The tribal communities of the Karen, Mon and different Tibeto-Burmese tribes, the most famous being the Pyu (who came from eastern Tibet) were probably the first inhabitants of the area which is now Myanmar.

In the 8th century the Pyu built a town named Pyay, which was said to be the biggest in the country. The ruins of Pyay are still visible today. After the decline of Pyay the capital shifted to Bagan. From the 11th to 13th centuries about 13,000 temples and pagodas were built. King Anawratha, the first Burmese king, ruled in Bagan from 1044 to 1077 and succeeded in establishing a strong and powerful kingdom. After defeating the Mon, he took Mon prisoners back to his capital and used their architectural abilities for further development of the city. He also adopted Theravada Buddhism from them and began to spread it in his kingdom.

During the reign of King Narasihapati in the 13th century, the Mongols attacked Myanmar. The Mongols finally won the war, and in 1287 Bagan was destroyed. From the 13th to 18th centuries five independent kingdoms existed, sometimes concurrently: In-Wa, Toungoo, Rakhine, Bago and Pyu.

In 1824, the first British-Burmese war started. In 1886, Myanmar finally lost its independence and became a province of British-India. It was centrally governed, and traditional Burmese culture was suppressed in many ways.

In the 20th century opposition to the British occupying forces and the Karen, who supported them, grew. In 1936, after many years of opposition, elections were held and in 1937 Myanmar achieved self-government within the British Empire.

After the Second World War and having liberated Myanmar from Japanese occupation, the British left Myanmar, which had been proclaimed independent by the Japanese in 1943. In 1947, a new constitution was ratified and in 1948 the 'Union of Burma' was established.