Its earlier name was Ranastambha (Hindi:रणस्तम्भ) or Ranastambhapura (Hindi:रणस्तम्भपुर). It was associated with Jainism during the reign of Prithviraja I of Chauhan dynasty in 12th century. Siddhasenasuri, who lived in 12th century has included this place in the list of holy Jaina tirthas. In Mughal period a temple of Mallinatha was built in the fort.
The fortress of Ranthambore was founded in 944 by the Nagil Jats. The fortress commanded a strategic location, 700 feet above the surrounding plain. It is of historical importance to know about Nagil clan. Nagil people are descendants of NagavanshimahapurushaNagavaloka (नागावलोक).
Raja Sajraj Veer Singh Nagil (880 to 935 AD) was the most famous ruler of the this small Jat state who headed a small army of twenty thousand warriors including ten thousand cavalry to protect its kingdom from invaders. He was the first ruler of Ranthambore who developed and raised infrastructure to make this area suitable for defence.
The Buddhist Bharhut stupa are supposed to be established by the Maurya king Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE. The inscriptions here mention about Nagil clan. Pillars of Railing on N.W. Quadrant in Bharhut bears an inscription which reads as under:
Moragirihma Nāgilāyā bhikhuniya dānam thabho.
Meaning: " Pillar-gift of the Nun Nagila of Moragiri."
Morgiri mentioned here is a town in Satara district, Maharashtra. Thus Nagil clan was in existence during Ashoka's period as followers of Buddhism.
Meaning " Pillar-gift of BhadrataNagila, the learned in all things."
Prinsep, No. 47, reads Danda-nagilalasa pavinanātinam dānathambho ; and translates, " This pillar is the gift of the illustrious family of Danda Nagirala."
Tej Ram Sharma describes some names ending in la. He mentions from Udayagiri Cave Inscription of the time of Kumaragupta I of Gupta Year 106 (=A.D. 425) a name such as Samghila, who was a soldier who has been mentioned as an 'Ashvapaty. We find Agila (Agi Jat clan), Satila (Satalya Jat clan), Nagila (Nagil Jat clan), Yakhila (Jakha Jat clan), in Sanchi inscriptions. Probably these indicate Jat clan names mentioned in brackets.
Thakur Deshraj has mentioned the history of Nagil Jat clan. They trace their origin from Punjab. They were rulers in Ranthambore. The area around Ranthambore was ruled by Gora and Nagil jats till two centuries prior to the rule of Chauhans. According to the bards about twenty generations ruled here. Ranthambhor town was founded by Ran Mal Jat, hence the name Ranthambore. Ran Mal Jat founded this place by putting a stambh (pillar) at the location of present Ranthambore. He challenged the neighbouring rulers for battle. The Jat sardars of this area had helped Bhagabhatta Chauhan also against the Muslims. During Mughal period Jalaluddin Tuniya of Rajiya group wanted to become the ruler of the area. Rajiya also wanted to attack Ranthambore so asked for the help of Jats. When she was about to attack Ranthambore, a big group of Jats arrived with Gulam sardar Tuniya and she returned. Al-Tuniya with the help of Jat sardars, attacked Delhi. Jats fought with bravery for this woman.
Thakur Deshraj mentions that in the ninth century one of their illustrious king named Nagavaloka ruled on the lands of Medapata. He ruled in democratic way through a system a council (rajasabha) and his capital was at Bijolia. The council used to award titles. A Chauhan chieftain named Guyak was awarded the title of 'Veer.
After the defeat of the Chauhan king Prithvirajchauhan by Muhammad of Ghori in 1192, Ranthambore, led by Govinda Raja, grandson of Pritviraj, became the center of Chauhan resistance to the expanding Sultanate of Delhi. Govinda Raja was succeeded by his son Balhana.
The Delhi Sultan Iltutmish captured Ranthambore in 1226, but the Chauhans recaptured it after his death in 1236. The armies of Sultan Nasir ud din Mahmud, led by the future Sultan Balban, unsuccessfully besieged the fortress in 1248 and 1253, but captured from Jaitrasingh Chauhan in 1259. shakti Dev succeeded Jaitrasingh in 1283, and recaptured Ranthambore and enlarged the kingdom. Sultan Jalal ud din Firuz Khilji briefly besieged the fort in 1290-91. In 1299, Hamir Dev sheltered Muhammad Shah, a rebel general of Sultan Ala ud din Khilji, and refused to turn him over to the Sultan. The sultan unsuccessfully besieged the fortress in 1299, but returned in 1301 to personally oversee a long siege, and succeeded in capturing the fort.
The fortress passed to the Kachwaha Maharajas of Jaipur in the 17th century, and it remained part of Jaipur state until Indian Independence. The area surrounding the fortress became a hunting ground for the Maharajas of Jaipur. Jaipur state acceded to India in 1949, becoming part of the state of Rajasthan in 1950.
Inside Ranthambore fort there are three Hindu temples dedicated to Ganesh, Shiva and Ramlalaji constructed in 12th and 13th centuries from red Karauli stone. There is also a Jain temple of Lord Sumatinath (5th Jain Tirthankar) and Lord Sambhavanath.