Großenhain was originally a Sorb settlement. It was first mentioned in 1205. It was for a time occupied by the Bohemians, by whom it was strongly fortified. It afterwards came into the possession of the margraves of Meißen, from whom it was taken in 1312 by the margraves of Brandenburg. In the middle-ages, Großenhain was one of the most powerful towns in Saxony. It suffered considerably in all the great German wars, and in 1744 was nearly destroyed by fire. On May 16, 1813, a battle took place here between the French and the Russians.