Cheralam, Shalya, Sayilam and Sailam are found in inscriptions referring to the country around the hills Nagarmalai in the north, Jeragamalai in the south, Kanjanamalai in the west and Godumalai in the east. Locals claim Salem to be the birthplace of Tamil poetess Avvaiyar. Salem and the hilly regions around it were part of the Chera Dynasty and the city was ruled by kings known as the Kurunila Mannargal of ancient Tamil Nadu. It was later ruled by Gatti Mudalis Poligars who built a few temples and forts in and around the city.

In the early 18th century, after the Mysore-Madurai war, the region came under the rule of Hyder Ali. Subsequently, Salem was taken from Hyder Ali by Colonel Wood at the beginning of 1768. It was recaptured by Hyder Ali towards the end of the year 1772. Under Lord Clive in 1799, it was again occupied by a detachment of the regiment stationed at Sankagiri Durg and remained a military station until 1861 when the troops were withdrawn. During the times of Kongu Chieftain Dheeran Chinnamalai, places like Salem and Sankagiri were the scenes of battle between Kongu forces and British allied forces. Dheeran Chinnamalai was hanged infamously in the Sankagiri fort, which later became the army headquarters of the British.

According to Edgar Thurston (Castes and Tribes of India Volume 5) the Kongu region was ruled by a series of twenty eight kings before being conquered by the Cholas of Tanjore, citing the earliest portion of the Kongu Chronicle – Kongu Desa Rajakkal (a manuscript in The Mackenzie Collection) which contains a series of short notes of the reigns of all the kings who ruled the country from the start of the Christian era till its conquest by the Cholas. These kings belonged to two distinct dynasties: the earlier line of the Solar race which had a succession of seven kings of the Ratti or Reddi tribe, and the later line of the Ganga race.