Phylogenetic trees were derived for the Alphaherpesvirinae subfamily of the Herpesviridae using molecular sequences. Sequences from the families of genes encoding glycoprotein B, thymidine kinase, S region protein kinase, immediate-early transcriptional regulator IE175 and ribonucleotide reductase large subunit were examined by means of both maximum parsimony and distance methods, and for both protein and DNA alignments. Trees obtained were evaluated by bootstrap analysis. A clear consensus tree was obtained, with most detail coming from 14 sequences in the glycoprotein B gene set. The tree showed two avian viruses branching first from the lineage leading to the mammalian alphaherpesviruses. The mammalian viruses were split into two groups, which corresponded to the Simplexvirus and Varicellovirus genera. A timescale for events in alphaherpesvirus evolution was tested, based on the proposition that most of the lineages arose by ancient cospeciation with hosts. The virus phylogenetic tree was unambiguously compatible with cospeciation for ten of the 12 mammalian viruses. The tree was also supported by demonstration of an approximate proportionality between magnitudes of pairwise divergences of viral sequences and times since lineages of corresponding pairs of hosts split. On the basis of this timescale it was estimated that the two mammalian alphaherpesvirus groups diverged around the period of the mammalian radiation, and that alphaherpesviral genome sequences have evolved faster than those of mammals by a factor of one to two orders of magnitude.