Mice lacking the 4th-group paralog Hoxd4 display malformations of the anterior vertebral column, but are viable and fertile. Here, we report that zebrafish embryos having decreased function of the orthologous hoxd4a gene manifest striking perturbations in vasculogenesis, angiogenesis and primitive and definitive hematopoiesis. These defects are preceded by reduced expression of the hemangioblast markers scl1, lmo2 and fli1 within the posterior lateral plate mesoderm (PLM) at 13 hours post fertilization (hpf). Epistasis analysis revealed that hoxd4a acts upstream of meis1.1 but downstream of cdx4 as early as the shield stage in ventral-most mesoderm fated to give rise to hemangioblasts, leading us to propose that loss of hoxd4a function disrupts hemangioblast specification. These findings place hoxd4a high in a genetic hierarchy directing hemangioblast formation downstream of cdx1/cdx4 and upstream of meis1.1. An additional consequence of impaired hoxd4a and meis1.1 expression is the deregulation of multiple Hox genes implicated in vasculogenesis and hematopoiesis which may further contribute to the defects described here. Our results add to evidence implicating key roles for Hox genes in their initial phase of expression early in gastrulation.