Cicadas are widely distributed in the Mediterranean area and are mainly distinguished by male acoustic signals, which act as specific mate recognition systems. Within the genus Cicada L. several species have diverged in their calling songs without showing external morphological differences, so acoustic recordings and genetic studies are particularly useful for systematic, biogeography and evolutionary studies. This study assesses sequence variation in closely related species of Cicada from the Mediterranean area, using domain III of the 12S rRNA mitochondrial gene in order to determine the phylogenetic relationships and the evolutionary history of this group, as well as the population structure of the two most common species, C. orni and C. barbara. Five distinct haplogroups were identified, C. orni, C. barbara, C. mordoganensis, C. cretensis and C. lodosi, each corresponding to a distinct evolutionary group. C. barbara was the most divergent species within this group, while C. orni and C. mordoganensis were the most similar. The population structure and demographic parameters of the species were not completely resolved. However, there is evidence for the separation of the C. orni Greek populations from the rest of Europe and also for demographic expansions probably related to Pleistocene climate changes. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 155, 266–288.