GLIMA - A BRIEF HISTORY by Þorsteinn Einarsson



Þorsteinn Einarsson

Þorsteinn Einarsson

Þorsteinn Einarsson was Iceland’s inspector for sports and traditional games between 1941 and 1981. In this capacity, Einarsson had the resposibility to collect information from all over Iceland regarding the country's history of sport. Over the course of his 40 year career, Einarsson documented the history of glima in Iceland, and wrote a document about the different forms of glima in "Glima the Icelandic wrestling" which was used by the Olympic Committee of Iceland and presented to the International Olympic Committee in 1984.

The document by Einarsson covers how Icelandic glima was developed from the types of combat brought to Iceland from Norway in The Viking Age, the differences from the other forms of glima and its origins, and the connection between glima and the Icelandic law books. It also covers glima’s use in warfare, combat, daily life, pleasure, play and competition.

This is a copy of the document given to the Olympic Committee by Þorsteinn Einarsson, with the English translation from 1988:


The Icelandic Wrestling

An ancient form fo wrestling developed from theh forms of combat brought to Iceland by its settlers in the Viking Age and prcticed by their decendents for the last 11 centuries


Presented to the international Olympic committee by the Olympic committee of Iceland.



Author Thorsteinn Einarsonn

Glímusaband Íslands (Icelands Glima Association) Reykjavik 1984

Revised by the author in 1987

New English translation 1988

02 pic.jpg

In 1874 the Icelandic people celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the settlement of their country. The main festival was held at Thingvellir (1) a plain on the shore of a lake surrounded by shhets of lava some 50 km northeast of Reykjavik, where the nation had convened each june to attend their legislative and judicial duties from 930 to 1798 A.D. One of the many and distinguished foreign guests at the 1874 celebraton was Christian IX, the King of Denmark.

On the first day of the festival, the king rose early and strolled out to the fields where the Icelanders had pitched their tents for the night. Most of them were out of their tents, playing games to warm themselves. One of the games that caught the king’s eye was a wrestling match. He showed such interest in this vigorous sport and the nimble contestants that two men recognized the best wrestlers of the time were brought before him to demonstrate the game at its best. The name of the noble game was glima, the Icelandic word for a national form of wrestling.


03 pic.jpg

(1) The Althingi, Iceland’s Parliament, was founded in 930 AD. The place selected for its meetings was known as Thingvellir (lit. “The Assembly plains”), a site of stunning natural beauty. It is situated a short distance from Reykjavik, and here the Altingi held its meetings in the open air until 1798.

04 pic.jpg
05 6 pic.jpg

Various ancient forms of wrestling have been preserved by nations as diverse as Switzerland, Korea, Japan, india, Russia, Turkey, etc. Ancient wrestling styles are also found in various parts of the British Isles, e.g. Westmoreland/Cumberland, Scotland, Cornwall and Devon. The same is true of Bretagne in France, the Canary Islands, among the nomadic shepards of Mongolia, the Moaris in New Zealand, the Indians of the Amazon region etc.

The modern styles of wrestling such as the Greco-Roman styles and freestyle have little in common with these folkloric styles. Nor has Judo, which was modernized as a form of competition wrestling in Japan in the last century, being derived from ancient national styles formerly used in war and self.defence.

07 pic.jpg

The settlers of Icelander mostly came from Norway, but also the British Isles, most of the latter being of Celtic origin. These settlers brought with them a form of wrestling which they resorted to when they lost their weapon in battle. But there were other forms as well, which they indulged in for exercise and amusement.

To be continued -