Beekeeping in ancient Egypt

Bee-keeping: When the Sun weeps a second time, and lets fall water from his eyes, it is changed into working bees; they work in the flowers of each kind, and honey and wax are produced instead of water.

pSalt 825, first millennium BCE 

    The first official mention recognizing the importance of honey dates from the first dynasty, when the title of “Sealer of the Honey” is given ; the oldest pictures of bee-keepers in action are from the Old Kingdom: in Niuserre’s sun temple bee-keepers are shown blowing smoke into hives as they are removing the honey-combs. After extracting the honey from the combs it was strained and poured into earthen jars which were then sealed. Honey treated in this manner could be kept years. From the New Kingdom on mentions of honey become more frequent , but only four depictions of honey production and no actual hives have been found.

The main centre of bee-keeping was Lower Egypt with its extensive irrigated lands full of flowering plants, where the bee was chosen as a symbol for the country. Since earliest times one of the pharaohs’ titles was Bee King, and the gods also were associated with the bee. The sanctuary in which Osiris was worshipped, was the Hwt bjt , the Mansion of the Bee.

The Egyptians had a steady honey supply from their domesticated bees, but they seem to have valued wild honey even more. Honey hunters, often protected by royal archers, would scour the wild wadis for bee colonies.

I appointed for thee archers and collectors of honey, bearing incense to deliver their yearly impost into thy august treasury.

Papyrus Harris, donation to the temple of Re at Heliopolis, New Kingdom [28]

 

    When there were few blossoming flowers, the hives were probably kept close to home to prevent theft and moved close to the sources of nectar during the flowering season. Thus, in the year 256 BCE a beehive owner named Senchons wanted her donkey returned to her, so that she could move her hives into the pastures.[10] Sometimes the hives had to be transported to higher lying land, to prevent them from being destroyed in the annual Nile inundation, as the so-called bee-keepers’ petition dating from the middle of the third century BCE shows:

To Zeno greeting from the beekeepers of the Arsinoite nome.
You wrote about the donkeys, that they were to come to Philadelphia and work ten days. But it is now eighteen days that they have been working and the hives have been kept in the fields, and it is time to bring them home and we have no donkeys to carry them back. Now it is no small impost that we pay the king. Unless the donkeys are sent at once, the result will be that the hives will be ruined and the impost lost. Already the peasants are warning us, saying: “We are going to release the water and burn the brushwood, so unless you remove them you will lose them.” We beg you then, if it please you, to send us our donkeys, in order that we may remove them. And after removing them we will come back with the donkeys when you need them.
May you prosper!

Bee-keepers’ petition, Ptolemaic period [35]

    There may have been itinerant apiarists living by the Nile who loaded their hives onto boats, shipped them upriver in autumn or early spring, and then followed the flowering of the plants northwards, as they were reported to do in the 18th century CE [19], but there is no evidence for it.

 

6 Responses to Historical Note

  1. Mahesh says:

    1. If you get rid of all the honey bees in the US tomorrow, your wild bees and many other ponlalitors, will still have a problem and this means that there will be issues with pollination.2. Actually, we don’t really know what the effects of decimated pollinator populations will really be. I am concerned, however, at the relaxed attitude toward biodiversity loss exhibited by some, when we are ignorant of the precise consequences, and when we cannot turn the clocks back.3. All the bees and other insects including other ponlalitors, need help, not just honey bees. Wild bees and other ponlalitors actually perform most of the pollination in gardens, countryside etc. Take into account that (and within a context of declining wild honey bee colonies) honey bee pollination is limited by the availability of beekeepers honey bees like all bees, have a limited foraging radius. Also, note that different species are better adapted to pollinating different plants.4. I am tired of this hypocritical they’re not native debate. Neither are many of our food stuffs and garden plants. We are happy with non-native when it suits us, then when humans make a mess of it., we trot out the they’re not native so they don’t matter drivel, regardless of what the issues faced by these creatures, are actually pointing to (i.e. man’s idiocy in his treatment of the environment).5. I am against the breeding of native bees for pollination. These things start small, then grow into genetic tampering, so that we cause other problems. Less of this sticking plaster’ approach let’s sort out the problems in the environment, and stop spraying toxic, bee-killing crap, plus restore some much needed habitat.6. Honey bees are probably a real problem for pesticide companies. Unlike other bees, they are widely studies, AND, colonies survive over longer periods meaning that consequences of spraying agricultural poisons can be more effectively measured in time. And of course, also in product (honey, wax, pollen all easily extracted in good quantities from honey bee hives).Let’s also not forget that the actions of many beekeepers have helped raise awareness of the issue of neonicotinoid threats whereas data on wild bees and ponlalitors is very patchy, so loses and dangers would not have been noted so quickly. Beekeepers are running on-going business selling services provided by bees colonies that will hopefully thrive for years not a short term let’s sell a few bee nests and keep breeding more to sell next season approach.In short, we need to ask ourselves what problems need to be addressed in the environment, so that ponlalitors can thrive. Then we need to act.

  2. [...] acts on and off for more than a century, possibly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago in Egypt. In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s baffled [...]

  3. [...] acts on and off for more than a century, possibly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago in Egypt. In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s baffled [...]

  4. [...] acts on and off for more than a century, possibly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago in Egypt. In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s baffled [...]

  5. [...] acts on and off for more than a century, possibly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago in Egypt. In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s baffled [...]

  6. [...] acts on and off for more than a century, possibly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago in Egypt. In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1960s baffled [...]

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.