The electrochemical intercalation of lithium into vanadium pentoxide was first reported in the 1970's. Over the last 40 years vanadium oxides have continued to be the subject of much research due to their desirable physical properties. Initial results with bulk V2O5 and V2O5 gels demonstrated the potential for application as a cathode material for lithium batteries. Encouraging specific capacities exceeding 250 mAh g−1 were accompanied by severe capacity fading, which prevented widespread commercial application of V2O5-containing cathodes. Following the commercial release of the Li-ion battery, the development of layered materials that reversibly intercalated lithium, and the resurgence in nanoscale materials for Li-ion and alternative batteries, have opened new opportunities for the examination of the influence of material structure on cell performance. Recent decades have witnessed advances in the control of shape, structure and function of Li-ion battery materials. This review details the synthesis and structural properties of vanadium oxides, one of the model layered battery materials, and reviews the synthesis and structure of vanadium oxides and related polymorphs, bronzes and phases. Their electrochemical characteristics under a wide range of conditions are assessed and compared as positive electrode materials in lithium and lithium-ion batteries up to the present day.