Abstract Although the biology of the reptantian Decapoda has been much studied, the last comprehensive review of reptantian systematics was published more than 80 years ago. We have used cladistic methods to reconstruct the phylogenetic system of the reptantian Decapoda. We can show that the Reptantia represent a monophyletic taxon. The classical groups, the ‘Palinura’, ‘Astacura’ and ‘Anomura’ are paraphyletic assemblages. The Polychelida is the sister-group of all other reptantians. The Astacida is not closely related to the Homarida, but is part of a large monophyletic taxon which also includes the Thalassinida, Anomala and Brachyura. The Anomala and Brachyura are sister-groups and the Thalassinida is the sister-group of both of them. Based on our reconstruction of the sister-group relationships within the Reptantia, we discuss alternative hypotheses of reptantian interrelationships, the systematic position of the Reptantia within the decapods, and draw some conclusions concerning the habits and appearance of the reptantian stem species.