No. 180 – The Day the Earth Burned

Prog 34’s (1977) The Day the Earth Burned! one-off[1] cover by Trevor Goring[2]Look and Learn No. 104’s (Fleetway, 1964) When Rome Burned cover, probably illustrated by James E. McConnell (1903–1995)

Bust of Nero (Capitolini Museum)

Rome burned on several occasions but the instance mentioned by Look and Learn refers to the Great Fire of Rome, an urban conflagration ignited on 18th or 19th July in 64 AD that raged for days. The popular legend that Emperor Nero [Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus] (37–68 AD), the last Roman emperor (54–68 AD) of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, sang The Sack of Ilium[3] – or played the fiddle or some such instrument – while Rome burned, is probably anti-Julio-Claudian propaganda put about by the members of the rival Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire between 69–96 AD, directly following his death.

Nero was in fact in Antium (modern Anzio, in the Lazio region of Italy) at the time of the fire’s outbreak, and returned to Rome post-haste on hearing the news to organise relief efforts – paid for out of his own pocket – personally taking part, without even his bodyguards, in the days-long search for and rescue of victims. After the blaze subsided, Nero opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for the delivery of food supplies for the survivors.

This is not to suggest that Nero was by any stretch a good emperor – he was clearly as mad as a box of badgers, and easily manipulated by sycophantic and self-serving advisors – but perhaps not simply the depraved monster popularly represented, and not nearly as utterly bonkers as Caligula, who features in HoH here.

The tagline of the 2000 AD one-off [or “supercover”] probably references The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox, 1951).


  1. Sometimes referred to as a “supercover,” this is a cover that bears no relation to any story within the prog (other than a brief explanatory text), nor is it a character ensemble
  2. Trevor Goring has also paid homage on a 2000 AD cover in HoH No. 15
  3. Troy, originally located on the west coast of what is now Turkey

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