Czechs begin shooting ‘Slovan’ miniseries in Proto-Slavic dialogue

Photo: Jitka Englová / Czech Radio

Shooting has begun on a Czech miniseries called ‘Slovan’ set in the 7th century following the death of Samo, a Frankish merchant who founded the first recorded political entity of the Slavic people. “Samo’s Empire”, as it is sometimes called, was more of a loose union of West Slavic tribes, most likely centred in Moravia and the Duchy of Nitra but included Czech and Sorbian tribes, as well as some living along the river Danube.

While the miniseries is mainly voiced by Czech actors, the dialogue is mainly in Proto-Slavic (or Praslovanština) – an unattested, reconstructed proto-language of all Slavic languages, representing speech from around the Middle Bronze Age until early in the Middle Ages. Speaking it convincingly presents a challenge, says ‘Slovan’ actor Ondřej Sosna.

Photo: Clamor FILM

“The language is beautiful and melodic. It is similar to today’s Czech, but still it’s very difficult to speak a language that I do not really understand at all.”

Writing was not introduced into Slavic culture until the 9th and 10th centuries A.D., and the primary source on King Samo is a Frankish document of uncertain authorship known as the Chronicle of Fredegar, originally written in the 7th century A.D. So ‘Slovan’ screenwriter and director Filip Sýkora, interviewed on set by Czech Radio, had to take a fair bit of artistic licence in the absence of hard historical facts.

“I was researching what happened during the 7th century in our country, the Czech lands, how people looked, how they talked. But no-one really knows. There are only assumptions, not many facts. But based on these assumptions, we created a Slavic world, and reconstructed the language of Proto-Slavic and Old Bavarian, and in this way hope to revive that world.”

According to the Chronicle of Fredegar, the merchant Samo was likely a kind of arms-dealer who provided the Slavs with weapons. It was a confederation known as the Wends (Slavs of the Windic March) who elected Samo as their leader and king.

Photo: Jitka Englová / Czech Radio

The miniseries ‘Slovan’ takes place following the Samo’s death in 658 A.D., when a massacre of all those challenging the claim to the throne of his son Vladuc breaks out in the Slavic empire. Among the survivors seeking refuge in Frankish Bavaria, deep in the Bohemian forest today known as Šumava, are the dead king’s main advisor and loyal friend, Izaslav, and sons Sverad and Naum.

It was a perilous time to say the least, notes ‘Slovan’ screenwriter and director Filip Sýkora, who does not choose sides, in the sense that his characters are not two-dimensional embodiments of good and evil.

“It is crucial for us to perceive people’s experiences during crisis situations. I believe people do what the world allows them to do as best they can. When they can’t, they do bad things. I have no illusions that there are ‘good and bad’ people. They are happy and unhappy. And our band is not very happy and do bad things to survive.”

The four-part miniseries ‘Slovan’, which is set to air in about six months, is being filmed mainly in the Šumava Mountains, but also in the archaeological open-air museum in Březno u Loun. It is the second production by Clamor FILM, founded by a group of Czech history buffs from the Pilsen and Klatovy regions.