Menu Close

How People Practiced Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt

The image of the Sphinx in Giza, Egypt

In ancient Egypt we find a lot of evidence that beekeeping was very developed and the ancient Egyptians treated bees with religious respect. Honey and bee products were used as food, for medical purposes, cosmetic, as a means of exchange for other products. The bee was a symbol of Lower Egypt.

Bees in the mythology of ancient Egypt

A great number of myths and legends have been associated with bees since antiquity. Thus, according to the ancient Egyptians, the soul of the deceased left the man in the form of a bee. All Egyptian pharaohs bore the title “Lord of Bees”. The symbolic image of this insect during the life of the pharaoh decorated the royal emblem, and after his death – his tomb.

The special attitude of ancient Egyptians to bees is evidenced by the fact that they tears of the sun god Ra, which fell to the earth during the creation of the world, turned into bees.

Depictions of beekeeping in ancient Egypt

In the preserved monuments of Ancient Egypt we often meet the image of a bee in the form of a hieroglyph. For example, on a wall in the temple complex at Karnak 1290 and 1213 B.C

Picture on a wall in the temple complex at Karnak 1290 and 1213 B.C
Picture of the bee on a wall in the temple complex at Karnak 1290 and 1213 B.C

Or Relief of a honey bee Detail of a wall painting from the Tomb of Seti I (KV17). New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, reign of Seti I, ca. 1290-1279 BC. Valley of the Kings, West Thebes.

The picture of the bee on the wall from the Tomb of Seti-I . 1290-1279 BC. Valley of the Kings, West Thebes.
The picture of the bee on the wall from the Tomb of Seti-I . 1290-1279 BC. Valley of the Kings, West Thebes.

There are also many images of bees in the form of hieroglyphs in various tombs and temples of ancient Egypt.

One of the best first images of beekeeping dating back to 2650 BC can be found in the solar temple of Niuserra (Niuserra was a Pharaoh of Egypt during the 5th dynasty), built in honor of the sun god Ra.  The image shows how the ancient Egyptians used smoke to calm bees, taking honeycombs out of hives and putting them in clay jars.

The image shows the process of beekeeping in the solar temple of Niuserra
The picture of beekeeping in the Temple of the Sun god Ra of king Ne-userre at Abu Ghorab Lower Egypt 2650 BC.

Another well-preserved image we find in the Theban tomb of Pabasa (the 26th Dynasty 650 BC).  It shows beehives resembling oblong clay vessels and also the process of obtaining honey by putting it into clay jars.

The image in the tomb of Pabasa shows the process of beekeeping in Ancient Egypt
The picture of beekeeping in the tomb of Pabasa, Luxor 650 BC.

Ancient beekeepers were well aware of the usefulness of honey, wax, and propolis. For example, a pot of honey was found in the famous tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1341 – 1323 B.C.). Similar pots of honey have been found in other tombs.

The image of the tomb of Tutunhamun
The tomb of Tutunhamun 1341-1323 BC.

Nomadic apiculture

Particularly honey-producing areas were in the upper Nile. The Egyptians transported hives – baskets of straw or reeds, or even ceramic vessels – on large wicker rafts to return home after a while with a rich honey harvest.

What a hive looked like

Ancient Egyptian beekeepers kept bees in pipes made of clay and mud, 1.2 m long and 30-40 cm in diameter. They were made from a bundle of sticks, grass and reeds bound together with mud. After drying and hardening, the middle of the pipe was cleaned and a hollow artificial log was made. On both sides of the pipe was closed with wooden covers. On one side a small hole was made for bees to exit.

In one place the Egyptians kept a large number of such horizontal hives. By stacking them on top of each other, they formed a kind of wall. When it was time for the honey harvest, the beekeeper would open the wooden lid at one end and pull out the honeycomb.

When the hive was full, the beekeeper could move some of the honeycombs with bees to another one, thus increasing the number of bee families. The Egyptians understood well the principle of bee family reproduction and used it for their own purposes

Honey value and imports

Honey in ancient Egypt was quite an expensive product. Egyptians not only produced honey, but also imported it from other parts of Africa, the Middle East and Europe. International trade in honey was developed. This is evidenced by inscriptions on clay pots and written receipts found near honey pots.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *