Use of bees' honey by humans goes back millennia. History has left us a wonderful record of this in places such as Spain, India and Africa, in cave paintings dating back to around 8000 BCE depicting men climbing ladders gathering wild honey,. But it isn't until around 2600 BCE that we find the earliest known evidence, in ancient Egypt, of actual beekeeping, the domestication of bees. Beekeeping in Israel, according to archaeological findings, started around the 10th century BCE. And, on my own little island of Malta (Greek name Melite, for honey) It is believed that it was the Phoenicians, when the islands were colonized by them around 700 BC., who introduced beekeeping, in apiaries and earthenware jars. The picture below is a grand example of a Punic apiary that is still in existence on the island. The apiary was huge (it would have accommodated over 100 hives in its time) and enabled the beekeeper to go behind the hives and easily remove the honeycomb from slats in the wall.
Honey became an important and valuable commodity used for trade in antiquity. From as far back as ancient Roman times Maltese honey, as well as that produced on its neighbor island, Sicily, was, and still is, regarded as one of the best around the world, its quality reflected in the price or its trading value.
Honey from different locales tasted differently, of course, depending on what the flora was in that area. Honey was also frequently made from sources other than bees, such as dates, figs and even pomegranates. Some sources insist that the "land of milk and honey" refers to molasses from dates, at least until beekeeping became more commonplace.
Honey drips with symbolism. One cannot think of honey and ignore it, in religion especially. Both Christians and Jews alike compare something beautiful and abundant to honey, and honey serves as a metaphor throughout the Bible. St. John the Baptist lived in the desert on a diet of wild honey that he took from feral bee colonies and locusts. The Jewish symbol for the new year (Rosh Hashanah) is honey and apples, while the Muslims in the Koran have a Surah named ‘an-Nahl’, meaning “of the bee”. But Its symbolism crosses over to other religions in other, more primitive, ways. In Hinduism it is one of the five elixirs offered to Buddha and the Egyptians, Romans and the Incas too offered it to their gods.
Honey, of course, is the key ingredient of the iconic honey cake.