What is Alþingi?
It’s Iceland’s parliament. It has 63 members, who are elected from (currently) six political parties every four years. They do most of their work in the Parliament building in the centre of Reykjavík.
Why is Alþingi any more interesting than any other body of government?
It’s the oldest extant parliamentary institution in the world, founded in the year 930, very shortly after Iceland’s settlement. It has met regularly, even when Iceland was under the rule of Norway and later Denmark, with only a brief (45 years) break from 1799-1844.
How did it all begin?
When the settlers arrived in Iceland, mostly from Norway, many of them were leaving Norway to protest a king uniting formerly autonomous regions. These regions usually each had their own Þing (pronounced thing) where the free men of the region gathered to make the laws and sentence the people who broke it. In Iceland, they kept the old system of the þing instead of having a king. The first laws of Iceland weren’t written down because the Norse people hadn’t started using letters yet. Instead, a Lawspeaker had to memorize the laws and recite them at each annual þing.