The Pyu arrived in Myanmar in the 1st century BC and established city kingdoms at Binnaka, Mongamo, Sri Ksetra, Peikthanomyo, and Halingyi. During this period, Myanmar was part of an overland trade route from China to India. Chinese sources state that the Pyu controlled 18 kingdoms and describe them as a humane and peaceful people. War was virtually unknown amongst the Pyu, and disputes were often solved through duels by champions or building competitions. They even wore silk cotton instead of actual silk so they would not have to kill silk worms. Crime was punished by whippings and jails were unknown, though serious crimes could result in the death penalty. The Pyu practised Theravada Buddhism, and all children were educated as novices in the temples from the age of seven until the age of 20.

The Pyu city-states never unified into a Pyu kingdom, but the more powerful cities often dominated and called for tribute from the lesser cities. The most powerful city by far was Sri Ksetra, which archaeological evidence indicates was the largest city that has ever been built in Burma. The exact date of its founding is not known, though likely to be prior to a dynastic change in A.D. 94 that Pyu chronicles speak of. Sri Ksetra was apparently abandoned around A.D. 656 in favour of a more northerly capital, though the exact site is not known. Some historians believe it was Halingyi. Wherever the new capital was located, it was sacked by the kingdom of Nanzhao in the mid-9th century, ending the Pyu’s period of dominance.