The Ancient Honey Bee
The Ancients understood the importance of the honey bee and the threads of connection that tie us all together.
Our oldest known advanced civilization the Sumerians were some of the first recorded bee keepers
The Oldest discovered Apiary dates back over 3000 years in Tel Rehov Israel which dates to the time of biblical accounts of King David and King Solomon, thus becoming the oldest known archaeological example of beekeeping.
In the Cave of the Spider near Valencia Spain, a 15,000 year old painting depicts a determined looking figure risking his life to extract honey from a precarious cliff-side Beehive.
The Bee is the only insect that communicates through dance. In Neolithic Spain in the Bee was depicted as a dancing Goddess
Bee Goddess, 5000 BC – Neolithic Spain
The Mother Goddess is arguably the oldest deity in the archaeological record and her manifestations are numerous, including likenesses of butterflies, toads, hedgehogs – and dancing Bees. In the ancient world, dancing Bees appear to have been special – the Queen Bee in particular, for she was the Mother Goddess – leader and ruler of the hive, and was often portrayed in the presence of adorning Bee Goddesses and Bee Priestesses.
The ancient Egyptians are considered one of the first beekeepers in history. The bee and its products had an importance that was not only agricultural, but also nutritional, medicinal and ritualistic. Honey was more than just food, it was applied to wounds for its antiseptic properties and was believed to prevent miscarriages. Beeswax was used in mummification and in candle making. There was also a large demand for honey to be used as offerings to the gods. Ramses III made an offering of 21,000 jars of honey to Hapi, the Nile god.
the Salt Magical Papyrus states:
“When RA weeps again and the water which flows from his eyes upon the ground turns into working bees. They work in flowers and trees of every kind and wax and honey come into being.”
he Egyptian ceremonial dress, which has certain stylistic similarities with the Bee, namely the headdress, or nemes, and alternating yellow and dark horizontal stripes. This visual synchronicity is discernable in many reliefs and sculptures but is perhaps best illustrated in the death mask of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh, Tutankhamen
in Anatolia, this time at the Neolithic settlement of Catal Huyuk, rudimentary images of Bees dating to 6540 BC are painted above the head of a Goddess in the form of a halo. Nearby, paintings of Beehive comb cells adorn rock strewn temple walls, recalling the day when such symbolism was widely understood – and important. In Anatolia, Bee veneration continued for thousands of years, as demonstrated by the 18th century BC Hittites, who relied on honey as an important element of their religious rites. The complex was excavated by James Mellaart between 1961 and 1965 and found to feature two prominent images: the Mother Goddess, and the bull. Together with the Bee.
In Australia, Aboriginal cave paintings of Beehives have been dated to 10,000 BC. Beehive painting near Prince Regent River, Western Australia
The primary religious figure for the Minoans of Crete was the Mother Goddess. She had numerous manifestations, one of which was a bee. The Queen Bee was especially important, for she was the leader and the ruler of the hive, adored by Bee priestesses.
sketch of an onyx gem (also above) depicting the goddess as a woman with the head and eyes of an insect.
Gold jewelry from Knossos (Middle Minoan period, 1700-1550 BC)
This ancient idol comes from Rhodes, Greece. It shows a bee goddess, believed to carry the dead to the underworld.
Coin from Ancient Ephesus
For the Romans, Bacchus, god of wine, discovered honey and taught beekeeping to humans. Virgil wrote a practical beekeeping thesis, describing the working of the beehive in great detail. Pliny the elder called honey the “sweat of the heavens” and the “saliva of the stars.” For the ancients, then, the bee was a link between humans and the divine.
“Some say that unto bees a share is given of the Divine Intelligence.”
-Virgil (ancient Roman poet of the Augustan Period)
Xemxija is famous for its ancient apiaries that are said to be both Roman and Phoenician.