Legend ascribes the origin of Patna to a mythological king Putraka who created Patna by magic for his queen Patali, literally Trumpet flower, which gives it its ancient name Pataligram. It is said that in honour of the first born to the queen, the city was named Pataliputra. Gram is the Sanskrit for village and Putra means son.
From a scientific history perspective, it would be appropriate to surmise that the history of Patna started around the year 490 BC when Ajatashatru, the king of Magadh, wanted to shift his capital from the hilly Rajgriha to a more strategically located place to combat the Licchavis of Vaishali. He chose the site on the bank of Ganges and fortified the area. From that time, the city has had a continuous history, a record claimed by few cities in the world. Gautam Buddha passed through this place in the last year of his life, and he had prophesized a great future for this place, but at the same time, he predicted its ruin from flood, fire, and feud.
With the rise of the Mauryan empire, the place became the seat of power and nerve centre of the sub-continent. From Pataliputra, the famed emperor Chandragupta Maurya (a contemporary of Alexander) ruled a vast empire, stretching from the Bay of Bengal to Afghanistan.
Early Mauryan Patliputra was mostly built with wooden structures. Emperor Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, transformed the wooden capital into a stone construction around 273 BC. Chinese scholar Fa Hein, who visited India sometime around A.D. 399-414, has given a vivid description of the stone structures in his travelogue.
Megasthenes, Greek historian and ambassador to the court of Chandragupta gives the first written account of Patliputra. Much later, a number of Chinese travellers came to India in pursuit of knowledge and recorded their observation about Pataliputra in their travelogues.
In the years that followed, the city saw many dynasties ruling the Indian subcontinent from here. It saw the rules of the Gupta empire and the Pala kings. However, it never reached the glory that it had under the Mauryas.
With the disintegration of the Gupta empire, Patna passed through uncertain times. Bakhtiar Khilji captured Bihar in the 12th century AD and destroyed many ancient seats of learning, Patna lost its prestige as the political and cultural center of India.
The Mughal period was a period of unremarkable provincial administration from Delhi. The most remarkable period during these times was under Sher Shah Suri who revived Patna in the middle of the 16th century. He visualised a fort and a town on the banks of Ganga. Sher Shah's fort in Patna does not survive, but the mosque built in Afghan architectural style survives.
Mughal emperor Akbar came to Patna in 1574 to crush the Afghan Chief Daud Khan. Akbar's Secretary of State and author of Ain-i-Akbari refers to Patna as a flourishing centre for paper, stone and glass industries. He also refers to the high quality of numerous strains of rice grown in Patna famous as Patna rice in Europe.
Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb acceded to the request of his favourite grandson Prince Muhamad Azim to rename Patna as Azimabad, in 1704 while Azim was in Patna as the subedar. However, very little changed during this period other than the name,.
With the decline of Mughal empire, Patna moved into the hands of the Nawabs of Bengal, who levied a heavy tax on the populace but allowed it to flourish as a commercial centre.
During 17th century, Patna became a centre of international trade. The British started with a factory in Patna in 1620 for trading in calico and silk. Soon it became a trading centre for saltpetre, urging other Europeans—French, Danes, Dutch and Portuguese—to compete in the lucrative business. Peter Mundy, writing in 1632, calls this place, "the greatest mart of the eastern region".
After the decisive Battle of Buxar (1765), Patna fell in the hands of the East India Company and continued as a trading centre.
In 1912, Patna became of the capital of Orissa Province and Bihâr when Bengal Presidency was partitioned. It soon emerged as an important and strategic centre. A number of imposing structures were constructed by the British. Credit for designing the massive and majestic buildings of colonial Patna goes to the architect, I. F. Munnings. Most of these buildings reflect either Indo-Saracenic influence (like Patna Museum and the state Assembly), or overt Renaissance influence like the Raj Bhawan and the High Court. Some buildings, like the General Post Office (GPO) and the Old Secretariat bear pseudo-Renaissance influence. Some say, the experience gained in building the new capital area of Patna proved very useful in building the imperial capital of New Delhi.
There are several prestigious educational institutions in Patna like Patna College, Patna Women's College, Patna Science College,Bihar National College,Bihar College of Engineering, Patna Medical College (formerly, Prince of Wales Medical College), Nalanda Medical College , Patna Dental College and the Patna Veterinary College.
Orissa was created as a separate province in 1935. Patna continued as the capital of Bihar province under the British Raj.
Patna played a major role in the Indian independence struggle. Most notable are the Champaran movement against the Indigo plantation and the 1942 Quit India Movement.
Patna continued to be the capital of the state of Bihar after independence in 1947, though Bihar itself was partitioned again in 2000 when Jharkhand was carved out as a separate state of the Indian union.