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250th Anniversary Of The Death Of Anton Janša

Beekeeping Pioneer Immortalised By A Un Day

Anton Janša is considered one of the fathers of modern beekeeping techniques and one of the global pioneers of apiculture

Anton Janša was born to a simple, peasant family on 20th May 1734 in the village of Breznica in the region of Upper Carniola (then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, today Slovenia). The house where he was born, positioned next to his apiary, was preserved until 1907.

Anton showed a great talent for painting as a young man, as did his younger brothers, Lovro and Valentin. They arranged a simple painting studio in a barn that formed part of their homestead. Despite being illiterate, all three brothers headed to Vienna in 1766 and enrolled in the Fine Arts Academy. Lovro and Valentin went on to become renowned painters in Vienna, while Anton found his calling in beekeeping, despite also proving very successful at the academy of arts. In 1769, Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa wanted to improve knowledge of beekeeping across the empire and was seeking a teacher to work at the newly founded beekeeping school. This presented Anton with a dilemma over whether to continue with his studies or work in the field of apiculture that he had adored since childhood on.

He ultimately decided that he would be able to contribute more by passing on his profound knowledge of beekeeping. An official imperial decree of 6th April 1770 made Anton the first imperially-appointed teacher of apiculture at the Augarten imperial gardens in Vienna. His work included travelling around Austrian lands to spread and promote beekeeping, while he gave practical lessons about new scientific findings and his own observations, as well as authoring professional books. He wrote two important books on apiculture in the German language: Razpravo o rojenju čebel (A Discussion on the Swarming of Bees), which was first published in 1771 and translated into Slovenian in 1906; and Popolni nauk o čebelarstvu (A Complete Guide to Beekeeping), which was published posthumously in 1775 and translated into Slovenian in 1792, becoming the first Slovenian book on beekeeping.

Following Janša’s death, Empress Maria Theresa issued a decree ordering all teachers of beekeeping to teach according to Janša’s books. These two books, which have been translated into many foreign languages, continue to present mandatory basic reading for every new beekeeper. Janša died in Vienna on 13th September 1773.

Writing in one of his books, he noted “Bees are a type of fly, hardworking, created by God to provide man with all needed honey and wax. Amongst all God’s beings, there are none so hard working and useful to man with so little attention needed for its keep as the bee.”

His most important contributions to the development of beekeeping included changing the size and shape of hives to enable them to be stacked together like blocks and thus more easily moved to various meadows. His beekeeping methods were based on traditional knowledge from his father’s homeland. He introduced the autochthonous Slovenian bee – APIS MELLIFERA CARNICA – to the rest of the world, invented a couple of handy beekeeping tools and was the first to discover the role and importance of drones in the hive (Janša rejected the pre-existing belief that male bees were water carriers and assumed that the queen is impregnated mid-air by drones). All of Anton’s new discoveries were later confirmed by science.

Writing in one of his books, he noted “Bees are a type of fly, hardworking, created by God to provide man with all needed honey and wax. Amongst all God’s beings, there are none so hard working and useful to man with so little attention needed for its keep as the bee.”

Janša is considered the greatest Slovenian beekeeper. In an effort to honour his legacy and simultaneously raise awareness of the importance of bees and bee products, the Beekeepers Association of Slovenia, with the support of the Republic of Slovenia, launched the United Nations initiative for Anton Janša’s birthday, 20th May, to be commemorated as World Bee Day.

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