This Week in History: Althing

This week in 930 CE, the chieftains of Iceland established the Althing, which remains the country’s parliament. It’s the world’s oldest surviving legislature. Northmen (sometimes called Vikings) had arrived on the island about 60 years before, and now they set about to govern themselves – meeting outdoors at a place called Thingvellir, which means “assembly fields,” near modern-day Reykjavik.

The original Althing had 49 members – mostly district leaders – as well as a Lawspeaker, who presided while sitting on a rock called the lögberg, or law rock. The Althing met every year, drawing large crowds who camped nearby, since any free man could attend. In fact, it was the year’s main social event. Today’s Althing doesn’t look so different, except that it moved inside after almost 900 years on the field at Thingvellir, it has 63 members, and it generally invites the population to participate by watching on TV.

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