Existing from at least the 5th century BC, Rodez was founded by the Celts. After the Roman occupation, the oppidum (fortified place) was renamed Segodunum, while in late Imperial times it was known as Civitas Rutenorum, whence the modern name. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it was captured by the Visigoths and then by the Franks, being also ravaged by the Arabs in 725. Later it was occupied by the armies of the Dukes of Aquitaine and of the Counts of Toulouse. English troops occupied Rodez during the Hundred Years War.
However, in medieval times the city's history was marked by strong rivalry between the Counts and the Bishops of Rodez, who exerted their authorities in different sectors of the city, divided by a wall. The counts were able to defy the royal French authority until the submission of count John IV by the future King Louis XI in the 15th century. In the following century bishop François d'Estaing built the Rodez Cathedral.
The last count of Rodez, Henry VI of Rodez, who became Henry IV of France, sold his title to Royal Crown in 1589. The city remained a flourishing merchant centre up to the 18th century, but it lost much of its importance when Villefranche-de-Rouergue was made prefecture capital in the wake of the French Revolution.
Rodez is traditionally an agricultural trade center.