He specialized in the fields of Greek and Roman legal history, classical archaeology and Greek epigraphy. He received his education at the University of Göttingen as a student of Hermann Sauppe and Ernst Curtius, followed by studies in Bonn, where his instructors included Friedrich Ritschl and Otto Jahn. In 1865 he obtained his doctorate of philosophy.
Later on, he worked in Italy and Greece (1867-1870), first as an aide to Theodor Mommsen in the development of inscriptions and manuscripts, afterwards as a private secretary to Guido von Usedom, the Prussian ambassador to the Italian government in Florence.
In 1871 he received his habilitation in classical philology, becoming an associate professor during the following year at the University of Greifswald. In 1874 he was named successor to Conrad Bursian at Jena, and in 1875 relocated to Strasbourg as a replacement for Ulrich Köhler.
In 1885, he again replaced Bursian, this time as a professor at the University of Munich. Throughout his lifetime he cultivated relationships with luminaries that included Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, writer Paul Heyse, composer Franz Liszt and painter Franz von Lenbach.