Ideas do not develop in a vacuum, they are stimulated by debate. The European Science Foundation programme on the ‘Transformation of the Roman world’, in which I participated, was a magnificent opportunity for the rekindling of this debate. The project entailed the creation of different study groups around such topics as economy, rituals and power, and culture. As a consequence, the realization dawned that the organizational separation into these social spheres generated just as many new perspectives as it hid from view. Once the separate spheres had been scrutinized, our perception of the relationship between rituals, economy and culture remained a key objective of research. It is most fortunate that Richard Hodges and John Moreland, representatives of the ‘production, distribution and demand group’, have now joined the debate because their contributions lead to further refinements, thus bringing us closer to the ‘essence of the early Middle Ages’.