Cesare Lombroso

Cesare Lombroso
Born Ezechia Marco Lombroso
(1835-11-06)6 November 1835
Verona, Lombardy–Venetia
Died 19 October 1909(1909-10-19) (aged 73)
Turin, Kingdom of Italy
Nationality Italian
Known for Italian school of positivist criminology


Cesare Lombroso (Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃeːzare lomˈbroːzo; -oːso]; born Ezechia Marco Lombroso; 6 November 1835 – 19 October 1909), was an Italian criminologist and physician, founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology, often referred to as the father of criminology. Lombroso rejected the established classical school, which held that crime was a characteristic trait of human nature. Instead, using concepts drawn from physiognomy, degeneration theory, 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 (congenital) defects, which confirmed a criminal as savage or atavistic.


Lombroso was born in Verona, Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, on 6 November 1835 to a wealthy Jewish family.[2] His father was Aronne Lombroso, a tradesman from Verona, and his mother was Zeffora (or Zefira) Levi from Chieri near Turin.[3] 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.[4] That year he wrote his most important and influential work, L'uomo delinquente, which went through five editions in Italian and was published in various European languages. However, it was not until 1900 that his work was published in English. Lombroso later became professor of psychiatry (1896) and criminal anthropology (1906) at the same university.[2] He died in Turin in 1909.[5]

Concept of criminal atavism

Face measurements based on Lombroso's criminal anthropology

Lombroso's general theory suggested that criminals are distinguished from noncriminals by multiple physical anomalies. He postulated that criminals represented a reversion to a primitive or subhuman type of person characterized by physical features reminiscent of apes, lower primates, and early humans and to some extent preserved, he said, in modern "savages". The behavior of these biological "throwbacks" will inevitably be contrary to the rules and expectations of modern civilized society.

Through years of postmortem examinations and anthropometric studies of criminals, the insane, and normal individuals, Lombroso became convinced that the "born criminal" (reo nato, a term given by Ferri) could be anatomically identified by such items as a sloping forehead, ears of unusual size, asymmetry of the face, prognathism, excessive length of arms, asymmetry of the cranium, and other "physical stigmata". Specific criminals, such as thieves, rapists, and murderers, could be distinguished by specific characteristics, he believed. Lombroso also maintained that criminals had less sensibility to pain and touch; more acute sight; a lack of moral sense, including an absence of remorse; more vanity, impulsiveness, vindictiveness, and cruelty; and other manifestations, such as a special criminal argot and the excessive use of tattooing.

Besides the "born criminal", Lombroso also described "criminaloids", or occasional criminals, criminals by passion, moral imbeciles, and criminal epileptics. He recognized the diminished role of organic factors in many habitual offenders and referred to the delicate balance between predisposing factors (organic, genetic) and precipitating factors such as one's environment, opportunity, or poverty.

In Criminal Woman, as introduced in an English translation by Nicole Hahn Rafter and Mary Gibson, Lombroso used his theory of atavism to explain women's criminal offending. In the text, Lombroso outlines a comparative analysis of "normal women" opposed to "criminal women" such as "the prostitute."[6] However, Lombroso's "obdurate beliefs" about women presented an "intractable problem" for this theory: "Because he was convinced that women are inferior to men Lombroso was unable to argue, based on his theory of the born criminal, that women’s lesser involvement in crime reflected their comparatively lower levels of atavism."[7]

Lombroso's research methods were clinical and descriptive, with precise details of skull dimension and other measurements. He did not engage in rigorous statistical comparisons of criminals and non-criminals. Although he gave some recognition in his later years to psychological and sociological factors in the etiology of crime, he remained convinced of, and identified with, criminal anthropometry.

Lombroso's theories were disapproved throughout Europe, especially in schools of medicine, but not in the United States, where sociological studies of crime and the criminal predominated. His notions of physical differentiation between criminals and non-criminals were seriously challenged by Charles Goring (The English Convict, 1913), who made elaborate comparisons and found insignificant statistical differences.

