At length, in 874, two friends, Ingolf and Lief, repaired to Iceland, and were so much satisfied with its appearance, that they formed a resolution of attempting to make a settlement in the country; induced, doubtless, by a desire to withdraw from the continual wars and revolutions which then harassed the north of Europe, and to escape from the thraldom which the incipient monarchies of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, were then imposing upon the independent chiefs or vikingr of the Normans. In pursuance of this determination, Ingolf transported some people to Iceland, about the year 878, with several cattle, and all kinds of implements, to enable him to commence a colony. At this period his friend Lief was absent in the English wars; but went soon afterwards into Iceland, to which he carried the booty which he had acquired in England.
The first discoverers of Iceland are said to have found some Irish books, bells, and croziers on the coast; whence it has been imagined, that some people from Ireland had resided there previous to its discovery and settlement by the Normans. But it seems a more probable supposition, to account for these articles having been seen, that a party of Norman pirates or vikingr, who had previously landed in Ireland, or perhaps on Icolmkil, and had carried away the plunder of some abbey or monastery, had been driven to Iceland by a storm, and wrecked upon the coast, where these articles might have been washed on shore: Or they may have attributed the storm, by which they were driven so far beyond their knowledge, to the anger of the God of the Christians, for their sacrilegious robbery of a holy institution, and may have left these articles behind, in hopes of propitiating a more favourable termination to their voyage. The first settlers found extensive forests in the valleys of Iceland; and we know, from authentic documents, that corn was formerly cultivated with decent success in that northern region; whereas, in the present day, not a tree is to be found in the whole island, except some stunted birches, and very low bushes or underwood, in the most sheltered situations, and no corn will now ripen, even in the most favourable years. But the roots and stumps of large firs are still to be seen in various parts; and the injurious alteration of its climate is known to have been occasioned by the straits between old Greenland and Iceland having been many years choked up with ice, which the short summers of that high latitude are not sufficiently powerful to dissolve.
About the present period, Harold Harfagr, or the fair-haired, one of the petty sovereigns or vikingr of Norway, began to subjugate the other chieftains of the country under his paramount authority, and was so successful as to establish the Norwegian monarchy in 875. Gorm, likewise, about the same time, united the petty states of Jutland and the Danish islands into one kingdom, as Ingiald Illrode had done long before in Sweden. Such independent spirits as found themselves dissatisfied with this new order of affairs, found a sure asylum in Iceland; and the emigrations to this new country became so numerous, that Harold at length deemed it expedient to impose a tax of half a mark of silver, equal to five pounds of our modern money, on every one of his subjects who were desirous of going to settle in that island.