Anton Janša

Slovene apiarist:
From village to Hapsburg court

One might best describe Anton Janša as the man who loved the bees. He was one of a number of notable Slovenes who entered history in the 18th century. Slovenia was at the time a province of the Habsburg Empire, so this extraordinary Slovene has been known and recorded like other Slovenes before the 20th century as Austrian.

His career was made possible because of another Slovene, Peter Pavel Glavar who was a farming innovator, exceptional agriculturalist, author of beekeeping publications and teacher. In 1768 he wrote the groundbreaking Predlog za izboljšanje čebelarstva v c.k. dednih deželah (Proposal for improvement of beekeeping in imperial-royal hereditary lands). On the basis of this proposal and some others from various parts of the empire, the empress Maria Theresa founded the apiculture training school within the framework of her other agricultural reforms. So Anton Janša was appointed by the imperial decree as the first teacher of apiculture of the first state apiculture school in the world.

Born in a modest farming family in 1734, he was only 19 when his father died. As the eldest, he had to help his mother care for his four brothers and four sisters. Anton and his brothers Tine and Lovro were talented painters and set up an artist’s atelier in the barn. Poverty, circumstances and the beekeeping tradition of the area encouraged the Janša family to pursue beekeeping, and they owned over 100 beehives. This was the first and best school of beekeeping for young Anton, who liked to sit with the group of neighbours as they gathered in the evenings to discuss farming and beekeeping practices and experience.

For talented, ambitious and promising young Slovenes of the time, to make their way in the world was education and higher studies in Vienna. Anton and his brothers went to Vienna in 1966, enrolling at the copperplate and drawing department of the Academy of Fine Arts. Like most Slovenian country boys of the time, the Janša brothers had to improve their reading and writing skills in German language. Anton rose to the challenge, and even distinguished himself, winning the prestigious state scholarship for a study tour of Italy, awarded only to exceptional students. Two hundred years later the Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik was the recipient of the scholarship. Anton’s brother Lovro also had impressive success. He became professor at the academy, and later landscape artist of note in Vienna.

Anton Janša was well set to follow a career in the arts, then something occurred that changed the course of his life. The Agricultural Society in Vienna decided to support the development of apiculture and as the first step, established the School of Apiculture. The advertisement for the position of the first apiculture teachers was published, and Anton found himself at the crossroads: to pursue his promising career in the arts or take up the challenge offered by the pioneering work on apiculture. He was already steeped in the tradition of Slovenian beekeeping and already possessed a great deal of knowledge and experience, that came from the love and understanding of the little honeybee. His decision was based on that, and his wish to share his knowledge and so be of greater service to his country and people. So he applied for the post and became the first teacher of apiculture in the Hapsburg Empire.

Anton Janša had found his true interest and calling. He started his work in Augarten in Vienna, where a small wooden bee house was built as a base for the apiculture teacher. He brought to the task of introducing apiculture in Austrian lands the profound knowledge of bees and the beekeeping tradition of his native Slovenia. His exceptional perceptiveness and inherent wit, gained him in a short time a reputation as an excellent theoretician and beekeeping practitioner. His influence on the development of apiculture in the Austrian lands and ultimately worldwide cannot be understated. He made a significant contribution through his teaching and particularly his writings. His books on apiculture are still consulted today.

He immediately began to draw upon, develop and deepen his already extensive knowledge of beekeeping as practiced in his native land. He soon became famous for instructive, knowledgeable and exemplary lectures, based on his thorough knowledge of the bees. The beekeeping of his native Gorenjska (Upper Carniola) became known in all the lands of the Austrian empire. He was first active in Vienna, Meidling and Augarten, later spread his activity to Lower Austria, Bohemia and Moravia. He was teacher of beekeeping for only four years, and produced two significant books in German, in which he wrote down his apiarian views and observations. The two books were published in Vienna, and later often reprinted elsewhere in the Hapsburg state. He extended and completed the existing knowledge and practice, based on the Slovenian beekeeping tradition, with his own observations and discoveries.

