Medieval beekeeping, honey production, wax production, mead and such

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    Hans Hellinger

    A lot of interesting social and political structures came up around the production of honey and wax in the medieval period. Wax was the really important commodity because candles were perceived as the best method of artificial light in that era. They also had lamp oil (usually a type of inedible olive oil) but it gave a dimmer light. And they had torches of course but they put off tons of smoke. Kerosene, turpentine and pitch were all also available for fuel but kerosene was relatively expensive to produce in the medieval period and turpentine and pitch were smelly and not considered ideal for indoor use.

    So wax was the thing. And there were a few different specific ways to get it. One was the ancient tradition of harvesting wild honey, and making wild hives into semi-tame hives “in situ”.

    enter the Zeidler

    Coat of arms of the Zeidler - the wild beekeeper

    The Zeidler were professional beekepers of the artisan rank who specialized in keeping bees in forest settings. There is an auto-translate of the German wiki on them here.

    The gist of the story is that these folks specialized in locating wild bee hives in the forest. They would then modify the tree they were found in, making it into an ideal home for the bees and one which they could harvest wax and honey from periodically. This was enabled in part by their special beekeper outfits, including a heavy green and yellow outfit, special hat with a mesh face-shield.

    In the 11th-12th Centuries they began to be recognized by nobles and towns and given certain rights. This made them into one of the rare rural artisan crafts (most crafts being explicitly urban). They were given the right to carry a crossbow which also shows up on their coat of arms, and they held competitions. IN the 14th Century Charles IV recognized them and elevated their status to that of Foresters, basically forest managers. Like urban citizens they were allowed to manage their own court with their own college of free judges or ‘Schoffencollegium’. Their special privilege, called the Zeidelrecht, is still encoded into some regional German laws.

    Crude mockup of their outfit

    Another nice mashup from Der Spiegel

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