Although the standard karyotype of the western house mouse, Mus musculus domesticus, consists entirely of acrocentric chromosomes, there are 97 distinct ‘populations’ that are characterized by various combinations of metacentric chromosomes that have arisen by Robertsonian (Rb) fusions and whole-arm reciprocal translocations (WARTs). In this review we discuss the processes behind the origin and fixation of these rearrangements and then present a unified list of all known metacentric populations and evaluate their phylogenetic relationships. Eleven independent phylogeographical ‘systems’, each consisting of 2–25 metacentric populations, were identified in Scotland, Denmark, Northern Europe–Northern Switzerland, Southern Switzerland, Northern Italy, Croatia, Spain, Central–Southern Italy, Peloponnesus, Mainland Greece and Madeira. There are six isolated metacentric populations that do not belong to any of these systems. To generate phylogenies of the metacentric populations within each system, we determined those outcomes with the fewest steps regarding accumulation of metacentrics by Rb fusions, WARTs and zonal raciation and taking into account geographical proximity. These phylogenies should be viewed as working hypotheses that will be refined with further chromosomal and molecular data and improvements in methods of phylogenetic reconstruction. The list of metacentric populations and our phylogenies are also published electronically and can be accessed at http://www.studenec.ivb.cz/Projects/RobertsonianMice/. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 84, 535–563.