Barley (Hordeum vulgare) has played a pivotal role in Old World agriculture since its domestication about 10,000 yr ago. Barley plants carrying loss-of-function alleles (mlo) of the Mlo locus are resistant against all known isolates of the widespread powdery mildew fungus. The sole mlo resistance allele recovered so far from a natural habitat, mlo-11, was originally retrieved from Ethiopian landraces and nowadays controls mildew resistance in the majority of cultivated European spring barley elite varieties. Here we use haplotype analysis to show that the mlo-11 allele probably arose once after barley domestication. Resistance in mlo-11 plants is linked to a complex tandem repeat array inserted upstream of the wild-type gene. The repeat units consist of a truncated Mlo gene comprising 3.5 kilobases (kb) of 5′-regulatory sequence plus 1.1 kb of coding sequence. These generate aberrant transcripts that impair the accumulation of both Mlo wild-type transcript and protein. We exploited the meiotic instability of mlo-11 resistance and recovered susceptible revertants in which restoration of Mlo function was accompanied by excision of the repeat array. We infer cis-dependent perturbation of transcription machinery assembly by transcriptional interference in mlo-11 plants as a likely mechanism leading to disease resistance.