The basal apparatus for transcription initiation in Archaea is more closely related to the eukaryal than to the bacterial counterpart. The understanding of archaeal transcription initiation has been deepened by recent advances, which include genome sequencing, biochemical approaches and the structure determination of a protein DNA complex. Archaeal promoter elements, transcription factors, RNA polymerase and their interactions are discussed and compared with the eukaryal situation. It is emerging that transcription initiation is not uniform in Archaea. A minimal set of promoter elements and transcription factors is conserved, but the relative importance for transcription initiation can vary. Furthermore, additional basal transcription factors and promoter elements seem to be crucial in subgroups of Archaea. Finally, some aspects of global as well as gene-specific transcriptional regulation are discussed.