Skip to Main Content

Primary Sources: Ancient History (pre-history to 5th century)

What are primary sources?


A primary source is a document or a physical object that was written or created during the time under study by witnesses who experienced the event or condition first-hand.

Primary sources are the raw materials of history and include items such as diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, official records, autobiographies. Primary sources can also include creative works (poetry, drama, novels, art) or relics and artifacts (pottery, clothing, buildings, furniture).



Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources and are one or more steps removed from the event that is being reported. Examples include journal articles, which interpret or review previous findings; textbooks, criticisms; encyclopedias; commentaries.



Montana State University Billings. (n.d.). History - HSTR 365: History of the Ancient Near East: Primary Sources.,footage%2C%20official%20records%2C%20autobiographies.

Books from the Library: Ancient History

Search the Peninsula Library System Catalog to find primary sources published in books.

First, use the Advanced Key Word search feature.

Next, using the pull down arrow, select SUBJECT. Then enter one of these recommended subject headings. 

  • sources
  • personal narratives
  • diaries
  • correspondence
  • autobiography


After selecting a subject, select your TOPIC OF INTEREST.  Examples include:

  • Greece
  • Rome
  • Egypt
  • China
  • India
  • Architecture

These are examples of some of library books that include primary sources.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress offers a large collection of Digital Collections including many primary source materials.  

Once on the page, navigate using the options on the left side of the page.  For example if you are looking for something about  Arabic, Persian,  or Ottoman history, you can click through the following descriptors:

  • Religion and Philosophy
  • World Cultures and History
  • African and Middle Eastern Division
  • Manuscript / Mixed Material

Or, you can search for:

  • Arabic
  • Persian
  • Ottoman
  • Or any combination of them

You may not be able to find everything here but it a good place to start.

Montana State University Billings

Montana State University has a great research guide on primary sources from the Ancient Near East.  Areas of interest are Greece, Mesopotamia, Israel, etc.

Click this link to be directed to their site.


Some examples include:

Internet History Sourcebook: Ancient History

Internet History Sourcebook: Ancient History  Currated by Forham University, A collection of primary sources from Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and more. Search by keyword or browse by subject.  Make sure to look at the list of common subjects on the left before doing a search.

Avalon Project

University of Houston Clear Lake

The University of Houston Clear Lake has compiled a large and comprehensive list of websites to find primary sources.  When looking at the list make sure to check the left column where the list of broken down by geography (e.g. Middle East, Europe, East Asia, etc.).

Want more help?

Librarians can help you find information for your research from many different sources.

Visit the library in person, get help on the phone, or email a librarian.

In Person
We are located on the Cañada College campus at 4200 Farm Hill Boulevard in Redwood City.

You can find us on the top floor of Building 9, above the Learning Center.

  • By Phone
    Reference: (650) 306-3480
  • Via Email

You can also schedule an APPOINTMENT to meet with a librarian one-on-one.


Profile & Guides

Hours (Fall and Spring)
Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Friday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.