At the dawn of the history, part of the district as now constituted appears to have been included in the tract of the country known as "Rarh" and part in the tract called "Vajjabhumi ". The traditions of the Jainas state that Mahavira, their last great Tirthankara, wandered through these two tracts in the 5th Century, B.C.; and the description of them would seem to show that the eastern part of the district , with its alluvial soil, well watered by rivers, formed part of Rarh, while the wilder and more rugged country to the west was aptly known as Vajjabhumi, i.e., the country of Thunderbolt.
Rarh was part of the territory ruled over by the Maurayan Emperors, and was subsequently included in the empire of the imperial Guptas, of Shasankas and of Harshavardhana. After dismemberment of Harsha's Empire , it was included in the Pala kingdom and formed a part of it until middle of 12th Century A.D. when the overlordship passes to the Sena kings.
In the 13th Century A.D. the district passed under the rule of the Muhammedans, and according to some authorities, Lakhanor ( or Lakhnur ), an important frontier post of Musalman territory, lay within its limits. After this, for many centuries the controls of the Mohammedans over the Western part of the district appears to have been merely nominal, and the country was left under the rule of Hindu chiefs, called Bir Rajas.
After the cession of the Diwani to the East India Company in 1765, Birbhum was administered from Murshidabad until 1787. In that year in consequence of the unsettled state of the country, which required a separate administration, it was constituted as district with Vishnupur ( i.e. eastern portion of Bankura), and this arrangement continued till 1793, when Vishnupur was transferred to the Burdwan Collectorate. In 1809, the collectorship of Birbhum was abolished, and the district was again administered from Murshidabad, an Assistant Collector remaining in charge at Suri. In 1820, Birbhum was reconstituted as a separate district and restored to its former area, with the exception of a few estates were transferred to the Jungle Mahals. After the Santhal rebellion, the upland tracts on the West, which had been a rallying point of the rebels, were transferred to the newly constituted district of Santhal Paraganas and in this way four paraganas and a part of the fifth were detached from Birbhum, viz., Sarath Deoghar, Pabbia , Kundahit Karaya, Muhmmadabad and part of Darin Mauleswar. In 1872 the district consisted of the following thanas (1) Suri, (2) Rajnagar, (3) Dubrajpur, (4) Kasba (now Bolpur), (5) Sakulipur, (6) Labpur, (7)Barwan, (8) Mayureswar with a total area of 1,344 square miles. In 1879 Barwan with an area of 108 sq. miles was transferred to Murshidabad, while the thanas of Rampurhat and Nalhati ( including the present thana of Murarai) were transferred from Lalgunj subdivision of that district to Birbhum.