Blog Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curio-stories – A Viking Slave Collar

Today I welcome Ken Hagan who writes historical fiction set in the age of the Vikings. Here, he explains how an artefact from a museum inspired his story.

Dublin was the hub of the Slave Trade in 10th Century Europe

For the Norse kings and warrior merchants of Dublin, overseas trafficking of war captives was a vital element in their seafaring economy, as was the raising of lucrative ransoms for men and women of noble Irish blood, whose families could afford the huge booties of silver and cattle demanded for their release.

A Viking Market for the Free Movement of Labour

In the latter half of the 20th century, during my university years in Trinity College, Dublin, there were a startling number of archaeological finds under the city. Excavations have since revealed the extent of the old Viking port of Linn-dubh under modern-day Dublin. From artefacts and architectural remains it is possible to imagine the context, in which a ruthless warrior class controlled the eastern estuaries of Ireland, before finally being expelled in the 11th century.


Viking Age iron slave collar found at St John’s Lane, Dublin

This cruel iron shackle is the starting point for my story, in which Kregin, a young Ostman sentenced to exile from Iceland for manslaughter, becomes a luckless captive, a slave on the black river isle of Inis-dubh, awaiting shipment overseas.

Kregin and the daughter of an Irish Chieftain, a young child, whom he befriends on the isle of slaves, plan an escape by sea. Their bid for freedom ends in failure. They are re-captured as war looms between Irish clans and their Viking invaders.

 This horrifying reality was the historical setting chosen for Forged in Blood, ‘Warrior in Exile’, Book 2 of my trilogy, Viking Odyssey.


More about Viking Slaves can be found in this National Geographic Article here

Did you know?

A ‘thrall’ is a slave or serf in the Viking Age.  Thrall is from the Old Norse word praell, meaning a person who is in bondage or serfdom. The Old Norse term was lent into late Old English, as þræl. The English derivation thraldom dates from medieval times, and so the verb “to enthrall” means literally to enslave.

So an enthralling book is one which holds you in bondage!

Forged in Blood by Ken Hagan is available from and from


The #historical word origin of ‘Curfew’

As a novelist fascinated by the past, I love it when I come across words that are linked to interesting historical facts. This week I came across a peculiar sort of fire guard called a ‘couvre-feu’ (french – cover fire). A little research revealed that this fire-guard was the origin of the word ‘curfew’ which I have often had to take account of in my seventeenth century novels. The word was also used to describe the time of the extinguishing of  candles and lights. In Middle English it survived as  “curfeu”, which later became the modern “curfew”. Originally, William the Conqueror decreed that all lights and fires should be put out at eight o’clock, but at the moment I am working on a novel based around Pepys’s Diary, and in his day the curfew bell was rung at nine-o’clock.

The bell marked the end of an apprentice’s working day. As they had to be rung manually, and finding someone to do it was often a problem, the apprentices made up this rhyme:

‘Clarke of the Bow belle with the Yellow lockes,
For thy late ringing thy head shall have knockes’

The tolling of the curfew bell continued until Victorian times, when it was believed no longer necessary.

So what is this object, the ‘couvre feu’ ? Well it was a kind of metal dome that covered the embers of the fire when you retired for bed. Its purpose was to prevent a coal from tumbling out so that the fire could remain glowing overnight. The metal dome had a small hole cut in it so that bellows could be inserted in the morning to revive the fire. The one above, from the V&A Museum, is dutch and dated 1627.


In those days curfews and bellows were very common household items as fires were so difficult to start, requiring flint and tinder and a lot of patience!