Viruses closely related to human pathogens can reveal the origins of human infectious diseases. Human herpes simplexvirus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2) are hypothesized to have arisen via host-virus codivergence and cross-species transmission. We report the discovery of novel herpes simplexviruses during a large-scale screening of fecal samples from wild gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that, contrary to expectation, simplexviruses from these African apes are all more closely related to HSV-2 than to HSV-1. Molecular clock-based hypothesis testing suggests the divergence between HSV-1 and the African great ape simplexviruses likely represents a codivergence event between humans and gorillas. The simplexviruses infecting African great apes subsequently experienced multiple cross-species transmission events over the past 3 My, the most recent of which occurred between humans and bonobos around 1 Ma. These findings revise our understanding of the origins of human herpes simplexviruses and suggest that HSV-2 is one of the earliest zoonotic pathogens.