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More than a thousand years ago, my Norse ancestors were busy pillaging Europe. Using Viking long boats (the stealth weapon of the day), we could sneak up the coasts and rivers of civilized areas, plundering and pillaging at will.
But perhaps we were not thoroughly evil souls. After just a couple of bloody centuries, we converted to Christianity, beat our swords into plowshares, and became peasant farmers.
From that day until this one, we’ve been known only for eating fish prepared with caustic lye and making stupendously depressing films.
A few Norse arrived in Iceland about 1200 years ago – quite far back, indeed. They realized they needed a way of deciding disputes on the island, so they began holding open-air assembles at a spot called Thingvellir, a location where some dramatic, uneven and wide “cracks” in the rocks provided natural highs and lows that were useful as speaking platforms and seating areas.
In a very rough and ready way, the Icelanders had started grassroots self-government. Instead of physically attacking your neighbor, you could come together with others and seek a resolution to questions like which sheep belonged to whom or which gods should be worshipped in Iceland.
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