Ba, often described as a loose confederation or a collection of chiefdoms, consisted of several loosely-affiliated independent clans who recognised a king. The Ba clans were highly diverse, being composed of multiple ethnicities. Archaeological evidence shows that the Ba people relied primarily on fishing and hunting, with low levels of agriculture .
Ba may have aided the founders of the Zhou Dynasty in its overthrow of the Shang Dynasty at the Battle of Muye; however, Ba's first definitive appearance in recorded history occurred in 703 BCE; the Zuo Zhuan recorded that Ba took part in a joint military operation with Chu against Deng.
Ba territory originally included areas in the ; the ascendance of pushed Ba westwards and further into the Sichuan basin. Chu expansion forced Ba to move its capital several times. According to Chang Qu, capitals or administrative centers of Ba included Jiangzhou , Dianjiang , and Pingdu , with its final capital at Langzhong . During the Warring States Period, Qin, Chu and , all more powerful states, shared a common border with Ba.
Although Chu sometimes encroached on Ba territory, Ba shared a complex relationship with Chu, with strong trade and marriage ties. Chu also employed many Ba mercenaries as soldiers in its own army. This practice sometimes caused problems for Chu; in one instance, Ba mercenaries employed by Chu rebelled and besieged the Chu capital in 676 or 675 BCE.
Ba and Zu allied with Qin in Qin's invasion of Shu. After the successful invasion, Qin immediately conquered its two allies and captured the last Ba king. Ba was then converted into a Qin commandery. Unlike its management of Shu, Qin allowed the Ba elite to retain direct rule and did not force large -scale migrations of Qin people into Ba territory. The Ba elite would later be marginalized through a policy of divide and rule.
The tiger was an important part of Ba mythology, with the white tiger being held in highest esteem. Artifacts from Ba archaeological sites often employ tiger motifs. Other distinctive features of Ba culture include its distinctive curved blades, boat-shaped coffin burials and Ba-style bronze drums , which were used to communicate in battle.
Warfare played an important role in Ba society. The Ba people were famous for their war songs and dances. Their warriors were often employed as mercenaries by other states, and weapons were prevalent in Ba grave goods.
Ba and Shu developed their own writing systems, found on bronzeware. There are three scripts. One pictographic script was unique to Ba, and two scripts were found at Ba and Shu sites. All three scripts remain today.