Pinsk is first mentioned in the chronicles of 1097 as Pinesk, a town belonging to Sviatopolk of Turov. The name is derived from the river Pina. Pinsk's early history is closely linked with the history of Turov. Until the mid-12th century Pinsk was the seat of Sviatopolk's descendants, but a cadet line of the same family established their own seat at Pinsk after the Mongol invasion of Rus in 1239.
The Pinsk principality had an important strategic location, between the principalities of Navahrudak and Halych-Volynia, which fought each other for other Ruthenian territories. Pinsk did not take part in this struggle, although it was inclined towards the princes of Novaharodak, which is shown by the fact that the future prince of Novaharodak and Vaišvilkas of Lithuania spent some time in Pinsk.
In 1320 Pinsk was won by the rulers of Navahrudak, who incorporated it into their state, known as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. From this time on Pinsk was ruled by Gedimin's eldest son, Narymunt. Afterwards, for the next two centuries the city had different rulers.
In 1581 Pinsk was granted the Magdeburg rights by the Polish king, and in 1569 – after the union of Lithuania with the Crown of the Polish Kingdom – it became the seat of the province of Brest within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
From 1633 on Pinsk had a secondary school, the so-called brothers' school (the brotherhoods were religious organisations aiming to provide education for their members and their children). During the Cossack rebellion of Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1640) against Polish king John II Casimir, it was captured by Cossacks who carried out a pogrom against the city's Jewish population; the Polish Army retook the city with considerable loss of life. Eight years later the town was burned by the Russians.
In 1648, on the eve of the Russo-Polish War (1654–1667), Pinsk was occupied by Ukrainian Cossack army under commander Niababy and could only be reconquered with great difficulty by Polish prince Janusz Radziwiłł, a high-ranking commander in the Polish-Lithuanian army. During the war between Moscow and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1654–1667) the city suffered heavily from the attacks of the Muscovite army under Prince Volkolnsky and its allied army of Ukrainian Cossacks.
Charles XII took it in 1706, and burned the town with its suburbs. In spite of all the wars the city recovered and the town developed with the existence of a printing workshop in Pinsk from 1729 to 1744. Pinsk fell to the Russian Empire in 1793 in the Second Partition of Poland. It was an uyezd center in Minsk Governorate except brief occupation by Napoleon in 1812.
Pinsk was occupied by the German Empire on 15 September 1915 during the First World War. After the German defeat, Pinsk became the subject of dispute between the short-lived Belarusian People's Republic and Ukrainian People's Republic. Pinsk was taken over by the advancing Red Army on 25 January 1919 during the Soviet westward offensive of 1918–19. It was retaken by the Polish troops on 5 March 1919 during the Polish–Soviet War, than regained by the Red Army on 23 July 1920, and finally taken over by Polish Army on 26 September 1920. Pińsk became part of the reborn sovereign Poland in 1920 at the time when the Polish-Soviet War was coming to an end with the Peace of Riga signed in March 1921.
Like many cities in Eastern Europe, Pinsk had a significant Jewish population before World War II and the Holocaust. According to the Russian census of 1897, out of the total number of 28,400 inhabitants, Jews constituted approximately 74 percent of the population (or 21,100 persons), making it one of the most Jewish cities under the Tsarist rule. During the Polish-Soviet War of liberation, in April 1919, thirty-five Jews from Pinsk were executed by the Polish Army under the charge of being the Bolshevik collaborators who fired at the Polish soldiers. The incident, known as the Pinsk massacre, created a diplomatic crisis noted at the Versailles Conference.
Pińsk was initially a provincial capital of the Polish Polesie Voivodeship. The civic centre was moved to Brześć-nad-Bugiem (now Brest, Belarus) after the city-wide fire of 7 September 1921. The population of Pińsk grew rapidly in the interwar Poland from 23,497 in 1921 to 33,500 in 1931. Pińsk was a bustling commercial centre with 70 percent of the population being Jewish in spite of considerable migration. During the Soviet invasion of Poland, on 20 September 1939 Pinsk and the surrounding territories were occupied by the Red Army of the Soviet Union in accordance with the Hitler-Stalin pact against Poland that started World War II.
Following Operation Barbarossa, from 4 July 1941 to 14 July 1944, Pinsk was occupied by Nazi Germany as part of Reichskommissariat Ukraine. Most of the Jews were killed in late October 1942, during the liquidation of the Pińsk Ghetto by the German Ordnungspolizei and the Belarusian Auxiliary Police. Ten thousand were murdered in one day. In 1945 with the new post–World War II border adjustments of Poland, Pinsk became part of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was the center of Pinsk Oblast between 1940 and 1941 and again between 1944 and 1954 before joining the Brest Voblast. Pinsk has been part of the Republic of Belarus since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.