Greece & Rome in Washington, DC: Classical Influences on Our Founding Fathers


Greece and Rome in Washington, DC: Classical Influences on Our Founding Fathers
Elise A. Friedland, Associate Professor of Classics and Art History, George Washington University
Washington, DC; July 8 - 13, 2018

Our nation’s capital is revered for many reasons, but chief among them are its urban design, public architecture, and civic sculpture—all of which are inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. Those who visit, work, and/or live in Washington, DC inhabit an urban landscape that echoes—to some degree and in a way that no other American city does—the streets and public squares of the ancient world, where ancient Greeks and Romans once conducted business, prayed to their gods, interacted with fellow citizens and others, and played out the politics of their day.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century Americans lived in a classical world, and there is a large body of scholarship on classica Americana, how Greek and Roman culture influenced and was adopted and adapted by the Founding Fathers of the United States in nearly every area: government, law, higher education, art, and architecture. This five-day study course will survey Greek and Roman influence on the Founding Fathers and early America from the late 1700s through the early twentieth century, especially in art and architecture of DC. The course textbook will provide an intellectual history of early America that will serve as the backdrop for the major focus of the class, the buildings, sculptures, and other works of art in DC that adopt and adapt Greek or Roman monuments as well as the ancient monuments on which they were based. By studying the original Greek and Roman monuments through selected readings that highlight how they functioned in antiquity as well as how and why these Classical sources were selected and transformed for the young American capital city, course participants will become familiar with the ancient and early American symbols that permeate DC and gain a new appreciation for the role of the ancient world in our nation’s cultural, social, political, and educational history.

Tour Schedule:

NB: Monuments listed are subject to change based on closings and other factors outside our control. Every attempt will be made to see that we visit as many of the sites listed as possible.

Day 1

  • Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection, George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum (
  • Capitol Building, including architectural highlights, Statue of Freedom, Pedimental sculpture, Apotheosis of George Washington in Rotunda dome, and Brumidi Corridors

Day 2

  • Horatio Greenough’s statue of George Washington (now in American History Museum)
  • Greek Revival buildings (Treasury Building, Old Patent Office, Old City Post Office, Frieze on Old Pension Building, now National Building Museum)
  • Equestrian Statue of Andrew Jackson

Day 3

  • Washington Monument
  • Union Station

Day 4

  • House of the Temple, Natl. Hdqrts. of the Supreme Council
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria, VA

Day 5

  • National Archives
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Jefferson Memorial

Other information of interest:

1) Participants will want to have an iPad, tablet, or other hand-held device on which they can view PDF versions of PPTs as we tour on site. These PPTs will be constructed to accompany each monument and provide comparative material from the Greek and Roman worlds necessary to understand early American adoptions and adaptations.

2) Accommodations will likely be dormitory-style in GW housing at the university’s Foggy Bottom Campus with shared rooms and restrooms.

3) Transportation (included in course cost) will be largely on public transport, mostly Metrorail (full details will be provided at the start of the course). In addition to utilizing Metrorail and public buses (mostly the DC Circulator), we will walk between some of the monuments, but not further than about 1 mile at any one time.

4) Three dinners (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday) will be pre-arranged and are included in the course cost; the other three dinners, breakfast, and lunch are not included, though participants will be situated near extremely affordable options for these!

Please contact the tour leader with any questions at