Abstract Aim The circum-Mediterranean region is one of the most complex regions of the Earth in terms of geography and natural history. The Old World species of the beetle subtribe Anisopliina (Scarabaeidae) feed almost exclusively on the pollen of grasses (Poaceae). Within this group, the ‘anisopliine clade’ forms a monophyletic group distributed mainly in the circum-Mediterranean region. Here, we reconstruct the biogeographical history of the anisopliine beetles in relation to the diversification of grasses, and compare this reconstruction with previous hypotheses concerning the evolution of the Mediterranean fauna and with palaeogeographical accounts of the history of this region. Location The Mediterranean region, including North Africa, the Western Mediterranean, Balkans–Anatolia, Middle East and Caucasus. Methods Dispersal–vicariance analysis (diva) was used to reconstruct ancestral distributions based on the morphological phylogeny and to infer the biogeographical processes that have shaped the observed distribution patterns. To account for phylogenetic uncertainty in the biogeographical reconstruction, we ran alternative ancestral distributions derived bydivaover a sample of trees obtained by bootstrapping the original data set, reflecting the relative confidence of the ancestral areas on the various clades in the phylogeny. Results The Eastern Mediterranean region and the Caucasus are inferred as the ancestral area of most of the anisopliine lineages. The Eastern Mediterranean region is also reconstructed as the source area of the majority of dispersal events, in particular towards North Africa and the Western Mediterranean. The Iberian Peninsula is inferred as part of the ancestral distribution of the anisopliine clade but also as the setting of several independent colonization events via both the North African platform (Anthoplia) and a European dispersal route (Anisoplia). Main conclusions Our results confirm the role played by the Eastern Mediterranean as an evolutionary cradle of diversity for Mediterranean lineages. This can be explained by a recent and intense orogenic activity that might have promoted isolation and allopatric speciation within lineages. Both the Anomalini fossil record and the close association of anisopliine beetles with grasses suggest that the anisopliine clade originated in the Late Tertiary and that its spatial and temporal evolution within the Mediterranean Basin coincided with that of its major food source, the Mediterranean Poaceae.