Alþing the centre of social life

For a two-week period each summerIcelanders from all parts of the country gathered together at Þingvellir. A common Icelandic phrase "nú er þröng áþingi", literally means: "now there are many people at the assembly", and this can probably be traced back to original assembly which was well attende during it´s peak. According to statistics left to us by BishopGissur Ísleifsson, farmers at the Alþingi numbered from about 4000 at the end of the 11th century. Since one in every nine farmers had to accompany his chieftain to the Alþing, this meant that up to 500 farmers were required to go with their chieftains to the genera lassembly at that time.

In the Commonwealth era, it wasn't only those who had legal errands for the Alþing who made their way there. In the old law book Grágás, mention is made of tanners' and peat-cutters' booths, while in many Icelandic sagas, reference is made to beer-brewers and food sellers. During the time that the Alþing stood, it was the centre of social life and a kind of capital of the country that the public visited. Labourers and traders, both Icelandic and foreign, went there, along with delegates of foreign heads of state, people in search of work, and beggars looking for alms. It's not an overstatement to say that the basis of the Icelandic national culture, language, and literature was laid at Þingvellir.

In the Icelandic sagas, there are many descriptions of the travels of saga characters across the country. Many saga heroes underwent difficult journeys to get to the Alþing each summer. Some only had to ride for a day or two, but for others it took more than two weeks to journey over the mountains and desert sands of the Icelandic highlands.

Today, grass-covered relics of enclosures spread over the þing site are the only existing remnants of nearly 900 years ofthe history of the Alþing. It's thought that the enclosures built during the Commonwealth were larger than those erected later on. Walls were made of turfand boulders, over which a wooden frame was erected that was covered with twillor other material. Enclosures were generally constructed on the base of previous ones, and so most of the enclosure relics seen at the þing site date from the last two centuries of the assembly.

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