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ERC Advanced Grant for Frans Theuws

Prof. dr. Frans Theuws has received an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The 2,5 million euro grant will be used in a 5-year Archaeological study into the economic recovery of Western Europe after the demise of the Roman empire.

The end of times?

How did Western Europe recover from the crisis following the fall of the Roman empire? There is a lot of controversy surrounding our understanding of the transition from the Roman era to the Middle Ages. In the 5th century nobody would have been able to predict that the northern periphery of the Roman empire would become the centre of the new “Roman  empire” of Charlemagne. Most scholars emphasise the role of the elite in this transition. They are the ones that got the economy going again with their exuberant consumption and need for goods.

Elite, elite nothing but elite: right?

The elite is what emerges from written sources of the time, but prof. dr. Frans Theuws thinks the role of the elite in the economic recovery of Western Europe is overestimated. He bases this controversial viewpoint on the unexpected riches he encountered when excavating farmer communities from this era. Since the 19th century many thousands of burial sites from this interbellum haven been unearthed yielding many magnificent and often exotic objects that had been deposited during burial rituals. The project’s title: “Rural Riches” was chosen to emphasise this. The need for goods from the farming community must have been a force to recon with.

Rural riches

In this project prof. dr. Frans Theuws will first map the riches of farmer communities, after which an image will emerge how these farmer communities were entwined with networks exchanging goods between the Indian Ocean and the North Sea. This exchange will be studied by determining the composition and origin of these objects using scientific methods. The mobility of communities will be studied using isotopes and ancient DNA in human remains. Importantly, this research will investigate the relation between changing ideologies, new ritual repertoire and economic growth as the needs for goods emerged from the changes in the rites of passage in these farming communities. In any case the old idea that subsistence farmer communities are unable to forge economic growth is up for revision according to Theuws.

Towards a new model

The goal is to develop a new vision on the recovery of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, and to conceptualise a ritual-economy model for economic growth with emphasis on the role of farming communities in an economy developing bottom-up.


This research should bring a new impulse to this controversial international debate and anchor archaeological data in developing models. Last but not least the PhDs educated in this project will guarantee the continuity of this type of research.