefs decided to join the Norwegian crown in the mid-13th century, and after many centuries under Norwegian, and later Danish, rule, Iceland finally gained full independence in 1944. Today Iceland is a modern Nordic—most find the term Scandinavian too limited—society with a well-developed social-welfare system and one of the highest standards of living in the world.
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