The recorded historical references indicate that in the year 490 BC Ajatshatru, the king of Magadh, shifted his capital from the hilly Rajgriha to a more strategically located place to combat the Lichivis of Vaishali. He chose a site on the bank of Ganges and fortified the area which developed into Patna.
During the Mauryan empire (321 to 185 BC), at its largest extent around 230 BC, Patna, then called Pataliputra, became the seat of power and nerve center of the Indian subcontinent. From Pataliputra, the famed emperor Chandragupta (a contemporary of Alexander) ruled a vast empire, stretching from the Bay of Bengal to Afghanistan. Chandragupta established a strong centralized state with a complex administration under the tutelage of Kautilya.
Patna under the rule of Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, emerged as an effective capital of the Indian subcontinent. Emperor Ashoka transformed the wooden capital into a stone construction around 273 BC.
With the disintegration of the Gupta empire, and continuous invasions of the Indian subcontinent by foreign armies, Patna passed through uncertain time like most of north India.
By the mid-12th century, Ikhtiar Uddin Muhammad bin Bakhtiar Khilji, one of the generals of Qutb-ud-din Aybak, conquered Bihar and Bengal, and Patna became a part of the Delhi Sultanate. He is said to have destroyed many ancient seats of learning, the most prominent being the Nalanda University near Rajgrih, about 120 km from Patna. Patna, which had already lost its stature as the political centre of India, lost its prestige as the educational and cultural center of India as well.
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 that is famous as Patna rice in Europe.
Prince Azim-us-Shan, the grandson of Aurangzeb came as the Subedar of Patna in 1703. It was prince Azim-us-Shan who tried to turn Patna into a beautiful city and it was he who gave it the name ‘Azimabad’ in 1704. However, other than the name, very little changed during this period. The common people went on calling it ‘Patna’.