The Icelandic language is surprisingly homogeneous compared to other regions settled by Norsemen. It is theorized that villages and isolated communities never form in Iceland, where there are only scattered farmsteads and a cohesive community is maintained even though the area is vast and mountainous. This is quite different from the Faroe Islands, where isolated villages are formed despite having a smaller population and similar climate. What prevented the formation of isolated villages and helps maintain a single community in Iceland?


  • Leonard, Stephen Pax. Language, society and identity in early Iceland. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
  • Leonard, Stephen Pax. "Relative linguistic homogeneity in a new society: The case of Iceland." Language in Society 40.2 (2011): 169-186.
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    Sadly I cannot cite properly (hence comment), but I just left Iceland, where they claim that the need to travel for work prevented the kind of nucleation you see elsewhere. (update) by tradition, work contracts were 12 months; at the end of 12 months, you could renew, or go find new work. That led to more people travelling around the isle.
    – MCW
    Commented May 24 at 10:46
  • Two reasons (1) A poor land for agriculture means a larger fraction of the workforce needs be working to feed the population. Towns cost resources and there was not a lot to spare. (2) Towns can be a useful protection against marauding armies -- of which there were none. The great danger to medieval Icelanders was individual and small-group violence from other medieval Icelanders [reference: The Sagas]. Cramming people together in towns would probably have decreased civil order, not increased it.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented May 24 at 17:06

1 Answer 1


Firstly, agriculture (at least not plant-based farming) was not as viable in Iceland as in most of Europe, this is because of two reasons. The first is that Iceland is cold, with even summer temperatures rarely exceeding 13°C\55°F, which isn't exactly conducive to growing crops. A second reason is that Icelandic soil tends to be too rocky for most crops to grow in. Given these factors, there's only a few places in Iceland where towns would have been economically viable during the medieval era. Heck, even these days, where we have greenhouse and other indoor gardening \ farming technology and the capability of shipping basically any product around the world, Iceland remains very sparsely populated, averaging only 4 people per square kilometre.

Secondly, Iceland is relatively small, covering a total area of 103,125 square kilometers\39,817 square miles. This might sound large, but this places Iceland as one of the smallest countries with completely sovereign governments. In general, small territories have always had more uniform populations in terms of culture, language, etc than larger ones.

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    But Iceland is much bigger than the Faroes... Commented May 25 at 0:39
  • In the Faroes you need boats to get around between islands.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 25 at 17:40

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