Karnatakan pre-history goes back to a paleolithic hand-axe culture evidenced by discoveries of, among other things, hand axes and cleavers in the region. Evidence of neolithic and megalithic cultures have also been found in the state. Gold discovered in Harappa was found to be imported from mines in Karnataka, prompting scholars to hypothesize about contacts between ancient Karnataka and the Indus Valley Civilization ca. 3000 BCE. Prior to the third century BCE, most of Karnataka formed part of the Nanda Empire before coming under the Mauryan empire of Emperor Ashoka. Four centuries of Satavahana rule followed, allowing them to control large areas of Karnataka. The decline of Satavahana power led to the rise of the earliest native kingdoms, the Kadambas and the Western Gangas, marking the region's emergence as an independent political entity. The Kadamba Dynasty, founded by Mayurasharma, had its capital at Banavasi; the Western Ganga Dynastywas formed with Talakad as its capital.
These were also the first kingdoms to use Kannada in administration, as evidenced by the Halmidi inscription and a fifth-century copper coin discovered at Banavasi. These dynasties were followed by imperial Kannada empires such as the Badami Chalukyas, the Rashtrakuta Empire of Manyakheta and the Western Chalukya Empire, which ruled over large parts of the Deccan and had their capitals in what is now Karnataka. The Western Chalukyas patronised a unique style of architecture and Kannada literature which became a precursor to the Hoysala art of 12th century.
Parts of modern-day Karnataka were occupied by the Chola Empire between 990-1210 AD. This process started under Rajaraja Chola I (985-1014) and continued under his son Rajendra Chola I (1014–1044). Initially "Gangapadi, Nolambapadi and Tadigaipadi' all parts of modern Mysore, were conquered and annexed' under Raja Raja Chola I. Rajendra Chola I "marched up to Donur, he also captured Banvasi, a good part of the Raichur doab and sacked Manyakheta" itself, which was the Western Chalukyan capital. During the time of the Chalukya ruler Jayasimha after his defeat by Rajendra Chola I, theTungabhadra river was recognized tacitly as the boundary between the two kingdoms. During the rule of Rajadhiraja Chola I (1042–1056), Dannada, Kulpak, Koppam, the fortress of Kampili, Pundur, Yetagiri and the Chalukyan capital Kalyani were sacked. In 1053, Rajendra Chola II after defeating the Chalukyans in war advanced to Kollapura where he erected a pillar of victory before returning to his capital at Gangaikondacholapuram. In 1066, the Western Chalukya ruler Somesvara's forces were defeated by the next Chola ruler Virarajendra, who then again defeated the Western Chalukyas at Kudalasangama, and set up a pillar of victory on the banks of the Tungabhadra. In AD 1075 Kulottunga Chola I won a victory against Vikramaditya VI at Nangili in Kolar district and made himself the master of Gangavadi.The Cholas eventually lost Gangavadi in 1116 to the Hoysalas under Vishnuvardhana.
At the turn of the first millennium, the Hoysalas gained power in the region. Literature flourished during this time, which led to the distinctive Kannada literary metres and the construction of temples and sculptures adhering to the Vesara style of architecture. The expansion of the Hoysala Empire brought minor parts of modern Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu under its rule. In the early 14th century, Harihara and Bukka Raya established theVijayanagara empire with its capital, Hosapattana (later named Vijayanagara), on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in the modern Bellary district. The empire rose as a bulwark against Muslim advances into South India, which it completely controlled for over two centuries.
In 1565, Karnataka and the rest of South India experienced a major geopolitical shift when the Vijayanagara Empire fell to a confederation of Islamic sultanates in the Battle of Talikota. The Bijapur Sultanate, which had risen after the demise of the Bahmani Sultanate of Bidar, soon took control of the Deccan; it was defeated by the Moghuls in the late 17th century. The Bahamani and Bijapur rulers encouraged Urdu and Persian literature and Indo-Saracenic architecture, the Gol Gumbaz being one of the high points of this style.During the sixteenth century, Konkani Hindus migrated to Karnataka, mostly from Salcette, Goa, while during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the Mangalorean Catholics migrated to South Canara, in Karnataka, especially from Bardes, Goa, as a result of food shortages, epidemics and heavy taxation imposed by the Portuguese.
In the period that followed, parts of northern Karnataka were ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad, the British, and other powers. In the south, theMysore Kingdom, former vassals of the Vijayanagara Empire, was briefly independent. With the death of Krishnaraja Wodeyar II, Haidar Ali, the commander-in-chief of the Mysore army, gained control of the region. After his death, the kingdom was inherited by his son Tippu Sultan. To contain European expansion in South India, Haidar Ali and later Tippu Sultan fought four significant Anglo-Mysore Wars, the last of which resulted in Tippu Sultan's death and the incorporation of Mysore into the British Raj in 1799. The Kingdom of Mysore was restored to the Wodeyars and Mysore remained a princely state under the British Raj.
As the "doctrine of lapse" gave way to dissent and resistance from princely states across the country, Kittur Chennamma, Sangolli Rayanna and others spearheaded rebellions in Karnataka in 1830, nearly three decades before the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Other uprisings followed, such as the ones at Supa, Bagalkot, Shorapur, Nargund and Dandeli. These rebellions - which coincided with the 1857 war of independence - were led by Mundargi Bhimarao, Bhaskar Rao Bhave, the Halagali Bedas, Raja Venkatappa Nayaka and others. By the late 19th century, the freedom movement had gained momentum; Karnad Sadashiva Rao,Aluru Venkata Raya, S. Nijalingappa, Kengal Hanumanthaiah, Nittoor Srinivasa Rau and others carried on the struggle into the early 20th century.
After India's independence, the Maharaja, Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, allowed his kingdom's accession to India. In 1950, Mysore became an Indian state of the same name; the former Maharaja served as its Rajpramukh (head of state) until 1975. Following the long-standing demand of the Ekikarana Movement, Kodagu- and Kannada-speaking regions from the adjoining states of Madras, Hyderabad and Bombay were incorporated into the Mysore state, under the States Reorganization Act of 1956. The thus expanded state was renamed Karnataka, seventeen years later, in 1973. In the early 1900s through the post-independence era, industrial visionaries such as Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvarayya born in Muddenahalli, near Kanivenarayanapura, Chikballapur District played an important role in the development of Karnataka's strong manufacturing and industrial base.