The early history of Gjirokastra is relatively unknown. Due to the proximity of the Hellenistic settlement Antigonea (near Jermë) and the Roman city of Hadrianopolis (close to the village of Sofratika) it has frequently been assumed that the medieval fortress represents the first occupation of the site. However this has now been challenged by the results of excavations within the fortress that have revealed ceramics from four different phases of occupation before the Ottoman period: 5th -2nd -centuries BC, 5th -7th -centuries AD, 9th -10th centuries and 12th -13th-centuries. The earliest of these phases also produced evidence of substantial block-built walls suggesting that there was a significant fortification on this side of the Drino valley in the pre-Roman period (before about 168 BC).
The first historic reference to the settlement was in 1336 when the Byzantine chronicler John Cantacuzene referred to the city, recording it as Argyrókastron. Under the Despotate of Epirus the city and surrounding region was controlled by