The recorded history of Kashmir, though partially shrouded in myth, extends back nearly three thousand years. Throughout that time Kashmir has been recognized, to a degree matched by few, if any, other areas of South Asia, as a culturally and physically distinct entity. Though subject for brief periods in ancient times to various powers ruling over much of the Indian subcontinent notably the Mauryas, Kushanas, Guptas, and Hunas, in that order Kashmir generally remained, until its incorporation into the Mughal Empire in 1586, an independent state. And, like scores of other South Asian states, it too witnessed periods of imperial glory, initially under the Karkota dynasty in the mid-8th century and intermittently under the Shah Mirs in the 14th and 15th centuries. Yet, such moments in the sun were short-lived and the control that Kashmir was able to exert over distant territories was typically tenuous. Rather, the political norm for Kashmiri states was that of controlling the region's fertile Vale and relatively small adjoining territories, mainly in the Himalayas and their foothills.
Portions of the pre-independence state of Jammu and Kashmir, other than Kashmir proper, have, of course, had their own distinctive although typically sketchily known political trajectories. The Jammu region has been, for most of its history, the domain of small hill and mountain chiefdoms. Jammu proper, apart from its conquest of Kashmir (while under the suzerainty of the Sikhs), occasionally expanded its power southeastward into parts of present-day Himachal Pradesh. The Gilgit region too was generally characterized by the existence of petty, essentially tribal polities. The large, thinly populated, region including Ladakh and Baltistan, was independent for most of the period from the mid-10th century until its submission to the Mughals in 1680, at times under a single Ladakhi state (which occasionally expanded into western Tibet) and more commonly in two or more states. There were also brief periods when it became subject to the control of neighboring powers centered mainly in Kashmir, Tibet, and Turkestan.