The area of present-day Chikuma was part of ancient Shinano Province and has been settled since prehistoric times. The Mori Shogunzukakofun, a mountaintop keyhole tomb dating from near the end of the Kofun period is one of the latest of its type in eastern Japan. The area was part of the holdings of Matsushiro Domain during the Edo period, and also prospered from a series of post stations on the pilgrimage route to the famed Zenkō-ji temple. The modern city of Chikuma was founded on September 1, 2003 by the merger of the former city of Koshoku, the town of Kamiyamada (from Sarashina District), and the town of Togura (from Hanishina District).
Chikuma has nine public elementary schools and four public middle schools. There is one public high school operated by the Nagano Prefectural Board of Education, and one combined middle/high school. There is also one special education school.
Koshoku (更埴) is the largest of the three municipalities that were joined to form the current Chikuma city. Spanning the Chikuma River and bordering Nagano city to the south, it entends from the apricot fields of Anzu no Sato in the east to the highland area Hijiri Kogen in the west. Koshoku's history dates back to the Kofun Period, and several major archaeological sites remain. Later, in the Meiji Period, the inns located in Inariyama became a popular stopover for pilgrims en route to Zenkō-ji.
Kamiyamada (上山田) lies on the western bank of the Chikuma River, just north of the town of Sakaki. A popular hot spring village dating back to the 19th century, the town was one of many places of lodging on the pilgrimage route to Zenkō-ji.