Jan Gruter was Dutch on his father's side and English on his mother's, and was born at Antwerp. To avoid religious persecution his parents came to England while he was a child, and for some years he studied at Cambridge, after which he went to Leiden, where he graduated with an M.A..
In 1586, Gruter was appointed professor of history at the University of Wittenberg, but, as he refused to subscribe the formula concordiae, he lost his position. From 1589 to 1592, he taught at Rostock, after which he went to Heidelberg, where in 1602 he was appointed librarian to the university.
Gruter's chief works were his Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis Romani (2 vols., Heidelberg, 1603), and Lampas, sive fax artium liberalium (7 vols., Frankfort, 1602-1634).