He studied classical philology at the University of Leipzig under Otto Ribbeck (1827–1898), later relocating to the University of Bonn (1887), where he had as instructors, Hermann Usener (1834–1905) and Franz Bücheler (1837–1908). Afterwards he studied in Berlin with Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903), earning his habilitation in 1893 at the University of Strasbourg with a treatise on the philosopher Xenocrates.
In 1900 he became an associate professor in Berlin, and in 1903 became a full professor at the University of Königsberg. From 1906 until his death in 1929 he was a professor at the University of Leipzig. In 1923 he succeeded Georg Wissowa (1859–1931) as editor of the magazine 'Hermes".
Richard Heinze is remembered for his expert analysis of ancient authors such as Ovid, Lucretius and Virgil. His best known written work was the 1903 Virgils Epische Technik (Virgil's Epic Technique), which was later translated into English.
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