How Europe first became dependent on Russian resources, and how it got rid of it 500 years later

Oil and gas are the things that make cars, factories and ships work today. Gas generates heat in homes, cars run on refined oil, gas can easily be turned into electricity using gas-fired power plants. In short, the blood of the economy: without these resources, there is no way in the 21st century.

But about five hundred years, or even a thousand years ago, no one heard about any oil and gas. Oil was extracted in some ridiculous volumes and served only to fill the moats of castles, which could be set on fire when more enemy soldiers besieging the stronghold were crowded there. Today it's hard to believe, but even 600 years ago, the role of today's gas and oil was played by wax: with small features, of course, but still it was one of the main resources. And it was Europe that fell into wax dependence on Russia…

How Europe first became dependent on Russian resources, and how it got rid of it 500 years later

It just so happens that Russia has always had a lot of forests. In medieval Europe, there were definitely more forests than now, but still the scale was smaller. Instead of today's term “beekeeping”, if we are talking about some 14th century, we need to use the word “beekeeping”. In those primeval times, bees were not bred in cozy apiaries near the house, and for honey and wax one had to go to the forest where wild bees lived.

There was even a special profession – flight attendants. They went to the forest, ruined the families of wild bees, took honey and wax from them and brought them to cities and villages for sale. Have you ever tried to destroy a bee's nest? I have not tried and do not advise you, the pleasure is probably below average. The profession was dangerous, but well paid, and therefore the peasants went to the forest over and over again, risking their lives to bring the treasured honey and wax. Some even completely switched to “wax freelancing”, because it was much more profitable than plowing the field.

How Europe first became dependent on Russian resources, and how she got rid of it after 500 years

The process looked something like this Dumanska2021, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Honey was also used in Russia – they made sweets on honey, intoxicated honey (that is, mead) and even used it as a medicine – but wax was mostly exported, especially since in Europe they paid well for it. The fact is that there was not enough wax in Europe, but it was very necessary. Lighting up a Gothic cathedral means hundreds of wax candles that are needed every day. So the analogy with modern gas suggests itself, right?

And we are not talking about such trifles as thread waxing, wax seals, and so on. In short, wax was needed in Europe and there was a lot of it, so we decided to buy wax from someone who had it in abundance. Of course, while the wax was traveling from Novgorod somewhere to Italy or France, it rose in price several times due to complex logistics. But they spared nothing to illuminate the cathedrals, so they bought huge quantities of wax.

How Europe first became dependent on Russian resources, and how it got rid of it later 500 years

Can you imagine how many candles it takes to light up such a cathedral? Author: © Steffen Schmitz (Carschten)/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In the 15th century, more than two-thirds of the value of the entire trade turnover between Russia and the Baltic states was accounted for by wax, which cost incredible money. And then Europe decided that it was time to close this shop. In the 16th century, apiary beekeeping was born in Europe, that is, in order to get honey and wax, now it was no longer necessary to go into the forest and climb trees in search of hollows. The European hives of that time were little like modern frame hives, but they performed their main function: there was no need to trudge into the forest for honey anymore – the bees lived right next to the house.

Of course, wax production in Europe immediately increased significantly. In the 16th century, wax accounted for only 20% of the value of trade, that is, the volume of purchases fell at least three times. In Russia, new beekeeping technologies were introduced very slowly: the main achievement was that the beekeepers stopped destroying bee colonies, so that next year they could also collect honey from this bee. It seems to be not bad, but compared to apiaries, it is somehow rather weak…

How Europe first became dependent on Russian resources, and how it got rid of it 500 years later

Beekeeping was still far from modern hives, but compared to beekeeping beekeeping in any form wins many times five centuries in a row. But then new technologies appeared, and our beekeepers, who were used to climbing trees for good money, were left out of work. So even in the 16th century, technology was already solving everything, not to mention later times.

P.S. It is noteworthy that the first collapsible frame hive was made by a Russian beekeeper, though it was already at the beginning of the 19th century. He could not or did not want to patent it, which almost 40 years later was done by a teacher from the United States, who in his spare time was engaged in beekeeping. It is his model that is now considered the prototype of all modern hives.

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