The Hox genes are expressed in a conserved sequence of spatial domains along the anteroposterior (A/P) body axes of many organisms. In Drosophila, position-specific signals located along the A/P axis establish the pattern of Hox gene expression. In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, it is not known how the pattern of Hox gene expression is established. C. elegans uses lineal control mechanisms and local cell interactions to specify early blastomere identities. However, many cells expressing the same Hox gene are unrelated by lineage, suggesting that, as in Drosophila, domains of Hox gene expression may be defined by cell-extrinsic A/P positional signals. To test this, we have investigated whether posterior mesodermal and ectodermal cells will express their normal posterior Hox gene when they are mispositioned in the anterior. Surprisingly, we find that correct Hox gene expression does not depend on cell position, but is highly correlated with cell lineage. Thus, although the most striking feature of Hox gene expression is its positional specificity, in C. elegans the pattern is achieved, at least in part, by a lineage-specific control system that operates without regard to A/P position.