Traces of settlement since the period of primitive community; Jarosław was set up around 1031 by the Kiev priest Jarosław Mądry.The reference to Jarosław dates back to 1152; since 1349 in Poland. It was granted the town privileges before 1370 (after 1340) and belonged  among others to the Tarnowski, Odrowąż, Kostka, Sieniawski and Czartoryski families. 

Jarosław was an important craft (22 guilds) and trade centre (staple right, custom house, the 14th-16th centuries, famous markets), workshops in boat building of inland shipping units; in the 16th century and at the beginning of the 17th century a centre of cultural life (since 1574 Jesuit colleges, music school, since 1616 J. Szeliga's printery); since the 16th century a large Jewish community (provincial assemblies, significant contribution to trade); it was destroyed during the Polish-Swedish War in 1655–60 and during the Northern War 1700–21.

In the years 1772–1918 Jarosław fell under the Austrian partition. Since 1846 the town belonged to the Treasury. Since 1860 it was connected by a railway line. The town developed in the years 1867–1914, at that time many textile manufactures were set up, and at the beginning of the 20th century many industrial plants were founded.

The town was demolished during the First World War. During the interwar period new industrial plants were established (among others ceramic plants and brick factories), centre of the peasant movement (peasant strikes 1933, 1937). In September 1939 fights between the 10th Motorized Calvary Brigade and dominant German forces took place.

During the German occupation, on 28 September 1939 Germans deported several thousand Jews (in 1939– roughly 6.5 thousand – 32% of the town inhabitants) beyond the river San, to regions occupied by the USSR. Several thousand Jews were transported away to Bełżec extermination camp. In 1939–40 Jarosław was a temporary prisoner–of–war camp for Poles (ca. 600 people), since 1941 a temporary prisoner–of–war camp for the Soviets. There were numerous arrests and executions in Jarosław as well as many pacifications of surrounding villages. It was also a conspiration region of the Home Army, Bataliony Chłopskie (Peasants' Battalions) and NSZ (National Armed Forces). In July 1944 a fight for the town took place as part of the ”Burza” action of Home Army and Bataliony Chłopskie troops in cooperation with Soviet troops. After the Red Army invaded Jarosław on 27 July 1944, mass arrests of members of Polish independence organizations by NKVD and The Office of Security took place (prisoners were sent to USSR); In 1944–51 there was an anti–communist underground in the region of Jarosław. It was the capital of the county in 1854–1975 and has been now since 1999.