The Iceland National Flag and Icelandic Identity

Updated: Sep 28

Iceland is as mysterious as it is intriguing and holds an interesting story connected to its flag. When Vikings form a country, there is bound to be some controversy among the settlers but coming together and simply talking about it is far from how we view Vikings. The same thing goes for the Christian cross in the middle of a flag from a nation of former pagans.


The Iceland flag is a beautiful piece of art that represents an amazing nation, filled with amazing people. The history of the Icelandic flag is surprisingly short, given the long history of the country. The Iceland national flag has some powerful symbolism in it, connecting it to what Icelanders identify with the most on the island. We have gathered all you need to know about the Iceland flag in this article.


Iceland flag

The Iceland Flag History


Believe it or not, Iceland used to be the wild west of the Viking world for a couple of hundred years when people came there and started to claim land. Obviously, there was no Iceland flag for this period.


For a short period of time, when Vikings got tired of Viking shenanigans being done to Icelandic Vikings, they set up the Althing. It is a kind of meeting ground for the chiefs in the area to discuss how to behave on the island. This resulted in an Iceland flag for the newly found Commonwealth of Iceland. The old Iceland flag had 12 horizontal stripes of alternating blue and white and was used between 930 and 1292.


In 1292, Iceland became a part of Norway and for a short period, they were “given” a flag by the self-proclaimed King of Iceland, Jorgen Jorgensen. This old Iceland flag was navy blue with three dried fish up in the left corner. Luckily, it didn’t stick, and Jorgen didn’t last longer than a summer before he left.


Flag Changes on the Horizon


Up until 1913, there wasn’t much of an Iceland flag to talk about. Iceland was basically a semi-sovereign region of either Denmark, Norway, or one of the many Nordic Unions that have been in place. Independence movements have always been present in Iceland, and there have been many suggestions as to what Icelanders should use as a national flag. The most notable flag that was suggested by the independence movement was a light-blue background with a white cross.


When Denmark started to loosen its grip on Iceland, an Iceland national flag was back on the agenda. In 1913, the Iceland flag that we know today flew for the first time and became an unofficial symbol of Iceland's sovereignty. It was adopted in 1918 as the flag of the Icelandic Kingdom (in union with Denmark) and later changed in 1944 when Iceland declared independence. The only change was a change from a lighter to a darker blue.


Iceland flag symbolism


The Iceland National Flag Symbolism


When you think about Iceland or any of the other Nordic countries, you are likely to think of old Norse mythology, Vikings, Paganism, and so on. However, the flags of these countries have a huge Christian centerpiece right in the middle of them: the cross. This cross has come to be known as the “Nordic Cross” or “Scandinavian Cross”.


Even though the Nordics used to worship the old gods, they all made a big deal about becoming Christians when the religion spread to the North. Despite this, all Nordic countries are known to have religious freedom tolerance, accepting others who are not of the same faith or simply don’t believe in a higher power.


Getting back to the flag of Iceland, many would like to say that the colors were put in the Iceland flag to represent specific things and that there is a deep symbolic meaning to the flag.


The colors are today connected to the various elements that make up Iceland:

  • Red: The fiery volcanoes with their streams of lava.

  • White: The ice and snow that represents glaciers, icebergs and snowfall in the winter.

  • Blue: The ocean and blue hue that the mountains have when you see them from the sea.

Symbolic History of the Iceland Flag


Blue and white have always been Icelandic colors. This has been a standing fact ever since the Viking ages when they formed a loosely put-together community of chieftains to keep order. Blue and white often come up as symbolic colors in flags around the world, especially in countries with a strong connection to the sea. Blue typically stands for perseverance, which couldn’t be more on point for the Icelandic people. White often represents purity and Christianity.


Many thought that the light-blue flag with a white cross looked too much like the Swedish flag and other Scandinavian flags. The red cross was added on top of the white cross in the flag to pull away from the resemblance with the Swedish flag and enforce the Christian undertones.


Iceland flag meaning

Throughout the independence movement, the Gyrfalcon has been seen as a powerful icon of the Icelandic spirit, making it into many Iceland flag suggestions. One legend says that a suggestion involving a Gyrfalcon with its wings spread made it to the Danish king back at the end of the 1800s. The king then had the flag redrawn with the same falcon and the wings down, making it seem settled and timid.


Experience it for Yourself


Now you know everything you need to know and more about the Iceland flag. We suggest you experience the country by renting a campervan and explore the fiery red, resilient blue, and peaceful white of this country yourself.

283 views