Menu Close

A Brief History of beekeeping from Antiquity to the Present

Ancient Egyptians depicted the bee in frescoes

The Ancient World

Beekeeping originated on earth many thousands of years ago. More than 10,000 years ago, ancient people extracted honey from wild bees.

The facts of keeping bees at home we find in Ancient Egypt.  The first written mention of beekeeping we find in Egyptian papyrus scrolls. They describe the structure of beehives and information about beekeeping. The ancient Egyptians used clay and wicker hives. The peculiarity of beekeeping in Egypt was that the beehives were placed on rafts and boats. Thus, the beekeepers, traveling along the Nile, increased the time of the honey harvest. That is, we are dealing with a prototype of nomadic beekeeping.

The special attitude of the ancient Egyptians to bees is evidenced by the fact that they believed that the tears shed by the sun god Ra at the creation of the world turned into bees. The famous Pharaoh Minos (c. 3200-3000 BC) chose the bee as the emblem of Lower Egypt. The image of the bee is often found on many archaeological artifacts. And for special services some pharaohs were given the title “Lord of the Bees”. There is no exact information why such a title was awarded. But we can assume that for diligence and worthy, useful to the people deeds. Or maybe because the pharaoh was very skillful in ruling his people and they worked well like a family of bees.

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.

A pot of honey was found in the famous tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun
Tomb of Tutankhamun

Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks made a significant contribution to the development of beekeeping.
Beekeeping in Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks made a significant contribution to the development of beekeeping. In the eighth century B.C., they knew the varieties of bees and their status in the family. They also developed the technique of using dividers in the hive, to remove the honey supply without destroying the nest and to produce more honey. The baffles became the prototype for modern frames. Scientific beekeeping began with Aristotle (384-322 BC). This famous philosopher studied bees extensively and even worked in the apiary himself.

The cult of bees was developed among the ancient Greeks.  The famous Greek philosopher Porphyry (234-305 A.D.) believed that human souls entered our world from the moon in the form of bees. And admirers of the cult of Zeus believed that after he was born in a cave, bees carried him to Olympus. The Greeks even considered Zeus to be Melissaios (the Bee Man).

The Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages people used tree hollows
Tree hollow beekeeping

With the beginning of the Middle Ages, many technologies, including beekeeping, were lost. While in Egypt and Ancient Greece and Rome we already met prototypes of modern hives, in the Middle Ages people used tree hollows, which were hollowed out at a height of 4 -15 meters.

Modern era

The log hive was made from a piece of wood that could be placed anywhere.
Log hive beekeeping

In the early thirteenth century, beekeeping began to develop in log hives. The log hive was made from a piece of wood that could be placed anywhere. This allows for observation of the bees and easier collection of honey. The transition to log hives was due to the mass cutting of trees for construction purposes in the face of rapid industrial development.

In the XIX century there was a breakthrough in beekeeping – the invention of the frame hive. Officially, the first frame hive was patented by the prominent Italian American beekeeper Lorenzo Langstroth in 1851. The hive allowed the frames to be lowered from top to bottom. A similar design, with different variations, is still used today by most beekeepers in the world.

Leave a Reply

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