The origin of the dynasty is uncertain, but according to the Puranas, their first king overthrew the Kanva dynasty. In the post-Maurya era, the Satavahanas established peace in the Deccan region, and resisted the onslaught of foreign invaders. In particular their struggles with the Saka Western Satraps went on for a long time. The dynasty reached its zenith under the rule of Gautamiputra Satakarni and his successor Vasisthiputra Pulamavi. The kingdom fragmented into smaller states by the early 3rd century CE.
The Satavahanas were early issuers of Indian state coinage struck with images of their rulers. They formed a cultural bridge and played a vital role in trade and the transfer of ideas and culture to and from the Indo-Gangetic Plain to the southern tip of India. They supported Brahmanism as well as Buddhism, and patronised Prakrit literature.
The date and place of origin of the Satavahanas, as well as the meaning of the dynasty's name, are a matter of debate among the historians. Some of these debates have happened in the context of regionalism, with the present-day Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana being variously claimed as the original homeland of the Satavahanas.
According to one theory, the word "Satavahana" is a Prakrit form of the Sanskrit Sapta-Vahana ("driven by seven"; in Hindu mythology, the chariot of the sun god is drawn by seven horses). This would indicate that the Satavahanas originally claimed association with the legendary solar dynasty, as was common in ancient India. According to Inguva Kartikeya Sarma, the dynasty's name is derived from the words sata ("sharpened", "nimble" or "swift") and vahana ("vehicle"); the expression thus means "one who rides a nimble horse".
Another theory connects their name to the earlier Satiyaputa dynasty. Yet another theory derives their name from the Munda words Sadam ("horse") and Harpan ("son"), implying "son of the performer of a horse sacrifice". Several rulers of the dynasty bear the name or title "Satakarni". Satavahana, Satakarni, Satakani and Shalivahana appear to be variations of the same word. Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi theorized that the word "Satakarni" is derived from the Munda words sada ("horse") and kon ("son").