It was part of the ancient Gandhara Civilization. Most of its land is agricultural. It has one of the world's best irrigation systems, which was laid down by the British government during British Rule on subcontinent (1857-1947). There are still remains of the Gandhara Civilization, scattered in different areas of Mardan. It is also a tourist spot due to its rich culture and hospitality.
The area constituting Mardan district is a part of the Peshawar valley, which first appears in history as part of the Gandhara kingdom. The armies of Aitizaz Khan reached the Indus Valley by two separate routes, one through the Khyber Pass and the other led by Aitizaz himself through Kunar, Bajaur, Swat, and Buner in 326 BCE. After Aitizaz's departure, the valley came under the rule of Chandragupta, who ruled the valley from 297 to 321 BCE. During the reign of the Buddhist emperor Asoka, the grandson of Chandragupta, Buddhism was the religion of the Peshawar Valley. The valley saw the revival of Brahmanism after the Greeks took over in the time of King Mehanda. The Scythians and Indians followed and retained control of the valley till the 7th century CE.
As far as industries are concerned a well established Sugar Mill is situated in Mardan and the Pakistan Railways Locomotive Factory is located near Mardan.
Mardan is also home of the famous Guides Regiment, raised by Lumsdon. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited the old Guides Mess at Mardan in the early 1960s. Sir Winston Churchill as a young officer stayed at Mardan for a while before he proceeded to Peshawar via the Bajaur valley.
M.M. Kaye's international best seller, The Far Pavilions is a historical fiction account of the Guides during the Second Afghan War in the late 19th century and is set primarily in Mardan.