The first of Janša’s books was published by himself in 1771 Abhandlung vom Schwarmen der Bienen (A Treatise on Bee-swarming). In 1775 his follower Joseph Munzberg published after his death the book with the title Anton Janscha, gewesenen K.K. Lehrers der Bienenzucht (The complete course on Beekeeping by Anton Janša, the former imperial-royal teacher of beekeeping in Vienna). The Prague edition of the work contains the author’s copperplates drawings of beekeepers’ tools and utensils.

In 1776, Peter Pavel Glavar, the parish priest of Komenda, translated the book into Slovenian, adding some of his own observations. Unfortunately it was never published. After a while the second Janša book was translated into Slovenian by Janez Goličnik, the parish priest of Griže. It was published in Celje in 1792 under the title Antona Janšaja popolnoma podvučenje za vse čebelarje (Anton Janša’s Complete Course on Beekeeping).

The Czech translation was published in 1777 in Prague, translated by the parish priest Josef Antonin Janiš from Trutnow. Martin Kuralt, Slovene by origin, and director of university library in Lwow, published Janša’s book in German original and began preparing a Polish translation.

Janša’s discoveries concerning the behaviour of bees and his guidelines about how to deal with them (e.g. bees should never be killed, how to take them out to gather honey, drones are not water carriers for bees, drones fertilize the queen bee in the air during the flight, the queen-bee lays eggs in the drones’ honeycombs as well), were approved by scientists, among them Dr. Dzierdzon. His books remain the two classical works for beekeepers the world over, which were by imperial decree made, after his death in 1773, the foundation texts for the apiary studies.

Anton Janša worked as apiculture expert and teacher for four years. Who knows what else he would have achieved were it not for his early death at the age of 39. In those four years he produced his two classical works on beekeeping, which introduced beekeeping in all the Austrian lands. He is noted also for changing the size and shape of hives to a form where they can be stacked together like blocks, known as “kranjič”. As a painter he decorated the front panels of hives with paintings, which began the extraordinary Slovenian folk-art tradition of beehive panel paintings. It is a legacy, which has been now abandoned from the common practice, but the panels have achieved an iconic status in Slovenian culture, and are used widely in the tourist trade, and as objects of folk-art decoration.

The magnificent Museum of Apiculture in Radovljica, the market town near his native village, is named after Anton Janša. His original beehive was preserved by Slovenian beekeepers and in 1884 a plaque was placed on the house where he was born.

In his book The complete course on Beekeeping, he wrote about the honeybees:

Bees are a type of flies, created by God so that they would with their diligence and hard work provide man with honey and wax for his needs. Among all of God’s creatures there is none as industrious and as useful, and needing less care, nourishment, or costing less than the bee.

What is the legacy of Anton Janša? His books are still regarded and consulted as the classical works on apiculture by beekeepers worldwide, and he is recognized for his crucial role in sharing, developing, refining and popularizing apiculture, a branch of husbandry, practiced traditionally in Slovenia.

He is highly revered by Slovenes, who have named the magnificent Čebelarski muzej (Museum of Apiculture) in Radovljica after him. With the beehive panel painting he initiated a great Slovenian folk-art tradition, combining visual story-telling with bee-keeping, which has become a national treasure, taking root in Slovenian lands, and nowhere else.

It can be said that Slovenes share with Anton Janša his love of the honeybee. It used to be livelihood in his time, later it has become also a favoured pastime in Slovenia, where one in 250 residents keeps bees and there are over 200 beekeeping societies.

There is something else that Anton Janša has left as his legacy. He has made the Carniolan bee famous. Since the 18th century the so-called “kranjska sivka” ( Carniolan grey), has become renown as the most industrious, prolific and gentle of all the species of bee. Over 170,000 queen bees of the Apis mellifera carnica have been exported worldwide.

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Aleksandra Ceferin
Aleksandra Ceferin

Aleksandra Ceferin (M.A., B.A., Dip.Ed.) has introduced Slovenian language as a school subject in Australian school system and founded the Slovenian Teachers’ Association of Victoria in 1976. She has extensive experience in language education: as teacher, lecturer, curriculum coordinator, course writer, language consultant and manager, VCE State Reviewer and Chief Examiner. Since 1998 she has been the President of ISSV and the manager and chief editor of its projects. Aleksandra visits Slovenian annually, establishing and maintaining contacts with Slovenia, and initiating exchanges and cooperation between organizations. In 2004 she was the recipient of the National Education Award of RS Slovenia.