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date: 26 November 2022



  • John Ellis Jones


  • Ancient Economy

Bee-keeping had the same importance for antiquity that sugar production has now. Honey-gathering preceded the culture of bees which began perhaps in the mesolithic period. The evidence for bee-keeping in classical antiquity is mainly literary, ranging in time from Hesiod onwards and in content from incidental allusions to codifications of the practical experience of Greek, Roman, and Carthaginian bee-masters (Arist. Hist. an. 5. 21–2, 9. 40; Gen. an. 3. 10; Varro, Rust. 3. 16; Verg. G. 4; Columella, 9. 2–16; Plin. HN 11. 4–23); Hellenistic monographs (e.g. Aristomachus of Soli, Philiscus of Thasos) are lost. Solon introduced regulations for bee-keepers (Plut. Sol. 23. 8). Greek cities (Teos, Theangela in Caria) and Ptolemaic Egypt had taxes on bee-keeping and stimulated honey-production. Varieties of breeds and methods were developed, especially in Hellenistic times. Attica (Hymettus), Theangela (in Caria), Cos, Calymnos, Rhodes, Lycia, Coracesium, Thasos, Cyprus, Syria, Sicily (Megara Hyblaea), Liguria, Noricum, and southern Spain produced and exported the best honey. A hive could produce 1–3 choes (3–9 l.: 5–16 pt.) at one harvesting. Archaeological evidence from Egypt (tomb paintings) and Greece (terracotta hives) now supplements literature. Hives were of various materials, perishable (cork, bark, wood, reeds, basketwork) and permanent (terracotta). Ceramic hives have been widely found in Greece; both long pots, set horizontally, partly grooved or combed internally, with combed extension rings or cylinders, detachable for easier harvesting of ‘unsmoked’ honey (Strabo 9.1.23), and disc-lids (Athens, Attica, Corinthia, Crete), and shorter, upright bar-hives, some also combed, with floor-level flight-holes (Isthmia). See also honey.


  • H. M. Fraser, Beekeeping in Antiquity (1931; 2nd edn. 1951).
  • R. J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, 2nd edn. (1964–1972), 5, 80–111.
  • J. E. Jones and others, Annual of the British School at Athens 1973.
  • J. E. Jones, Archaeology 1976.
  • E. Crane, The World History of Bee Keeping and Honey Hunting (1999).
  • G. Lüdorf, Boreas (1998–1999).
  • V. R. Anderson-Stojanović and J. E. Jones, Hesperia 71 (2002), 345–376.