Shigella spp. are some of the key pathogens responsible for the global burden of diarrhoeal disease. These facultative intracellular bacteria belong to the family Enterobacteriaceae, together with other intestinal pathogens, such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp. The genus Shigella comprises four different species, each consisting of several serogroups, all of which show phenotypic similarity, including invasive pathogenicity. DNA sequencing suggests that this similarity results from the convergent evolution of different Shigella spp. founders. Here, we review the evolutionary relationships between Shigella spp. and E. coli, and we highlight how the genomic plasticity of these bacteria and their acquisition of a distinctive virulence plasmid have enabled the development of such highly specialized pathogens. Furthermore, we discuss the insights that genotyping and whole-genome sequencing have provided into the phylogenetics and intercontinental spread of Shigella spp.