Honeybees: history and functions in ancient times

In Valencia a neolithic cave painting dating back to 5000 b.C. was found, that shows how honey was collected.  While a prehistoric painting was found in Zimbabwe, representing a man smoking a honeybees’ hive to extract honey.

Historically, the first apiary was created by picking up a swarm from a tree trunk, but only later the first artificial hives were created from the rind of cork or from hollow logs.

The beginning of beekeeping as real activity is estimated to have been during the Ancient Kingdom in Egypt.With the passing of time beekeeping became a symbol of power, since, according to an Egyptian legend, the bee was born from the tears of the god Ra. For this reason, the bee became the symbol of the kingdom, and the king was called “He who reigns over the reed and the bee”.

With the passing of the centuries, beekeeping became an increasingly important social and economic activity.

In ancient Rome, beekeeping was assiduously practiced, and its principal function was the production of honey which was used as a sweetener or as an ingredient in the preparation of sweets and flavored wines.

In this period the hives were made up with a circular wicker and were equipped with mobile closures to facilitate the collection of the honeycombs. In addition, they were covered both inside and outside with cattle manure mixed with ash or lime and left to dry to eliminate the smell. Earthenware was a rarely used material to build hives, because it doesn’t guarantee the insulation property necessary to the honeybees.

During the medieval period, new territories were discovered, and sugar began to be imported. Despite sugar was considered a luxury sweetener, beekeeping suffered a severe drop in production. In these conditions beekeeping became an activity carried out mainly by monastic orders because of their need to create candles and tapers for the churches, while honey was consumed by farmers who picked up honey and apiary byproducts after removing pollinators from the hive.

Until 1500, at the beginning of the Summer the beekeeper catched swarms and placed them in the hive. At the end of the Summer, he killed the bees of almost every hive burning sulfur, removed the hives and proceeded with the extraction of the honey through filtration. In Autumn, the beekeeper fed the saved hives to ensure bee survival during the winter.

In 1568, Nickel Jacob published a book on beekeeping, thanks to new observations: he noticed that a colony, with a brood or an egg of a worker bee, could breed a new colony leader (it was believed that the queen bee was a male). Also, Jacob discovered that if a hive was placed in a new location, the bees would learn their location by flying around.

With the advent of the Reinassance, the study on the bees was restarted with the help of the microscope, allowing deeper studies of the bee morphologic and anatomic profile. From the studies carried out during the Renaissance, came the discovery of the fundamental traits of bees that we still know today; for example, it was discovered that the leader bee was a female queen bee, the drones were male individuals and worker bees were female.

Stay updated on promotions and news

We don’t spam, don’t worry :-)