Cesare Lombroso

Cesare Lombroso

[lom-broh-soh; It. lawm-braw-saw]
Lombroso, Cesare, 1835-1909, Italian criminologist and physician. In 1876 he published a pamphlet setting forth his theory of the origin of criminal traits. In the study, later enlarged into the famous L'uomo delinquente (5th ed., 3 vol., 1896-97; partial tr. as Criminal Man, 1911), he compared anthropological measurements and developed the concept of the atavistic, or born, criminal. In his later works, less importance was given to that concept. Although the scientific validity of the concept has been questioned by other criminologists, Lombroso is still credited with turning attention from the legalistic study of crime to the scientific study of the criminal. Lombroso advocated humane treatment of criminals and limitations on the use of the death penalty.

See biography by H. G. Kurella (tr. 1911).

Cesare Lombroso, born Ezechia Marco Lombroso (November 6, 1835October 19, 1909) was a Jewish-Italian criminologist and founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology. Lombroso rejected the established Classical School, which held that crime was a characteristic trait of human nature. Instead, using concepts drawn from physiognomy, early eugenics, psychiatry and Social Darwinism, Lombroso's theory of anthropological criminology essentially stated that criminality was inherited, and that someone "born criminal"' could be identified by physical defects, which confirmed a criminal as savage, or atavistic.


Lombroso was born in Verona November 6, 1835 to a wealthy Jewish family. He studied literature, linguistics, and archæology at the universities of Padua, Vienna, and Paris, but changed his plans and became an army surgeon in 1859. In 1866 he was appointed visiting lecturer at Pavia, and later took charge of the insane asylum at Pesaro in 1871. He became professor of forensic medicine and hygiene at Turin in 1878, where he was later professor of psychiatry (1896) and criminal anthropology (1906). He died in Turin in 1909.


Lombroso popularized the notion of the born criminal through biological determinism, claiming that criminals have particular physiognomic attributes or deformities. Physiognomy attempts to estimate character and personality traits from physical features of the face or the body. Whereas most individuals evolve, the violent criminal had devolved, and therefore criminals were societal, or evolutionary regressions. If criminality was inherited, then the born criminal could be distinguished by physical atavistic stigmata, such as:

  • large jaws, forward projection of jaw, low sloping foreheads
  • high cheekbones, flattened or upturned nose
  • handle-shaped ears
  • large chins, very prominent in appearance
  • hawk-like noses or fleshy lips
  • hard shifty eyes, scanty beard or baldness
  • insensitivity to pain, long arms .

He attempted to construct a purported scientific methodology in order to predict criminal behavior and isolate individuals capable of the most violent types of criminal activity. Lombroso advocated the study of individuals using measurements and statistical methods in compiling anthropological, social, and economic data . Along with the natural origin of the crime and its social consequences, various remedies can then be provided to the criminal, which would offer the greatest effects.

With successive research, he modified his theories with more thorough statistical analysis .Lombroso continued to define additional atavistic stigmata, as well as the degeneracy of effectiveness in the treatment of born criminals. He was an advocate for humane treatment of criminals by arguing for rehabilitation and against capital punishment.

Lombroso's work, however, was hampered by his Social Darwinist assumptions, and especially by his pre-genetic conception of evolution as "progress" from "lower life forms" to "higher life forms," and his assumption that the more "advanced" human traits would dispose their owners to living peacefully within a hierarchical, urbanized society far different from the conditions under which human beings evolved. In attempting to predict criminality by the shapes of the skulls and other physical features of criminals, he had in effect created a new pseudoscience of forensic phrenology and craniometry. While Lombroso was a pioneer of scientific criminology, and his work was one of the bases of the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century, his work is no longer considered one of the foundations of contemporary criminology.

Lombroso's criminology supported degeneration social theory, whereby it was believed the human species may negatively evolve into a criminal class. Lombroso claimed that the modern criminal was the savage throwback of "degeneration. Lombroso concluded that skull and facial features were clues to genetic criminality. These features could be measured with craniometers and calipers, and the measurements analyzed by quantitative research. Lombroso assumed that whites were superior to non-whites by heredity, and that Africans were the first human beings that evolved upwards and positively to yellow then white. Racial development was signified by social progress from primitive to modern, "only we white people have reached the ultimate symmetry of bodily form" Lombroso stated in 1871

Lombroso's studies of female criminality began with measurements of females' skulls and photographs in his search for "atavism". He found that female criminals were rare and showed few signs of "degeneration" because they had “evolved less than men due to the inactive nature of their lives”. He asserted that women were lower on the evolutionary scale, more childlike, and less intelligent. Lombroso argued it was the females' natural passivity that withheld them from breaking the law, as they lacked the intelligence and initiative to become criminal. Further, women who commit crimes had different physical characteristics, such as excessive body hair, wrinkles, and an abnormal cranium

Lombroso published in 1902 "The Last Brigand" in the magazine La Nuova Antologia, which had as main subject the recently arrested Calabrian outlaw, Giuseppe Musolino. He concluded that Mussolino was halfway between a "born criminal" and a "criminaloid," and made of him the archetype of an Italian "Southern type race," opposed to a "Northern race"

Psychiatric art

Lombroso published The Man of Genius in 1889, a book which argued that artistic genius was a form of hereditary insanity. In order to support this assertion, he began assembling a large collection of "psychiatric art". He published an article on the subject in 1880 in which he isolated thirteen typical features of the "art of the insane." Although his criteria are generally regarded as outdated today, his work inspired later writers on the subject, particularly Hans Prinzhorn.

See also


Further reading

  • Gould, Stephen J. (rev. ed. 1996) The Mismeasure of Man. W. W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-31425-1
  • Lombroso, Cesare (1876) L'Uomo Delinquente. Milan: Hoepli.
  • ____ (1895) L'Homme Criminel. Felix: Alcan. (two volumes).
  • ____ With Gina Lombroso-Ferrero (1911) Criminal Man, According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso. New York: Putnam; (1972) Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith.
  • _____ (1980) The Female Offender. Littleton, Colorado: Fred Rothman, (1980).


  • Ricerche sul cretinismo in Lombardia, (1859)
  • Genio e follia, (1864)
  • Studi clinici sulle mallatie mentali (1865)
  • Sulla microcefala e sul cretinismo con applicazione alla medicina legale (1873)
  • L'uomo delinquente, (1876)
  • L'amore nel suicidio e nel delitto, (1881)
  • L'uomo di genio in rapporto alla psichiatria, (1889, English translation, Man of Genius, London, 1891)
  • Sulla medicina legale del cadavere, (second edition, 1890)
  • Palimsesti del carcere, (1891)
  • Trattato della pellagra, (1892)
  • Le più recenti scoperte ed applicazioni della psichiatria ed antropologia criminale, (1894)
  • L'antisemitismo e le scienze moderne, (1894)
  • Genio e degenerazione, (1897)
  • Les Coquêtes récentes de la psychiatrie, (1898)
  • Le crime; causes et remédes, (1899, English translation, Crime, its Causes and Remedies, Boston, 1911)
  • Lezioni de medicina legale, (1900)
  • Delitti vecchi e delitti nuovi, (1902)
  • After Death-What? (English Translation, Boston, 1909)
  • Hans Kurella, Cesare Lombroso, a Modern Man of Science, translated from German by M. E. Paul, (London, 1911)

A collection of papers on Lombroso was published under the title L'opera di Cesare Lombroso nella scienza e nelle sue applicazioni, (Turin, 1906).

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