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The medieval Icelandic Commonwealth (930-1262), having no central executive powers, did not apply capital punishment. It was, however, possible for the Althing to declare a man réttdræpur (English: "rightfully killable"). This made the killing of the person in question legal—although the executive power was invested in whosoever cared to pursue it, instead of being the duty of state officials.

According to a plaque at Thingvellir National Park, 72 people are known to have been executed in the period from 1602 to 1750. Execution methods included beheading, hanging, burning at the stake and drowning.

Later, when Iceland fell under the Danish Crown, Danish laws more or less applied. The frequency of capital punishment increased considerably with the adoption of Lutheranism in the 17th century, but gradually disappeared by the mid-19th century.

The last execution

The last application of capital punishment in Iceland took place on January 12, 1830, in Vatnsdalshólar in Húnavatnssýsla. The convicts were Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a farmhand, and Friðrik Sigurðsson, a farmer's son from Katadalur. Their crime was the murder of two men on March 14, 1828: Nathan Ketilsson, a farmer of Illugastaðir, and Pétur Jónsson of the Geitaskarð farm. The case was the basis for a 1995 film by Egill Eðvarðsson, Agnes.


Four years later, the last execution of an Icelander was carried out in Denmark. After 1830, dozens of Icelanders were found guilty of a crime punishable by death. Most of the cases were infanticides, where women who were unable to care for their newly-born illegitimate children would kill them. However, they were all granted a clemency by the King of Denmark. In 1869, a new law took effect in Iceland, harmonising Icelandic and Danish law—this law abolished the death penalty for lesser offences. In 1928 the death penalty was abolished entirely, and has not since had a place in Icelandic law.

Since the 1995 revision of the constitution, the reintroduction of capital punishment is forbidden.




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