The ancient history of Pavia dates back to prehistoric times. The city was born not far from the confluence of the Ticino River with the Po River and it was here that first the Ligurians, then the Celtics and later the Gauls chose to settle (the gauls in the 4th century BC). The settlement was at that stage called Ticino, after the name of the nearby river.

The Romans conquered the town in the 2nd century BC while maintaining its name, Ticinum. Because of its geographical position and the importance of land and river traffic routes (the important 'Via Emilia' passed west of Pavia), the Romans always held Pavia in high esteem. As a result the town was first made a 'Municipium' and then its inhabitants achieved Roman citizenship.

The prestige of Pavia continued to increase after the fall of the Roman Empire because King Theodoric (454-526) made it the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.

Pavia also held the same importance under the Longobards, and its role as capital was recognised by successive rulers: it was in Pavia that Charles the Great was crowned King of Italy and Emperor in 780. His successors also boosted the educational organisation of the city, with King Lothair (795-855), giving rise in the 10th century to the first foundations of the great University of Pavia, which was eventually founded in 1361 with the Royal diploma of King Charles IV.

Around the 12th century, Pavia became one of the most important Italian municipalities, with a considerable territorial extension that almost touched Milan. In the Seignoiries age, however, Pavia had to succumb to Milan; and, indeed, it was conquered by the Visconti of Galeazzo II in 1359.

In later centuries the Visconti were replaced by Spanish, Austrians and then by French in the Napoleonic age.

Pavia took an active role in the 'revolution' struggles of the Risorgimento, and subsequently, after the unification of Italy (1861), some politicians of considerable significance emerged from the region - for example Agostino De Pretis (1813-1887), President of the Council for many years in the Kingdom of Italy.