Born in Hamburg, Felix Dahn (1834-1912), son of the actor Friedrich Dahn (1810-1889), studied, mainly in Munich, law and philosophy from 1850 to 1854. From October 1851 to August 1853, he stayed in Berlin, where he joined the literary society "Tunnel über der Spree" (Tunnel over the Spree River), of which Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) and Paul Heyse (1830-1914) were also members. He also became friends with the actress and writer Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer (1800-1868), whose daughter Wilhelmine von Hillern (1836-1916), the author of the "Geier-Wally", he entertained a lasting friendship.
In 1857, he gained his "habilitation" at the university of Munich for German law and became a founding member of the "Krokodile" (Crocodiles) (association nickname: "Gnu"). Dahn held alternating professorships in Munich (1862), Würzburg (1863), Königsberg (1872) and Breslau (1888). He was a corresponding member of the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Bavarian Academy of Sciences, 1869) and member of the Scholars' Committee of the Germanisches Museums in Nürnberg (Germanic Museum in Nuremberg, 1872). In 1858, Dahn married the painter Sophie Fries (1835-1898); with his second wife Therese von Droste-Hülshoff (1845-1929), a second degree niece of the poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797-1848), he co-authored e.g. "Walhall. Germanische Götter- und Heldensagen" (1880).
His major scientific work, "Die Könige der Germanen" (12 vols, 1861-1909), which evaluates original sources from the völkerwanderung period, is still a fundamental work on German legal history today. Dahn's pioneering work on the early Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea (c.500-562) should also be mentioned. With his enthusiasm for Germanic myths, Dahn was in keeping with the trends of the Gründerzeit: the foundation of the Deutsches Reich in 1871 created the need for a historically motivated collective identity.
His literary work encompasses a wide variety of genres. Dahn not only wrote historical novels, but also ballads and dramas; he dedicated an opera libretto to Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Five volumes of autobiographical "Erinnerungen" (1890/95) cover the years from his childhood in Munich up to the end of his time in Königsberg in 1888. Dahn made an explicit distinction between real history and literary implementation, which is why the label "Professorenroman" (professor's novel) only applies to him to a limited extent. His novel "Ein Kampf um Rom", published in 1876, from the series of völkerwanderung novels (13 vols, 1882-1901) achieved the greatest public success (approx. 120 editions).