Cellular genes comprise at most 5% of the barley genome; the rest is occupied primarily by retrotransposons. Retrotransposons move intracellularly by a replicative mechanism similar to that of retroviruses. We describe the major classes of retrotransposons in barley, including the two nonautonomous groups that were recently identified, and detail the evidence supporting our current understanding of their life cycle. Data from analyses of long contiguous segments of the barley genome, as well as surveys of the prevalence of full-length retrotransposons and their solo LTR derivatives in the genus Hordeum, indicate that integration and recombinational loss of retrotransposons are major factors shaping the genome. The sequence conservation and integrative capacity of barley retrotransposons have made them excellent sources for development of molecular marker systems.