The Swedish sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) is a relict species from the period of warmth following the last glacial episode and has a fragmented distribution in central Sweden and a more continuous distribution in the southern part of the country. We used this model system of colonization–extinction for a study of genetic variability within and among Swedish populations from different parts of the distribution range using multilocus DNA fingerprinting. The results from the Swedish populations are then contrasted with those from a large Hungarian population in the centre of the species geographical distribution range, which is likely to closely resemble the ancestral founding population of Sweden. Swedish populations have a low level of genetic variability compared with the Hungarian reference population, which showed a genetic variability within the range described for outbred populations. Within the Swedish populations, the average bandsharing was 0.61, the mean heterozygosity 0.45 and the estimated number of alleles 2.7. The figures for the Hungarian population were a bandsharing of 0.19, a heterozygosity of 0.89 and an estimated number of alleles of 9.8. A population bottleneck, common to all Swedish sand lizards, is indicated by less than 20% of the alleles in the Hungarian population being retained in the Swedish populations, and higher bandsharing similarity between different Swedish populations (0.33) as opposed to the Hungarian population (0.19). The limited variability found in Swedish sand lizards is strongly subdivided between populations, with an average FST of 0.32, indicating a very limited gene flow between the isolated populations, as well as between populations in the region where the sand lizard has a more or less continuous distribution (FST = 0.41).