Bees in ancient history
References to bees and honey can be found dating back to the Ancient Egyptians, who attached both religious and spiritual significance to the honey bee – bees were even regarded as Messengers of the Gods.
As early as 3500 BC a bee was the symbol of the Lower King of Egypt and there are numerous examples of bee, honey and bee keeper hieroglyphs in their ancient records. It was believed that bees were created from tears shed by the Sun God Ra (also known as Re).
Honey was used by all classes in Ancient Egypt, for everything from sweetening food, to preventing infection by being placed on wounds, to paying taxes.
The Egyptians believed honey was an integral part of ensuring eternal life; whilst we can’t guarantee that, we do believe it’s jolly good stuff.
Honey and wax was also used for religious purposes. Sacred animals were fed honey-sweetened cakes, mummies are believed to have been embalmed in honey, while sarcophagi were often sealed with beeswax. Jars of honey were left in tombs as offerings to the dead – astonishingly 2,000 year old honey found in Tutankhamen’s tomb was still perfectly edible, making something of a mockery of today’s society’s need for a Best Before date on a jar of honey.
Ancient Greece and Rome
It wasn’t just the Egyptians who believed that bees were Messengers of the Gods. Ancient Greek history refers to Melissa, Goddess of the Bees, while the Ancient Greeks also worshipped honey due to its healing attributes. Bees are widely represented on artefacts from the time.
Legend suggests that Zeus, King of the Gods, was fed honey by sacred bees as an infant when the child had been hidden by his mother in a secret cave to keep him safe from his father Kronos.
Like Zeus, the god Dionysus was raised in a cave and fed on honey. Today he might be better known as the God of wine, but his worship pre-dates wine, from the time when mead was the major alcoholic beverage.