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history of beekeeping

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Fiona Norwich
New Bee

Joined: 21 May 2015
Posts: 2
Location: Norfolk

PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2015 8:35 pm    Post subject: history of beekeeping Reply with quote

Does anyone have any verifiable info about beekeeping in the Roman era and the early dark ages, Anglo-Saxon 430 to 650?
Eva Crane's book is a bit expensive so I'm relying on the net and mentions in history books.
I re-enact at a recreated Anglo-Saxon village in deepest Suffolk (west Stow). I'm aiming to have an early Saxon willow skep, a late Saxon straw skep and a Roman style hive if I can find some proof as to how the Romans in BRitain kept bees (there being evidence of Roman settlement as well).
The long term plan is to have an observation hive running from a hTBH. Does anyone have any experience, ideas or advice about this? The village is owned by St Edmundsbury Borough Council and hosts school visits to health and safety standards are very high but there is plenty of space to site a hive where little fingers won't try and open it.
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Adam Rose
Silver Bee

Joined: 09 Oct 2011
Posts: 589
Location: Manchester, UK

PostPosted: Sat May 23, 2015 7:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have Crane's book. I will send you a pm. But basically, the answer is "skeps".

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Scout Bee

Joined: 30 May 2014
Posts: 311
Location: Newport, Gwent, Wales, UK

PostPosted: Sun May 24, 2015 1:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Are you a member of a local beek society. Most have a library, mine has two of Eva Crane's books. We are not meeting over the summer, but I can try to get the titles for you. I will also ask my local conventional mentor who has been keeping bees for forty years and read most books around.
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New Bee

Joined: 27 May 2015
Posts: 5
Location: Derry, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

PostPosted: Wed May 27, 2015 2:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The hives were probably made of a plant based material. We know this because the classical Roman writers Varro, Columella, virgil and Pliny all mention hives made of plant stems or woven wicker etc. It may well be that to the far-reaching invasions of Roman armies and the military colonies subsequently established should be credited for the spread of ancient Grecian beekeeping methods far into the European nations, such as Germany, Spain, and France, as also its introduction into Great Britain. Roman invasions were also credited for the introduction of much of the folklore that many believe to be of European tradition.

Because the skeps were made of plant material which decays easily, there is no archaeological evidence to determine the actual shape of these ancient skeps. It is possible they were covered with mud or dung as was sometimes done in ancient Greece to protect against the weather. There is also a Greek top bar hive that was in use for centuries, but I'm not sure that evidence exists that this technology reached Great Britain.

There is evidence that the skeps of ancient Rome and Greece may have been very similar in shape to the traditional skeps used today. In ancient Rome and Greece, bees were associated with every phase of bounty and wealth. An interesting discovery of terracotta Beehive savings banks dating to about 2200 B,P, have been excavated in Rome. These savings banks are remarkably similar in shape to the traditional skeps used today. So I would say that a traditional skep of the early dark ages, Anglo-Saxon 430 to 650 would be indistinguishable from early Roman hives other than what plant material was used in its construction.

It is interesting to note that the Greeks and Romans were skilled beekeepers who did not kill their bees to take the honey. Varro, Columella, virgil and Pliny all give instructions on how to take the honey without killing the bees. However, you may have to include a brimstone pit in your display because according to Langstroth the killing bees for their honey was, unquestionably, an invention of the dark ages, when the human family had lost all in Apiarian pursuits, as well as in other things the skill of former ages.

Joe Waggle
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