The Flag of Iceland: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: January 3, 2023
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Iceland, popularly known as the volcanic island, is a country located on an island halfway between North America and Europe. Unlike other countries, Iceland doesn’t share borders with any country. However, its closest neighbors are Norway, Greenland, and the United Kingdom.

Due to its strategic location, south of the Arctic Circle, this country experiences a lot of volcanic activity. Reportedly, there are 30 active volcanic systems in the country, and 13 have exploded since Iceland came to be.

This nation has an area of 103,000km² (39,769 square miles), making it two times bigger than Denmark and almost the same as Kentucky, a state in the US. As of 2022, Iceland had a population of about 347,000 people, which makes the country the least populated in Europe. Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital city, as well as its largest, and Icelandic is one of the spoken languages in the country.

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Founding of Iceland

There are several claims that the first settlers in Iceland were actually Irish Monks. However, these people didn’t last long in the land and left almost as soon as they arrived. While some claim that the monks left because of the harsh weather, others argue that their dislike of the Pagan visitors made them go. Still, the monks left enough artifacts to prove that they once inhabited the island.

As a result, the first official settlers were Vikings who left their country due to the social and political unrest in the British Isles and Norway. Flόki Vigerdarson, one of the emigrants, arrived at the island with other Scandinavians and named the country Ísland, otherwise known as the Land of Ice or Iceland. However, Ingόflur Arnarson, a Norwegian chieftain, arrived in Iceland in 871 and became the first permanent settler in the country. He founded the town Reykjavik, which is the name of present-day Iceland’s capital city.

As this country’s population grew, there was a need for a more organized system of government and administration. Therefore, in 930, the Icelandic Parliament, also called the Alþingi, was established, making it one of the oldest parliaments in the world. This parliament met every year in Thingvellir National Park, where they made crucial decisions affecting the state.

Unfortunately, the parliament began losing control in the 11th and 12th centuries due to power struggles among different clans. Besides, a volcanic eruption in 1104 left the country in ruin, as well as the Black Death that rampaged the land. Seeing this chaos as an opportunity, King Haakon of Norway took over Iceland in 1281 and absorbed it into his kingdom. After Norway and Denmark became one under the Union of Kalmar in 1397, Iceland became part of the Danish Kingdom until the 20th century.

In the 19th century, more Europeans were getting sensitized about liberalization and this spurred Icelanders, with Jόn Sigurðsson at the forefront, to demand freedom. Finally, in 1874, Iceland was able to draft its first constitution and have authority over its domestic affair. Political parties were also formed, and urban development began earnestly.

Still, Iceland faced many other issues, such as volcanic eruption and World War I, that made it challenging for them to gain the complete independence they craved. There were also demographic and economic issues due to many citizens leaving the country for greener pastures. Then, the British Army invaded Iceland in 1940, and soon after, the US Army came to occupy the land. This led to a reduction in unemployment and a significant boost in the economy, finally leading to Icelandic Independence on the 17th of June, 1944.

Currently, Iceland has one of the most buoyant economies in the world, with an extremely low unemployment rate.

Characteristics of Iceland

Iceland is a plateau with ice fields, mountain peaks, and an abundance of geysers, fjords, waterfalls, and glaciers. About 11% of the nation is covered in glacial ice and cooled lava beds with water surrounding the area. While you might expect the place to be ice cold, Iceland has a temperate climate thanks to the Gulf Stream that warms up the country.

Since the country is volcanic, Iceland gets most of its electricity from geothermal water reserves and hydroelectric power. As one of the most geologically active places on Earth, Iceland receives many tourists every year who’d love to see the creative works of nature.

The official language is Icelandic, with English, German, and Nordic languages making up the secondary languages.

History of the Icelandic Flag

The official adoption of the flag of Iceland happened on June 19, 1915.


Jorgen Jorgensen introduced the first Icelandic national flag when he ruled the country. The background was blue, and it featured three cod fish in the upper left corner. Although it was considered a weird flag, it was still adopted in 1809. Unfortunately, the presence of this flag was shortlived as Jorgen didn’t rule the Land of Ice for long.

Afterward, Sigurður Guðmundsson proposed another flag in 1870 with a brighter blue background and a white falcon at its center. The falcon symbolized the upcoming Icelandic nation and its movement toward independence. It was accepted by the Danish state and became Iceland’s official flag at that time. 

Then, a newer flag design was sighted in 1896, designed by Einar Benediktsson, a well-renowned poet in Iceland at that time. The flag had a dark blue field with a white cross on top—a much closer design to the current Icelandic flag. To the poet, the white and blue represented the snow and mountain, and you can still see them at the National Museum of Iceland.

Matthias Thordarson proposed the design for the current flag during a student council meeting in 1906. This flag was quickly accepted and was unofficially adopted in 1913. Its official adoption happened on June 19, 1915. Matthias designed the flag with a lighter blue shade, which was amended to the current blue color in 1944 when Iceland finally gained total independence.

The Symbolism of the Icelandic Flag

Icelanders say that blue represents the country’s mountains, red represents the volcanoes on the island, and white symbolizes the snow and glaciers.

© Ganzo

The Icelandic flag played an important role in the country’s fight for independence and is one of the most highly revered symbols in the country. The flag is red, blue, and white, with a Scandinavian cross taking up the center of the flag. This cross signifies that the flag aligns with other Nordic flags. 

Icelanders say that blue represents the country’s mountains, red represents the volcanoes on the island, and white symbolizes the snow and glaciers. However, some would say that the red color was added to the flag to represent Christianity, although this isn’t a popular opinion.

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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