Bury, John Bagnell (1861–1927), classicist and historian, was born 16 October 1861 in Co. Monaghan, eldest of three (possibly four) sons and one daughter of Rev. Edward John Bury and Anna Bury (née Rogers). He was educated at Foyle College, Derry, and TCD (1878; BA with gold medal 1882), where he won many prizes. Elected FTCD (1885–1903), he was appointed professor of modern history (1893–1902), combining that post with the regius professorship of Greek (1898–1902). As an undergraduate, he edited with J. P. Mahaffy (qv) Euripides' ‘Hippolytus’ (1881); he contributed Latin and Greek verse translations to the journal Kottabos (which he edited 1888–91), and published Pindar's Nemean odes (1890), and Isthmian odes (1892), his most notable contributions to classical scholarship.
He gained an international reputation as an historian and became a leading writer on antiquity and the early middle ages with his pioneering A history of the later Roman empire . . . (A.D. 395 to A.D. 800) (1889), followed by A history of the Roman empire (1893), and A history of Greece (1900), which all became standard works. He edited E. A. Freeman's History of federal government in Greece and Italy (2nd ed. 1893), and later his Historical geography of Europe (3rd ed. 1903). From 1896 to 1900 he published a masterly edition of Edward Gibbon's The history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire with invaluable notes and appendices. In an unprecedented act for a TCD fellow, he resigned his professorships and fellowship on his appointment as regius professor of modern history at Cambridge (1902) and fellow of King's College, Cambridge (1903). In his inaugural lecture (1903), he argued that ‘history was a science, no less and no more’ with a purpose and method of its own and that it should embrace all manifestations of human activity. In 1905 he published The life of St. Patrick, and his place in history. He delivered the Lane lectures at Harvard in 1908, published as The ancient Greek historians (1909); the Creighton memorial lecture in 1909, The constitution of the later Roman empire (published 1910); and the Romanes lecture Romances of chivalry on Greek soil (1911). Despite continuous ill-health from 1910, he published A history of the Eastern empire (A.D. 802–867) (1912), and History of the later Roman empire . . . (A.D. 395 to A.D. 565) (1923). A rationalist, he affirmed the principle of the continuity of the past; in the field of intellectual history, he wrote A history of freedom of thought (1913), and The idea of progress (1920), arguing that freedom of thought and expression constitutes the supreme condition of progress. He planned The Cambridge medieval history (1911), and was senior editor and contributor to The Cambridge ancient history (1923). The first president of the Cambridge Historical Society, he was a contributor to, and a member (1923–6) of the editorial committee of, the Cambridge Historical Journal. In order to study original sources, he travelled widely and developed a working knowledge of most European languages, including Hungarian, Russian, and Rumanian. He was awarded hon. Litt.D. from Oxford, Durham, and Dublin, and hon. LLD from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen universities, and was elected hon. fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and fellow of the British Academy. He was a corresponding member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, Petrograd, the Hungarian Academy of Science, the Rumanian Academy, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Russian Archeological Institute at Constantinople. N. H. Baynes's bibliography of his works contains 369 items. Bury died in Rome 1 June 1927 and was buried in the so-called ‘Protestant cemetery’ by the pyramid of Cestius under the Aurelian wall. He married (1885) his second cousin Jane Bury, who assisted him in his work, notably with her chapter on Byzantine art in the History of the later Roman empire (1889); they had one son.