Human civilization in Geneva dates back to around 3000 BC, at which time it was an ordinary rural settlement. It was soon a prominent village by 1000 BC. When the Roman Empire conquered Geneva, a local Celtic rushed to its defense and tried to resist the attack, but was defeated, and Geneva was integrated into the Roman Empire. Around 400 AD Geneva became a bishopric.
In around 443 AD Geneva was inhabited by a Germanic tribe, the Burgundians. The Francs later defeated the Burgundians and occupied the town in 534 AD. Then followed a series of switching over the town between various empires and dynasties, including the Merovingian dynasty, then the Carlovingian Empire, the disintegration of which, in the early 11th century, led to the formation of the Second Burgundian Kingdom. In 1032, it was transferred to the Germanic emperors.
Geneva was still a backward settlement in all of Europe until the later Middle Ages, when its fairs and carnivals first made it prominent internationally.
The town at that time was still under threat from the Savoy princes who constantly tried to force it into submission. The town's autonomy was saved by the greatest threat it faced, in the 16th century, by intervention from the Swiss cantons of Bern and Fribourg. After the triumph of the Reformation in 1535, the town became a republic. From 1550 onwards, persecuted Protestants, largely belonging to Italy and France, flocked to Geneva searching for peace and freedom of religion. Guided by Calvin and Theodore de Beze, Geneva achieved a greater religious and intellectual prominence.
These refugees also helped to uplift the economy, which had almost collapsed since the turmoil and political unrest had begun, and the fairs had declined. In 1602, the Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel, attacked Geneva at night. This is remembered as the 'Escalade' ('scaling the walls'). Each year, a festival is held in Geneva on December 11-12 to commemorate the event, and is the main patriotic celebration in the city.
Refugees again fled to Geneva at the end of the 17th century, mostly from France, due to French Emperor Louis XIV's harsh oppression of Protestants in his kingdom.
The 18th century is seen as a golden period in the history of the city, where it witnessed economic prosperity, industrial and commercial developments, and a rise in banking businesses. On the downside, Geneva at the same time also experienced political and social agitation.
The Geneva revolution (1792) abolished the aristocratic Ancien Regime, and declared political equality. France annexed the city in 1798, but it regained its freedom when Napoleon's armies were defeated in 1813. Membership of the Swiss Confederation was granted to Geneva in 1815.
Continuing its tradition of welcoming refugees, Geneva attracted many persecuted persons, especially political refugees, during the 19th century and at the early 20th century.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, founded in 1864, was the first international organization to be set up in Geneva.
Geneva's status as an internationally influential city was acknowledged when, after the First World War, the headquarters of the League of Nations was decided to be situated there.