What Is the Primary Source of Ancient Times?

In the study of history, primary sources provide crucial insights into the events and people of ancient times. A primary source is a document, artifact, or other piece of evidence that was created during the time period being studied.

What qualifies as a primary source?
Examples of primary sources from ancient times include inscriptions on tablets or monuments, papyrus scrolls, coins, pottery shards, and other artifacts. Written works such as diaries, letters, and legal documents are also considered primary sources.

Why are primary sources important?
Primary sources provide direct evidence for historians to interpret and analyze. They offer a firsthand account of events and can help to paint a more accurate picture of what life was like in ancient times. Primary sources also allow researchers to examine different perspectives and viewpoints from the people who lived during that time.

Examples of Primary Sources from Ancient Times

  • Inscriptions: Inscriptions on tablets or monuments can provide valuable information about ancient societies. For example, the Code of Hammurabi is an inscription on a stele that provides insight into Babylonian law.
  • Papyrus scrolls: Papyrus scrolls were used for writing in ancient Egypt and Greece. The Dead Sea Scrolls are an example of papyrus scrolls that have provided insight into religious beliefs and practices of ancient Judaism.
  • Coins: Coins can provide information about political systems, trade routes, and economic activity in ancient times.
  • Pottery shards: Pottery shards can provide insight into daily life in ancient societies such as what types of food were consumed or what goods were traded.
  • Written works: Written works such as diaries or legal documents can offer insights into the personal lives and legal practices of people in ancient times.

How to Analyze Primary Sources

When analyzing primary sources, historians use a variety of techniques to interpret the evidence. They may examine the context in which the source was created, compare it to other sources from the same time period, or analyze the language and tone used in the document.


Understanding the context in which a primary source was created is important for interpreting its meaning. For example, an inscription on a monument erected by a victorious king may be biased and promote a particular viewpoint.


Comparing primary sources from the same time period can help to provide a more complete picture of events. For example, comparing accounts of battles from different sides can help to understand how different groups perceived and experienced the same event.

Language and Tone

Analyzing the language and tone used in a primary source can provide insight into the author’s perspective or emotions. For example, diaries or letters written during times of war may reveal feelings of fear or uncertainty.

In conclusion, primary sources are invaluable resources for understanding ancient times. They offer direct evidence that can help researchers paint a more accurate picture of what life was like in these societies. By analyzing primary sources using techniques such as examining context, comparing sources, and analyzing language and tone, historians can gain insight into different perspectives and viewpoints from people who lived during that time period.