Archaeological evidence shows that the consequences of the disintegration of the western Roman empire were dramatic: in particular, a slump in economic sophistication occurred, with the near disappearance of many complex industries and of the use of coin.  But this change does not show up clearly in the written records of the time, nor in much modern scholarship, which has often depicted the period as one of ‘transformation’ rather than collapse.  In my paper I will explore the reasons why collapse dominates neither the narratives of the time, nor the preoccupations of scholarship.