During the period of the Proto-Permian language (2000 B.C. to A.D. 900-1000) the ancestors of the Komi and the Udmurt lived in the valley of the Vjatka and lower Kama rivers near Iranian peoples. In the sixth to seventh centuries AD. they came into contact with the Volga Bulgarians pressing northeast. Reminders of these contacts are the Bulgarian words borrowed into Proto-Permian, as well as the latter words borrowed only into Udmurt from Chuvash (Bulgarian). As a result of the Bulgarian invasion the ancestors of the Komi separated from their closest kin, the Udmurt, in about the tenth century A.D. The Komi, who probably earlier formed the northern group of the Ancient Permians, gradually drifted to the north and occupied their modern area. The last territories to be populated—at the end of the seventeenth century—were those in the north and the east, in the region of the Visera, Ižma, Pečora, and upper Vyčegda rivers. The specific ethnic characteristics of the Komi developed in the north in the region of the Mezeń-Vaška, Vyčegda, and Vym rivers (Komi-Ziryenes) and in the south in the upper Kama region (Komi-Permyaks). The northern Komi had trade connections with the Russians (Novgorod principality) as early as the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries.
In the fourteenth century the Komi region came under Russian rule. In the sixteenth century the power of the Novgorod principality was succeeded by that of Moscow. The conquest by the Russians was accompanied by the spread of Christianity to the Komi. The Komi conversion to the Christian faith was the work of Saint Stephen of Perm (Stepan Chrap). Stepan Chrap was either a full or half Komi. He was the first bishop of Ust'-Vym, founded in 1383 (the former name of which was Old Perm, Staraya Perm). In the fourteenth century, by modifying Cyrillic and Greek letters, Saint Stephen of Perm created a specific alphabet for the Komi and thereby Komi literacy. In the beginning, Komi was, therefore, the language of the church. Surviving written remnants of fourteenth-to sixteenth-century Komi are found as icon inscriptions, liturgical text fragments, and glossaries. The initiative of Saint Stephen of Perm was abandoned after the sixteenth century, and the language of the Orthodox church in the Komi areas became the Russian variant of Old Church Slavonic. The territory of the Komi-Permyaks, the region of the upper Kama, was presented in the sixteenth century by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) to the aristocratic family of the Stroganovs. Thus, the Komi-Permyaks became the serfs of the Stroganov dynasty. After the Russian Revolution, the Komi Autonomous Territory was formed in 1921 and then in 1936 the Komi Republic. The Komi-Permyak NR came into being in 1925.
The ecclesiastical Komi literacy of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries disappeared in the following centuries. The first works of Komi literacy beginning in the eighteenth century and based on the Cyrillic alphabet were also of a religious nature. In the first half of the nineteenth century primarily grammars and glossaries were written. Great achievements in the creation of the Komi literary language were reached by G. S. Lytkin (1855-1906) and the first classic writer of Komi poetry, I. A. Kuratov (1839-1875). In 1918 Komi was made the language of school instruction. After the Revolution two literary languages were brought into being for the Komi: the Komi-Ziryene literary language, based on the dialect of the Syktvykar region, and the Komi-Permyak literary language, based on the dialect of the Kudymkar-Ińva region. In 1918 Cyrillic orthography became binding, replaced in 1934 by an orthography based on the Latin alphabet. In 1939 the Cyrillic alphabet was restored in the Komi Republic and the Komi-Permyak NR—just as in the other small republics of the USSR—as a crowning point of the purges connected with Stalin. The Cyrillic alphabet is still used today in both Komi administrative regions. The system of education is of the Soviet type: in the Komi Republic about 500 seven-class general schools and 50 ten-class general and secondary schools are in operation. Starting in the 1950s instruction in the Komi language declined. Today instruction is given in Komi only in the lower school classes; in the upper classes the language of instruction is Russian and Komi is used only in the study of Komi language and literature. Certain signs point out, though, that beginning in 1988 to 1989 the Komi language has started to play a larger role. Since 1949 a branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences has operated in the republic; in addition, there is a teachers' college and a university, the latter founded in 1972. Komi radio and television also transmit several hours a day in the Komi language.