Collecting of honey and wax from wild bees represented maybe the first form of intentional utilization of the Slovak forests dating back to the early Middle Ages. Profit coming in from this activity, in ancient Slavic languages used on the territory of former Czechoslovakia called "brtnictvo," constituted one of the major income sources for wealthy landlords.
When illustrating the importance of honey for Slavic tribes one should remember the fact that Slavic name for a bear is "medved," meaning a beast which knows about honey (its location).
Thanks to the wild bees habit of preferring old massive trees with deep hollows for their "residences," honey hunters were wisely trying to protect primeval forests and thus they actually, quite subconsciously, became the first nature conservationists. This fact was also reflected in the Middle Age noblemen regulations issued to prohibit charcoal burning practices in forests from May till July not to disturb bees during their "gathering period."
To point out the exact time when our ancestors switched from simple honey hunting to more progressive method of bee-keeping is almost impossible but, luckily for us, one document containing a reference to our ancestors' bee-keeping beginnings has survived to these days. A Greek scholar, philosopher and historian Priskus in his report from 448 AD mentions that villagers were offering them Panic grass instead of wheat and instead of wine they were offered honey and mead. This written evidence clearly shows that honey and Panic grass represented staple food in majority of Slavic households. Logically, they had to be familiar with the art of bee-keeping as they would hardly be able to collect sufficient amount of this ingredient simply by wild honey foraging.
Ancient bee-keepers used stumps and baskets to keep their bees "home and safe." For honey extracting they developed a "special method" of smoke "choking" them first which was followed by honeycomb cutting and consequential squeezing. Gradually, movable take-apart frames were introduced to make bee life more livable. This way bees were shaken or swept off these frames as gently as possible. The old method usually resulted in gross loses of bee stock. A new inventive approach was maximally safe to bees. This method has, with very little alterations, survived to date.
Other ancient travellers too pertain to bee-keeping, namely Arabic scholar Ibn Rozteh and Persian scholar Gurdezi (9th century). In their manuscripts they describe big wooden barrels with numerous holes letting the bees in. The ancient name for such "dwelling" was "uliscemi" which is very similar to presently used Slovak term for beehive "ul."
At the end of the 9th century bee-keeping suffered great loses due to the old Hungarian tribes raids which left vast regions of nowadays Slovakia completely plundered and "barren." However, later on, even the Hungarian rulers came to realize the importance of bee-keeping for country's economy. For instance, the Hungarian king called St. Stephen introduced honey tax policy benefiting the clergy. To give you just one example, the St. Benedict monastery foundation document from 1075 lists bee-keepers among the other subjects of this monastery.
In the 12th-13th centuries, especially monastery and aristocratic estate beehive farms were intensively and progressively managed. Their bee-keepers were specially educated and formed in a way privileged class called "Apes custodus," that is to say bee guardians.
In 1278, King Ladislav IV officially introduced extremely high honey toll. Toll for one honey barrel equalled the toll collected for one fully laden carriage of cattle skins. This proves that honey became a very significant business article at that time. Honey was being exported to nowadays Austria, especially its capital Vienna, and to Poland as well. Apparently, according to invoices from 1593, 953 tonnes of honey was shipped to Vienna itself.
Maybe surprisingly, bees sometimes played a major role in defending besieged castles. Defenders were throwing entire beehives on their enemies.
During Turkish occupation of southern regions of Slovakia, honey also became a currency widely and universally accepted on Turkish markets. The Turkish used to trade one Christian slave for 1.5 litre of honey.
Bee-keeping reached its peak between the 16th-17th century. Bee-keeping was very widespread & common which is quite understandable for honey being the only and thus exclusive sweetener. Towards the end of the 17th century, bee-keeping craft started to decline as a result of perpetual internal war conflicts and thralldom. The last nail in the coffin was the introduction of sugar manufacturing linked to the advent of Industrial Revolution.