A mathematical model of blood flow through the circle of Willis was developed, within a linear framework. Comprehensive analytical solutions, including a remarkably small number of parameters, were derived in the cases of obstructive lesions of extracranial carotid arteries. The influence of these lesions and the role of anterior and posterior communicating arteries on the blood pressure at the entry of the cerebral territories were quantified and analyzed emphasizing that the responses of the system of Willis to obstructive carotid lesions are extremely varied, depending on the communicating artery anatomy. Comparison with numerical results obtained by using a non-linear model showed no physiologically significant differences. Such a model might be an essential tool for an accurate assessment of the cerebral hemodynamics in carotid diseases.