Europe has not witnessed anything like this since 1346, when there was a similar influx, welcomed by the good and the great, up and down the land. That time, rather than grateful Syrian migrants, it had been Oriental rat fleas, carried on the back of the common black rat.
Initially there had been great reluctance to allow the influx, but following an incident in which a cat attacked a baby rat, which then jumped in a cesspool and drowned, the public’s mood changed.
A passing monk saw the incident and managed to capture it on parchment with his quill. This was then copied and re-copied in monasteries across the continent, evoking an outpouring of sympathy for the little rodent and the fleas that it was presumably carrying.
The Grand Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Empire had no choice but to command all the cats in the Empire to stop killing vermin, and to decree free and open passage for all rats and fleas across the lands of the Empire.
As the rats spread out in every direction, the Grand Chamberlain, through his overworked town criers, described the influx as “breathtaking” and “epoch-making,” and proclaimed that the incomers would greatly change the face of Europe in new and exciting ways.
In the small village of Vienna, simple-minded peasants, accompanied by the village idiot and a deputation from a nearby leper colony, stood alongside the village’s open sewer and cheered and clapped (or stumped in the case of the lepers) as the first rats bearing the exotic fleas began to arrive. They had prepared signs of welcome, which were unfortunately blank, since 99% of the population of the world was illiterate at the time.
Small snacks of breadcrumbs and tiny thimbles of ale had also been provided (with a cheese platter laid out for the rodents), but, alas, the Oriental fleas had little interest in such offerings. Instead they leaped upon their hosts and drank their blood, leaving them hours later as a heap of blackened and swollen flesh.
The King of France was next to comment, saying that Europe felt a “moral duty” to accept as many rats and fleas as chose to come from the Orient. Speaking to a gathering of itchy nuns, he emphasized that the influx was a positive development, and threatened to behead any who “touched yourselves privily in order to alleviate the discomforts of the skin.”
“Indeed, with our falling population, due to a strange mystery illness that has recently broken out across the land, we have a need for these new and talented incomers to make up the deficiency in our numbers,” he added, before running out and throwing up blood.
By the time the influx reached England, the euphoric mood of welcome had abated somewhat. A mob of peasants revolted and petitioned the king, saying, “We have nothing against the rats and fleas – in fact some of our best friends are rats and fleas – but could you at least burn a witch or something, guv’nor?”
The King responded by sending out an army of scribes to write glowing testimonials to the rats and fleas, embellished with highly decorative lettering. He commanded these to be read out at every mass grave and open pit, heaped up with blackened and swollen corpses, as “a corrective to the primitive superstitions of the populace in not attributing the evils of the present age to the deeds of necromancers and invisible demons.”