After his parents had moved to Leipzig, he went to St. Thomas School and 1847 to the University of Leipzig. He studied with Moriz Haupt and Otto Jahn until 1851, spent six months in Berlin, especially to Philip Augustus Boeckh heard, and completed his university education in Leipzig in 1852. He spent the next years traveling to Belgium, France, Italy and Greece. In 1856 he was a lecturer and associate professor in 1858 in Leipzig. In 1861 he became professor of philosophy and archeology at the University of Tübingen, 1864 Professor of Classical Antiquities at the University of Zurich. In 1869 he went to the University of Jena, where he was also director of the Archaeological Museum, and 1874 at the University of Munich, where he remained until his death.
His pupil Carl Bezold married in 1888 Bursians daughter Adele.
His most important works are:
- As editor: Julius Firmicus Maternus: De Errore Profanarum Religionum. Accedunt capita quaedam libri X recognitionum Pseudoclementinarum. Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig 1856 digitized.
- As editor Marcus Lucius Annaeus Seneca: Oratorum et Rhetorum Sententiae, Divisiones, Colores. Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig 1857 digitized.
- Geography of Greece. 2 vols. Teubner, Leipzig, 1862-1872; Volume 1: The northern Greece. 1862;
- Volume 2: Peloponnese and Islands. 1868-1872, digitized.
The article on Greek art in Johann Samuel Ersch, Johann Gottfried Gruber: General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts is from him. The plant probably most associated with his name is probably the annual report on the progress of classical antiquity. (1873 ff, ZDB - ID 3921-4 ), whose founder and editor he was. From 1879 through supplements a bio, Yearbook of Archaeology ( obituaries ). ( ZDB - ID 3923-8 ) released the band from 1884 contains his obituary as well as a complete list of his writings.