Archeological findings bear witness to the fact that the first inhabitants of the Biellese (as the area surrounding Biella is called) were prehistoric Ligurian and Celtic populations originally dedicated to hunting and fishing, and subsequently to stock-rearing, who mainly settled near the water courses of the hilly and sub-alpine regions. Another group of populations (the Vittimuli) principally occupied the Bessa area, where they began the exploitation of its gold-bearing deposits that was to continue until Roman times. There is also archeological evidence of the ancient origins of the town of Biella, which was originally a Bronze Age settlement (end of the XIV century b.C.) that continued into the Gallic period: working tools, utensils and jewellery have been unearthed at Brich della Burcina.
Findings of shears and the terracotta weights of a vertical loom mark the beginnings of the activity that was to make the name of Biella famous.
Two Roman necropoli have been discovered on the hill of Piazzo, one of which contained more than 600 tombs of the I-II century b.C.. The existence of what would have been an important urban centre for that time is also demonstrate by further findings of perfume jars, ampullae, pottery, votive statuettes and jewellery. The Roman settlements probably extended along what is now Via Italia, and a Christian nucleus developed around the Pieve di Santo Stefano (IV-V cntury A.D.). The remains from this period include the bell tower of the church of Santo Stefano (demolished in 1872), documentation relating to the houses of the religious belonging to the now also demolished Cathedral Chapter, and the Baptistry (XI century A.D.), the town's most illustrious monument.
The name Biella appears for the first time in a document dated 826 by means of which the Holy Roman Emperors, Ludwig the Pious and Lothar, donated the "Court of Biella" to their attendant Count Bosone. In 882, Carlo il Grosso donated Biella to the Church of Vercelli. The first walls were built as a means of defence against the barbarian invasions in the X century, at which time the town was inhabited by people of Roman, Alemannic, Longobard and Frankish stock. On April 12, 1160, in order to prevent the separation of the Biellese from the dominion of Vercelli and creata a safe refuge during the struggles between Guelf and Ghibelline factions, Bishop Uguccione of Vercelli granted whoever wanted to inhabit the hill of Piazzo the important privileges of a market, slaughterhouse and jurisdicton.
This led to the development of what is still one of the town's most characteristic quarters: the Borgo del Piazzo, with its beautiful Piazza Cisterna, the homonymous Palazzo and the porticoes decorated with bands of fired brick and stone capitals. This was also the site of the Castello di Uguccione, which was destroyed during a popular uprising in 1377.
It was in 1379 that the town was dedicated to the House of Savoy, which took over the dominion of almost all of the Comunes in the Biellese between 1372 and 1404. Between the end of the XIV and the beginning of the XV century, there were numerous conflicts between the house of Savoy and the Visconti for the possession of these territories. In the XVII century, Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy nominated Biella "capital" of one of the 12 Provinces of the territory.
The XVII century was characterised by the wars between France and Spain and, between 1700 and 1707, Biella was occupied by the French. In 1706, the Biellese Pietro Micca was one of the protagonists of the liberation of Turin, sacrificing his life and becoming a national hero. A series of peasant revolts against the dominion of Savoy in 1797 were harshly repressed by the royal house.
In 1859, Biella became a part of the Province of Novara and thus lost its position as a provincial capital. In the same year, the town was occupied by Austrian troops during the second War of Indipendence. In 1927, Biella became part of the Province of Vercelli and remained such until 1996. During World War II, the Biellese hills formed the backdrop for intense partisan battles against the German occupation.