Accurate knowledge of the biogeographic history and precise characterization of the genetic make-up of a taxon are essential to investigate speciation processes and achieve sound evolutionary comparisons. A case in point is the house mouse Mus musculus and its three parapatric subspecies, which have become a model for such studies. However, although Mus musculus domesticus and Mus musculus musculus constitute genetically well-characterized homogeneous entities, the case of Mus musculus castaneus remains poorly documented. Using mtDNA control region variation in a sample of 402 individuals, covering much of the distribution range of this subspecies, we identify four haplogroups that show largely non-overlapping geographic distributions. They appear to have undergone post-Neolithic expansions, presumably through commensalism with humans, but exhibit a much more ancient divergence. These results point towards a strong past subdivision and a vicariant origin of the different haplogroups, with each retaining a subfraction of the total variability. The genomic consequences of this spatial heterogeneity on the present taxonomic partition will have to be appraised, and may challenge the use of this subspecies as a single entity in evolutionary studies. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, ••, ••–••.