Honey: History

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Honey has always been a prized food in all parts of the world, not only for humans but for many animals. Bears and badgers, which are thick skinned and not troubled by stings, raid wild bees’ nests in hollow trees. A neolithic rock painting in the Araña cave at Bicorp near Valencia in Spain shows a man collecting wild honey. The oldest written reference to the use of honey is thought to be Egyptian, of about 5500 bc. At that time Lower Egypt was called Bee Land while Upper Egypt was Reed Land. By the 5th dynasty (c.2600 bc) apiculture was well established and is shown in several reliefs in the temple of the Sun at Abusir. Honey was a valuable commodity used widely in trade—in the accounts of Seti I (1314–1292 bc) 110 pots of honey were equivalent in value to an ass or an ox. In 1450 BC Thutmoses III is recorded as receiving tribute from Syria of 539 lb (244 kg) of honey.