We obtained an 11 subunit model of RNA polymerase (Pol) III by combining a homology model of the nine subunit core enzyme with a new X-ray structure of the subcomplex C17/25. Compared to Pol II, Pol III shows a conserved active center for RNA synthesis but a structurally different upstream face for specific initiation complex assembly during promoter selection. The Pol III upstream face includes a HRDC domain in subunit C17 that is translated by 35 A and rotated by 150 degrees compared to its Pol II counterpart. The HRDC domain is essential in vivo, folds independently in vitro, and, unlike other HRDC domains, shows no indication of nucleic acid binding. Thus, the HRDC domain is a functional module that could account for the role of C17 in Pol III promoter-specific initiation. During elongation, C17/25 may bind Pol III transcripts emerging from the adjacent exit pore, because the subcomplex binds to tRNA in vitro.