Honey – A Golden Fluid That Ruled Medieval Serbia

Honey is one of the most miraculous products of nature. In Serbia, it is held in high esteem for centuries now, and since it used to be the only sweetening agent, it was consumed in large quantities. It served as a natural remedy, as key ingredient in production of mead, and an additive in production of wine and other alcoholic beverages. According to many legends honey is a “Gift from God” and it was embraced by almost all people that ever walked across Serbian soil, starting with members of the seven millennia old “Lepenski vir culture”, who lived all over Djerdap gorge, and ending with contemporary people.

Vast lands and green fields of Serbia, with their floral pastures, were always a true paradise for honey bees. This was of the utmost significance for Slavic people that were settling in the area between the 6th and the 9th century. In time, bee-keeping developed into a very important agricultural branch. Those were the times when Serbs adopted Christianity, thus accepting “Slava”, a custom that implied celebrating the name of family’s patron saint. “Slavas” required burning a whole lot of candles made of pure bee wax.

The lack of sugar and lighting in the middle ages increased the need for honey and bee wax, not only in Serbia but also in Europe. A special role in spreading apiculture was awarded to monasteries and churches. In Serbia, during the reign of the Nemanjic dynasty, bee-keeping was an occupation reserved not only for peasants but royalty as well. Unlike today, the land was swarming with bees and bee-keepers, who were subjected to a tax system, called the “bee tribute”. A tenth of all bee products was collected and given to feudal lords.

The largest Serbian bee-harvest area existed in the time of Dusan the great. It was located somewhere in today’s Greece and contained thousands and thousands of bee hives. It is a known fact that even afterwards, under the reign of Ottomans, the bee tribute was collected. In contemporary Serbia, honey is valued as food, remedy and treat. It is used in cooking , baking and even roasting, in other words, honey kept its high status. Bee-keeping business is facing a natural decline, nonetheless, Serbian honey has never tasted better. To celebrate the fact, each April, in the village of Kamenovo, a two-day honey fair is held. It is a traditional manifestation and an exhibition of all bee products that gathers several hundred bee-keepers from all over the region. Kamenovo on the river Mlava, is known as the beehive village. It is a small place, yet, it hosts more than 4.000 bee hives. In gratitude to bees, a monument was built in the middle of the village. It is a unique bee statue, found nowhere else in Europe.

There are several other manifestations dedicated to honey, such as Honey festival held each september in Novi Sad and Honey festival of Zrenjanin that takes place each October.