Records of bee honey in history are difficult to locate, but it is certain that it is among the first documented evidence discovered. Cave paintings from Spain from 7000 B.C. shows the first records of beekeeping, but bee honey fossils date back about 150 million years! Its “magical” properties and versatility have given honey an important role in history.
The earliest evidence of the existence of an apiary was found in the temple of the sun erected in 2400 B.C. near Cairo. The bee is frequently presented in Egyptian hieroglyphs and, being favored by the pharaohs, often symbolizes royalty.
The ancient Egyptians used honey as a sweetener, as a gift to their gods, and even as an embalming ingredient. Honey cakes were baked by the Egyptians and used as an offering to reconcile the gods. The Greeks also made honey cakes and offered them to the gods.
The Greeks saw honey not only as an important food, but also as a medicine for healing. Greek recipe books were full of sweets and cakes made of honey. The cheeses were mixed with honey to make cheesecakes, described by Euripides in the 5th century B.C. as being “best immersed in the rich honey of golden bees.”
The Romans also used honey as a gift to the gods and used it widely in cooking. Beekeeping flourished throughout the Roman Empire.
With Christianity, the production of honey and beeswax increased greatly, to meet the demand for candles for the church.
Honey continued to be of great importance in Europe until the Renaissance, when the arrival of sugar meant the use of bee honey on a smaller scale.
Because bees were considered to have special powers, they were often used as emblems:
- Pope Urban VIII used the bee as his emblem.
- The bee was the sign of the king of Egypt during the first dynasty (3,200 BC).
- In the third century BC, the bee was the emblem used on coins in the Greek city of Ephesus.
- The bee was a symbol of the goddess Artemis.
- The bee was the emblem of Eros / Cupid