Seen from a perspective of economic and institutional history, it was the Arab Near East that was the true inheritor of Rome – from the survival of a strong state based on taxation and coinage, to the persistence of a complex economy able to support both local pottery industries and spectacular new buildings.  By contrast, in the Germanic West most of the Roman infrastructure disappeared, or became severely attenuated.  But it was in the West that continuity from Rome was asserted.  This paper explores this paradox, showing that, while material continuities and dislocations are of extreme importance, there are also worlds of the mind capable of following independent trajectories.