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.


Later in his life Lombroso began investigating mediumship. Although originally skeptical, he later became a believer in spiritualism.[8] As an atheist[9] Lombroso discusses his views on the paranormal and spiritualism in his book After Death – What? (1909) which he believed the existence of spirits and claimed the medium Eusapia Palladino was genuine. In the British Medical Journal on November 9, 1895 an article was published titled Exit Eusapia!. The article questioned the scientific legitimacy of the Society for Psychical Research for investigating Palladino a medium who had a reputation of being a fraud and imposter and was surprised that Lombroso had been deceived by Palladino.[10]

The anthropologist Edward Clodd wrote "[Lombroso] swallowed the lot at a gulp, from table raps to materialisation of the departed, spirit photographs and spirit voices; every story, old or new, alike from savage and civilised sources, confirming his will to believe."[11] Lombroso's daughter Gina Ferrero wrote that during the later years of his life Lombroso suffered from arteriosclerosis and his mental and physical health was wrecked. The skeptic Joseph McCabe wrote that because of this it was not surprising that Palladino managed to fool Lombroso into believing spiritualism by her tricks.[12]

Literary impact

Historian Daniel Pick argues that Lombroso serves "as a curious footnote to late-nineteenth-century literary studies," due to his referencing in famous books of the time. Jacques in Émile Zola's The Beast Within is described as having a jaw that juts forward on the bottom. It is emphasized especially at the end of the book when he is overwhelmed by the desire to kill. The anarchist Karl Yundt in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, delivers a speech denouncing Lombroso. The assistant prosecutor in Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection uses Lombroso's theories to accuse Maslova of being a congenital criminal. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, Count Dracula is described as having a physical appearance Lombroso would describe as criminal.[13][14]

Lombroso was used for the name of the institute in Philip Kerr's techno-thriller A Philosophical Investigation.[15]


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

in English translation

Selected articles


See also


  1. "Lombroso, Cesare" in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968).
  2. 1 2 "Cesare Lombroso, A Brief Biography", Brain and Mind (1997).
  3. "Cesare Lombroso, the Inventor of Criminal Anthropology", Museo Criminologico, Italian Ministry of Justice, Department of Penitentiary Administration
  4. "The Cesare Lombroso Museum", Museo Criminologico, Italian Ministry of Justice, Department of Penitentiary Administration
  5. Courtney Kenny, "The Death of Lombroso," Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1910).
  6. Rafter, Nicole Hahn (2004). Criminal Woman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  7. Gartner, Rosemary (September–October 2004). "Book Review". Canadian Journal of Sociology Online. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  8. Cristina Mazzoni. (1996). Saint hysteria: neurosis, mysticism, and gender in European culture. Cornell University Press. p. 34
  9. Andrea Rondini. (2001). Cosa da pazzi: Cesare Lombroso e la letteratura. Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali. p. 33
  10. The British Medical Journal. (Nov. 9, 1895). Exit Eusapia!. Volume. 2, No. 1819. p. 1182.
  11. Edward Clodd. (1917). The Question: A Brief History and Examination of Modern Spiritualism. Grant Richards, London. p. 236
  12. Joseph McCabe. (1920). Scientific Men and Spiritualism: A Skeptic's Analysis. The Living Age. June 12. pp. 652-657.
  13. Pick, Daniel (1993). Faces of degeneration : a Europeam disorder, c. 1848-c. 1918 (1st pbk. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN 978-0521457538.
  14. Gould, Stephen Jay (2008). The mismeasure of man (Rev. and expanded, with a new introduction. ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 122–3. ISBN 0393314251.
  15. Philip Kerr, A Philosophical Investigation, Chatto & Windus, 1992.
  16. Michael Schwab, "A Convicted Anarchist's Reply to Professor Lombroso," The Monist, Vol. I, 1890.


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