In this review article the history of leishmaniasis is discussed regarding the origin of the genus Leishmania in the Mesozoic era and its subsequent geographical distribution, initial evidence of the disease in ancient times, first accounts of the infection in the Middle Ages, and the discovery of Leishmania parasites as causative agents of leishmaniasis in modern times. With respect to the origin and dispersal of Leishmania parasites, the three currently debated hypotheses (Palaearctic, Neotropical and supercontinental origin, respectively) are presented. Ancient documents and paleoparasitological data indicate that leishmaniasis was already widespread in antiquity. Identification of Leishmania parasites as etiological agents and sand flies as the transmission vectors of leishmaniasis started at the beginning of the 20th century and the discovery of new Leishmania and sand fly species continued well into the 21st century. Lately, the Syrian civil war and refugee crises have shown that leishmaniasis epidemics can happen any time in conflict areas and neighbouring regions where the disease was previously endemic.