It was founded between 650 and 625 BC by Gorgus, son of the Corinthian tyrant Cypselus. After the expulsion of Gorgus's son Periander its government developed into a strong democracy. The early policy of Ambracia was determined by its loyalty to Corinth (for which it probably served as an entrepot in the Epirus trade), its consequent aversion to Corcyra, and its frontier disputes with the Amphilochians and Acarnanians. Hence it took a prominent part in the Peloponnesian War until the crushing defeat at Idomene (426) crippled its resources.
In the 4th century it continued its traditional policy, but in 338 surrendered to Philip II of Macedon. After forty-three years of autonomy under Macedonian suzerainty it became the capital of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, who adorned it with palace, temples and theatres. In the wars of Philip V of Macedon and the Epirotes against the Aetolian league (220-205) Ambracia passed from one alliance to the other, but ultimately joined the latter confederacy. During the struggle of the Aetolians against Rome it stood a stubborn siege.
After its capture and plunder by M. Fulvius Nobilior in 189, it fell into insignificance. The foundation by Augustus of Nicopolis, into which the remaining inhabitants were drafted, left the site desolate. In Byzantine times a new settlement took its place under the name of Arta. Some fragmentary walls of large, well-dressed blocks near this latter town indicate the early prosperity of Ambracia.