Relief of a Honeybee

Detail of a relief on a column depicts a honeybee on a column in the High sacred Precinct of Amun-Re, Karnak Temple Complex. The Egyptian name for honey was “bit”, a word also used for bees. Beekeeping in Egypt has been attested since the III millennium BC, but perhaps it was practiced in even older times.

In ancient Egyptian mythology, honeybees were believed to be born from the tears of the Sun God, Re. Bees are a hieroglyph that occurs as parts of titles of state, but most frequently as part of the title of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, rendered nswt-bjtj (interpreted as “He of the Sedge and the Bee”).

Relief of a Honeybee
Relief of a Honeybee

As an ideogram, the hieroglyph of the bee, which we can read “bit,” indicated both the insect and honey. However, it was also the symbol of the Egyptian kingship of Lower Egypt: in the royal protocol, the title preceding the name of the king was “n(y)-swt-bit, that is”he who belongs to the reed and the bee”, where the reed was the emblem of Upper Egypt and the bee of Lower Egypt.

In the wide meadows of the Delta, bee keeping was practiced since the 3rd millennium BC, if not already in the Neolithic period. The bee was also associated to the cult of the goddess of war Neith: her temple was called “Castle of the Bee”. In ancient Egyptian cuisine it was used to sweeten various dishes, especially bread and drinks.

Follow Egypt Museum on Facebook to get latest posts and updates.