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Uncovering the Ancient Mysteries of Honey: A Glimpse into its Significance and Uses in History

Updated: May 19

Ancient rulers, Kings & Queens, Lords & Ladies were no strangers to the sweetest nectar in the world. Something that in ancient times became a true sign of wealth and privilege.


Yes indeed…this precious substance had been dubbed by the Greeks, The Nectar of the Gods.



From Ancient civilizations during the Neolithic Stone Age to the Modern Era – Honey took center stage and has stood the test of time in popularity for its benefits. Not only for its nutritional elements but also for traditional healing modalities as well!  It became recognized as a versatile food with a wide variety of uses -- which some include cosmetics and the display of ritualistic attributions & reverence for various ancient deities.


Tucked in a land far away from the Western World…nestled in Valencia, Northeastern Spain was a grand discovery made of the Cuevas de La Araña – also known as the 'Spider Caves.'  These caves house historically distant paintings depicting the first examples of people harvesting Honey dating back approximately 8,000 years ago and are the oldest documented proof of Honey Gathering.  According to BeeMission.com, archeologists recently discovered the oldest jars of Honey found in ancient civilizations.  One from the tomb of King Tut dating back approximately 3,000 years ago and another unearthed in a Georgian burial tomb of a prestigious woman located in the Caucasus Mountains dating back some 5,500 years ago.


During the turning point from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age -- it became abundantly clear Honey was a wide commodity for many nations.  So much so that the peoples of antiquities went from primitive ideals of “hunter-gatherers” to lucrative “farmers.” (Francis & Gontier, 1981) From hundreds of thousands of insects, Honeybees became the only species that would be domestically cultivated.  This was accomplished by building Skeppers (ancient hives) which were built using tree trunks that were hollowed out, straw, and good old-fashioned mud.


Thus, the beginning of Honey Farming!


The Stories, the Myths, and the Legends


Israel:  We’ve all heard the land of Israel described as “the land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8) To the surprise of Professor Amihai Mazar, he stumbled upon the oldest apiary located in Northern Israel in a 2007 excavation.  This amazing discovery housed between 100 to 200 hives, with around thirty (30) hives that were unearthed from the Davidian dynasty around the 10th and 9th centuries BCE.  In total, this made the largest apiary found to date.


Now, according to the biblical scriptures, there is historical proof within its writings that Honey was an abundant food source.  Even King Solomon (the son of King David) exclaimed that Honey was sweet to the taste and was good for consumption, but at the same time also warned to not eat too much of it.  (Proverbs 24:13, 25:27)


So…basically…too much of a good thing can also be harmful.


*Side Note Warning: According to Michigan State University (MSU), it is strongly recommended to NOT give infants Honey until they reach the age of twelve (12) months or older.  This is due to the “potential and avoidable source of C. Botulinum spores.” (Nichols, 2023) This has the serious potential of causing babies to become extremely ill due to underdeveloped immune systems. It is strongly advised to refrain from giving a baby Honey to protect their gastrointestinal system from being inundated with spores distributing neurotoxin.   


Yeah…that was a lot, but important to highlight.


Okay, now back to the cool stuff! 


The Greeks:  In Greek mythology – there are many legends of the Greek god of sky and thunder, Zeus.  One of these fables describes Zues’ mother, Rhea, who ran away to the island of Crete to have her unborn son and hide him in a cave from his Father, Cronos (Kronos). According to the legends, Rhea left him there in the care of King Melissus’ daughters -- Melissa and Amaltheia.  In their care, they fed him Honey and milk as a toddler.  It was written in various Greek poems that honey was the food of the gods that granted them “victory over death” and “immortality.”


So, apparently, like many other Grecians -- an ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, felt that the consumption of Honey assisted in optimal and prolonged life.  Honey became a major staple to Greek society to relieve fatigue, a source of essential benefits for the physical body, and attributed to be fundamental for the soul.


Up next…we have the Egyptians.


The Egyptians:  Well, as we know Egypt is one of the most heralded nations of early Western Civilization and takes the stage with its history of cultivating Honey.   As most of the world's society knows, ancient Egyptians made huge engineering advancements for their time.  According to The Book of Honey (Francis & Gontier, 1981), the approximate 6,000-year-old Illustrations within Egyptian hieroglyphs shed light on the use of primitive-ancient hives.  With floating vessels, these clay hives were placed on board to float down the Nile River to make a journey that would start in the Northern part of Egypt and travel to Southern Egypt that would arrive in Memphis. Due to the length of the journey from North to South of the Nile, by the time the vessels would port into Southern Egypt, harvesting the Honey would take place. This possibility was made by giving Honeybees access to collect pollen from floral landscapes on the banks of the river.


The Egyptians realized Honey; aside from other natural foods; didn’t spoil.   This is due to its antimicrobial qualities.  For this reason, they considered it a sacred food and associated it with “immortality and resurrection.”


Kind of like the Grecians…right?


Because of these claims, Honey was declared an appropriate offering to their gods and for sacred, ceremonial practices -- such as burying the dead with sealed vessels that housed Honey to provide nourishment in the afterlife.


We’re not done yet…here comes the Romans.


The Romans: The ancient Roman peoples attributed a life of longevity to the consumption of Honey.


Sound familiar?


This became a main nutritional element for the body on a daily basis.  Once again…according to The Book of Honey, Romilius Polion, a wise man of more than a hundred years of age, was visited by Emperor Augustus for a dining experience. He exclaimed that to keep physically fit and have a healthy life, one must rub their body with oil and consume honey.  


At some point, Honey became a luxury and a sign of prestige to the people of Rome due to its popularity. Far and wide it was served throughout the nation with wine. Unfortunately, due to price increases, there was then made an alternative for the less fortunate.  This concoction was produced by combining dates and water to ferment.   During the excavation of Pompeii, a discovery was made in the city’s taverns.  ALL the cups were lined at the bottom with residual Honey. (Francis & Gontier, 1981)



There are many wonderous historical references, myths, legends, and folklore scattered throughout ancient history about the Golden Nectar.  And now in modern times, we seem to have misplaced the appreciation of its kind.  This is because we can massively produce and find Honey to be easily accessible at our local grocery stores and marketplaces.  Dismissing extensive efforts made by our ancestors to obtain this sweet treat.  In addition, over the years science has discovered and proven tons of nutritional value in Honey – plus, it's a great substitute for sweeteners & condiments, a natural boost for energy, and great for other external uses. 


To conclude, there is no doubt about it -- for ages, Honey has been and will always be…nature’s sweetest golden nectar.



Bibliography

Bee Mission. (2019, September 12). World's Oldest Honey. Retrieved April 2024, from Bee Mission: https://beemission.com


Francis, C., & Gontier, F. (1981). The Book of Honey. London: Robert Hale Limited. Retrieved April 2024


Haddad, G. (2022, November 21). ‘Land of Milk and Honey’—An Ancient Apiary in Northern Israel. Retrieved April 2024, from Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archeology: https://armstronginstitute.org


Nichols, J. (2023, June 2). Why You Should Avoid Feeding Honey To An Infant. Retrieved April 2024, from Michigan State University - MSU Extension: Food & Health: canr.msu.edu


Saed, O. (2021, December 6). Found: A 7,500-year-old Cave Painting of Humans Gathering Honey. Retrieved April 2024, from Atlas Obscura: https://www.atlasobscura.com


Version, A. K. (2016). The Holy Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. Retrieved May 2024


 

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