Relatively little is known of the history of the Pamirians because none of their languages were written and foreign sources provide little information. Archaeologists have found evidence of Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic sites in the Pamirs; this indicates connections with the east. The first identifiable people mentioned in Classical Greek and Old Persian sources are the Sakas, who apparently occupied both the east and west of the Pamirs beginning in the middle of the first millenium B.C. The basic components in the ethnogenesis of the Pamirians, thus, were the Saka and, possibly, the Dari ethnic groups. The Pamirians were probably under Kushan rule in the first centuries A.D. , followed by that of the Hephthalites. According to Buddhist missionaries of the eighth century, Shugnan was not Buddhist in religion whereas neighboring regions, such as Wakhan, had Buddhist monasteries. Arabic sources tell of a number of small kingdoms in this area, and in the eleventh century Shugnan, Rushan, and adjoining valleys were converted to Ismailism. Although frequently owing allegiance to larger political entities, the Pamirians usually were ruled by one of many local lords called begs. In the seventeenth century they came under the sway of a state with its center in Afghan Badakhshan, which in turn owed allegiance to the Amir of Bukhara. The Pamirs were one of the last areas to be incorporated into the USSR.
The process of assimilation has been accompanied by the somewhat paradoxical development of an ethnonational identification. This sense of identity, during the first decades after the establishment of Soviet power, did not change in relation to that of previous periods; for the most part this was the original consciousness of, for example, the Egamik (Yazgumems) and Khugni. Between 1950 and 1980 ethnonational identification has manifested itself in three forms: when classifying national affiliation among themselves, they use their autonym; when communicating with visitors or when visiting other regions of Tajikistan, they call themselves "Pamirians," "Pamirs," or "Pamirian Tajiks" to distinguish their language, customs, and religion from those of other Tajiks (who speak West Iranian Farsi) and give themselves a specifically "Pamir" identity; beyond the boundaries of Tajikistan they call themselves "Tojik" (i.e., Tajik). Their material and spiritual cultures have survived, yet the Pamirians are fully in touch with the contemporary economic life of the republic and with the professional culture of the Tajiks, including scholarship poetry, literature, and theater. They consider themselves "Pamirian Tajiks," and in the present stage of their ethnic history they constitute an ethnic subgroup of the Tajiks.
Among the Pamirians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, until the establishment of Soviet power, patriarchal-feudal relations predominated, characteristically in the form of kinship- and village-based communal groups. Communal relations coexisted with patrilineal relations. Without the preservation of traditional forms of collective communal mutual aid, agriculture and animal husbandry in the high mountain valleys of this unique region would be impossible. Communal law has existed among the independent feudal polities and also in those that depended fully or in part on Badakhshan, Afghanistan, and the khanate of Bukhara; it still applies today to some activities, such as haying and the pasturing of livestock.