Shifts in the position of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) have great importance for weather, climate, and society. The ITCZ shifts have been extensively studied in current and future warmer climate; however, little is known for its migration in the past on geological time scales. Using an ensemble of climate simulations over the past 540 million years, we show that ITCZ migrations are controlled primarily by continental configuration through two competing pathways: hemispheric radiation asymmetry and cross-equatorial ocean heat transport. The hemispheric asymmetry of absorbed solar radiation is produced mainly by land-ocean albedo contrast, which can be predicted using only the landmass distribution. The cross-equatorial ocean heat transport is strongly associated with the hemispheric asymmetry of surface wind stress, which is, in turn, controlled by the hemispheric asymmetry of ocean surface area. These results allow the influence of continental evolution on global ocean-atmosphere circulations to be understood through simple mechanisms that depend primarily on the latitudinal distribution of land.