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History of the Honey Bee and Their Association with Man

Updated on February 23, 2014

Drawing of an 8000 year old cave painting.

The drawing depicts a honey seeker surrounded with bees. It was encountered in the Arana Caves in Spain.
The drawing depicts a honey seeker surrounded with bees. It was encountered in the Arana Caves in Spain. | Source

Honeybees and biblical associations

In this article I look at the history of the honeybee and how man has had a valuable relationship with them that stretches back at least as far as man has kept records.They transcend every religion.

Historic records far predate Christianity. For instance in the book of Job, probably the oldest of the sacred scriptures contains a reference to honey. The Pentateuch, the Chronicles of the Israelites, the Psalms,the works of Solomon, and nearly all the latter books of the old Testament speak of this industrious insect and its products. Throughout the ancient world the virtues of the Honey bee was celebrated, and the habits of the bee.

Records also show that the ancient Egyptians were aware of the domestic economy of the hive, for they took the figure of the insect to symbolize a people governed by a sovereign and this so far back as the 12th dynasty, or 2080-1920 BC.

There is a strong argument to suppose that humans had domesticated bees in a more distant period than the last example.The ancient language Sanskrit has 'ma' meaning honey, 'madhupa' meaning honey drinker and 'Madhukara' meaning honey maker. The Chinese 'mih' or 'mat' signifies honey. The Latin 'mel' and the French 'miel' also mean honey and they are of course the offspring of the Greek, thus the bee was impressed on the minds of men throughout the globe.

In the Teutonic languages, Biene, bee etc are connected with by- a term met with in the names of many English villages and towns and signifies a dwelling.

The honey bee


Drawn to the lure of honey

It was not such much the sweet liquid , procured and stored by the bees that attracted the attention of man, but rather, the beauty of the way the bees fashioned their combs. Although it can not be confirmed with any certainty it is probable that domesticated bees in the remotest part of our history. It does seem a probability that races before the 'historic period' had learned to make use of this industrious insect and its produce. They saw the wisdom of turning to the nectar gathering habits of the bee.

17 centuries before the birth of Christ, Jaiob told his sons to take honey among their presents which they were taking to the Lord of Egypt. In the Scriptures, the land of Canaan was described by God to Moses as being " A land of milk and honey", It is reasonable then to conclude that if domesticated animals provided the milk then 'domesticated' bees provided the honey! However, it may be that man did not utilise hives in the 16th century BC and Ps 1xxx1,16 seems to confirm this-" with honey out of the rock should have satisfied thee" indicating that bees were in their natural haunts.

The numerous references to honey in the early scriptures make it a high probability that honey was in common use and was obtainable for those who wished to procure it.

Honey is now a familiar household product.

Public domain {USDA-ARS}
Public domain {USDA-ARS} | Source

Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder studied bees in ancient Rome.
Pliny the Elder studied bees in ancient Rome. | Source

As regards to ancient literature.

As regards to ancient literature on the honey bee it is, as far as it is known, to Aristotle that we must turn and to his work the " History of Animals" written about 330 AD. However, nearer to the Christian era, it was Pliny the Elder that taught the people of his time {and later scholars} to the worker bees, and in his writings devotes a considerable time to the description of the bee.

Nearly a century early Virgil, the poet of rural life wrote a charming book, his fourth Georgic, on the subject of these winged insects. The orator, Cicero makes frequent reference to the bee in his Treatice on old age, and other classical writers allude to the bee frequently. Many of the works abounded in errors, although they did show more knowledge than much earlier authors had managed to acquire.

Moving on to a more recent period in our history we move to the times of William Shakespeare. ' he spake of beasts and of fowl and of creeping things and of fishes' The bard in his play Henry V act1,scene 2; states-

" Therefore doth heaven divide

The state of man in divers functions;

To which is fixed, as an aim or butt;

Obedience; for so work the honeybees;

Creatures, that,by a rule of nature, teach

The act of order to a peopled kingdom.

They have a king and officers of sorts;

Where some, like magistrates, correct at home;

Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad;

Others like soldiers, armed in their stings

make boot upon the summer's velvet buds;

Which pillage, they, with merry march, bring home

To the tent-royal of their emperor;

Who, busied in his majesty, surveys

The surging masons building roofs of gold;

The civil citizens kneading up the honey;

The poor mechanic-porters crowded in

Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate;

The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum

Delivering o'er to executors pale,

The lazy yawning drone"

Abbot and many writers in the British Bee journal then added largely to apiarian knowledge; The Rev.L.L. Langshoth of Ohio made a well earned reputation for his researches and his practical instruction with regard to apiculture, It could be said that he supplied one of the bridges between the previous writers on the subject and modern day apiculturalists, along with people such as Dr.Dzierzon of Carlsmarkt, in Silesia and Baron Von Berlepsch of Coburg Bavaria who also stood at the very head of authorities on all that relate to bee keeping.

Bees wax being 'capped off'

Bees wax is capped off before honey can be extracted.
Bees wax is capped off before honey can be extracted. | Source

Honey bee diseases.

Today honey bees are threatened as never before, by insecticides, viruses and other diseases.

On my website there is an article 'Honeybees and diseases' which covers the European Foul Brood, and the American Foul Brood, both of which are serious diseases capable of wiping out honeybee colonies.

Associated hubs.

My hub, The Plight of Bees , A threat to world food, there is ongoing updates about the collapse of modern day domestic bee colonies and the suspected reasons. We have the thank Apis mellifera {western honeybee} for one in every three mouthfuls of food that we eat today. They are in serious decline, and has the worlds governments seeking an answer, which will stop the decline. Visit the hub to keep up to date with the plight of the bees

Modern day beekeepers face many trials as the bee population id in decline.

Students being taught the art of beekeeping.
Students being taught the art of beekeeping. | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb thank you for your usual kind and appreciated comments. You are so right about the bees. The latest update about how California's almond growers have struggled this year is on my hub Plight of the bees -A threat to world food. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      7 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Excellent material. They bee has been revered and respected for quite some time. It is also an industrious worker and now needs our help in order to continue as a species. very well done.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Randy,

      Thank you for being the first to visit. Once again I am indebted to you for your informative input. Thank you for your kind comments which are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 

      7 years ago from Southern Georgia

      Very informative, as well as, interesting facts about the noble insect. I noticed you didn't mention honey bees in the New World. It seems I read somewhere there were no honey bees in the Americas before Europeans imported them. Native Americans referred to them as "white man's flies".

      Enjoyed the read and voted up!


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