The origins of pathogens and their past and present migration patterns are often unknown. We used phylogenetic haplotype clustering in conjunction with model-based coalescent approaches to reconstruct the genetic history of the barley leaf pathogen Rhynchosporium secalis using the avirulence gene NIP1 and its flanking regions. Our results falsify the hypothesis that R. secalis emerged in association with its host during the domestication of barley 10 000 to 15 000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and was introduced into Europe through the migration of Neolithic farmers. Estimates of time since most recent common ancestor (2500–5000 BP) placed the emergence of R. secalis clearly after the domestication of barley. We propose that modern populations of R. secalis originated in northern Europe following a host switch, most probably from a wild grass onto cultivated barley shortly after barley was introduced into northern Europe. R. secalis subsequently spread southwards into already established European barley-growing areas.