Sieve mail filtering language was inspired by (and hopefully lessons were learned) from the Flames filtering language.

The history of Sieve language is described below:

Date Event
1994-95informal meetings between the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University on IMAP issues touch upon mail filtering architecture. An initial architectural proposal is made for how server-side filtering of mail might work.
December 7, 1995At IMSP BOF at 34th IETF Meeting at Dallas, Texas, discussion of Sieve-like architecture.
January 8, 1996MTA Filtering special interest group meeting held at First International IMAP conference, University of Washington, Seattle. Significant discussion is belayed at this time in favor of more pressing internet mail issues.
June 24, 199636th IETF, Montreal, Canada - informal interest polled at the meeting of DRUMS (the working group resposible for revision of the RFC822 message standard and RFC821 SMTP standard).
November 7, 1996MTA Filtering BOF meeting held at Second International IMAP conference, University of Washington, Seattle. This BOF was attended by over 40 persons from a variety of vendors, and was the first significant public discussion of the architecture by a fairly large number of internet mail server and client vendors.
December 12, 1996 37th IETF meeting in San Jose - informal BOF on mail filtering and SPAM (raw minutes). This meeting started out as an informal discussion of anti-spamming techniques, and the need for a distinct, standardized language for server-side filtering was discussed. The conclusion was that this should be pursued as a separate activity. Participants of the November IMAP meeting not also at this meeting were notified of this by private mail.
January 11, 1997mta-filters mailing list established at Internet Mail Consortium; first posting.
January 15, 1997Strawman taken on mta-filters mailing list to establish continued interest in standardization.
March 24, 1997First International ACAP Meeting held in Pittsburgh, PA. First draft of Sieve specification reviewed in informal working group.
October 24, 1997Second version of Sieve specification issued.
January 28, 1998Third version of Sieve specification issued.
January 28, 1998First version of Vacation Sieve extension specification issued.
Feburary 26, 1998Second International ACAP Meeting held in San Diego, CA, hosted by Qualcomm, Inc. Sieve requirements for ACAP storage and transport were discussed.
March 31, 1998First formal Sieve BOF meeting at 41st IETF, Los Angeles, California. (Official Minutes) The results of this meeting were that there was strong consensus that the general work should proceed as official standards-track work, while there was a mixture of opinion with respect to scope issues. It was decided here that a formal Working Group was probably not necessary, pending implementation of a revised specification. The slides for a presentation on the syntax of Sieve at the time (now obsolete) are available here (in PostScript format).
August 7, 1998Fourth version of Sieve specification issued.
November 17, 1998First version of IMAP Flags Sieve extension specification issued.
November 18, 1998Fifth version of Sieve specification issued.
December 7, 1998informal design meeting at 43rd IETF, Orlando, Florida. (Informal minutes are here)
January 11, 1999First open source sample implementation publically issued by Carnegie Mellon University.
February 24, 1999Draft 007 of the Sieve spec posted to Internet Draft archive.
March 16, 1999Second official Sieve BOF, 44th IETF, Minneapolis (Official Minutes)
June, 1999Version 1.1 of CMU Sieve Release
July, 1999Version 1.2 of CMU Sieve Release
July 14, 1999Draft 008 of Sieve spec posted
September, 1999Draft 009 of Sieve spec posted; “release candidate”
April, 2000Draft 010 of Sieve spec: last call to mailing list
January, 2001RFC 3028 on “Sieve: A Mail Filtering Language” is published
December, 2002RFC 3431 on “Sieve Extension: Relational Tests” by W. Segmuller is published
around March 2003Kjetil T. Homme starts working on Sieve Variables extension
September, 2003RFC 3598 on “Sieve Email Filtering – Subaddress Extension” by Ken Murchison is published
2000-2004Many Sieve bar BOFs at different IETFs
February, 2004RFC 3685 on “SIEVE Email Filtering: Spamtest and VirusTest Extensions” by Cyrus Daboo is published
around July 2004People actively implementing Sieve and extensions start talking about forming a Sieve Working Group
October, 2004RFC 3894 on “Sieve Extension: Copying Without Side Effects” by Jutta Degener is published
November, 2004The first official Sieve BOF at Washington, DC IETF
18 November 2004Sieve WG is approved by IESG