Beehives as Symbols in History

Utah Shell Game

Utah Shell Game, David Pendell. Utah State Archives, 1980.

While they are a practical way to house bees, beehives have also been used symbolically throughout history and across cultures. Symbols (images, sounds, colors, shapes, words) stand for or represent something else (ideas, feelings, actions, places, people, groups). Symbols can communicate complicated ideas or messages in a simpler form.

 
America guided by wisdom An allegorical representation of the United States depicting their independence and prosperity

America Guided by Wisdom, an Allegorical Representation (1815). Library of Congress.

America guided by wisdom An allegorical representation of the United States depicting their independence and prosperity

Closeup of Beehive Symbolizing Industry

Historically, people and cultures around the world have used bees and beehives to symbolize many different ideas.

  • Ancient Egypt - Bees as givers of life; death and resurrection.
  • Greeks and Romans - Beehives represented an ideal society and prosperity.
  • European Middle Ages - Beehives stood for unity under one ruler or leader; the spiritual unity of the Christian Church.
  • French First and Second Empire - Imperial symbol; traditional emblem of French royalty.
  • Early American Republic - Beehives represented a system of government in which individuals willingly sacrifice private interests to work together for the good of society; industry and agriculture.
  • Industrial Revolution - Bees and beehives stood for ceaseless work, thriftiness, and industry.
Salt Lake Olympics Honey Bear Pin

Salt Lake Olympics Honey Bear Pin. Utah State Archives, 2002.

A Hive By Any Other Symbol

In Utah, the skep beehive is predominately used in both religious and secular imagery. However, images such as bees, honey, and honeycomb are also used as stand-ins to represent similar meanings. 

What beehive related symbols have you come across recently?