Lombroso, Cesare

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Lombroso, Cesare



Born of Jewish parents in Verona, Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), the Italian criminologist, was educated by the Jesuits; he received a degree in medicine from the University of Pavia in 1858 and a degree in surgery from the University of Genoa in 1859. At various times he was an army physician and in charge of the insane at several hospitals, but his major positions, all at the University of Turin, were those of professor of legal medicine and public hygiene, 1876; professor of psychiatry and clinical psychiatry, 1896; and professor of criminal anthropology, 1906. Although he wrote extensively about such diverse subjects as pellagra, the nervous system, and genius, he came into prominence with his major work,L’uomo delinquents, first published in 1876. The book went through five editions in Italy and was translated into various European languages, although never into English.

Lombroso was influenced by French positivism, German materialism, and English evolutionism. In particular, he was influenced by Auguste Comte; Charles Darwin; Bénédict Morel, the French alienist who developed a theory of degeneracy; Bartolomeo Panizza, the Pavian comparative anatomist; Carl Rokitanski, the Viennese pathologist; and Enrico Ferri, his principal younger colleague, who suggested to him the term “the born criminal.”

Although Lombroso was aware of the importance of social and psychological factors in the causation of crime, his primary emphasis was on the concept of the atavistic criminal. He believed the atavistic criminal to be a biological throwback to an earlier stage of evolution, since inborn delinquency was not natural to contemporary mankind but peculiar to primitive races. The atavistic criminal could be identified by various anatomical, physiological, and psychic stigmata, different kinds of inborn delinquency being identifiable by different patterns of stigmata.

Lombroso later modified his ideas about criminal typology. Because in the first edition of L’uomo delinquente he had focused his attention so exclusively on such anatomical and anthropometric data as skull measurements and facial asymmetries, he had been led to an excessive emphasis on one type of criminal and one theory of criminal causation, atavistic criminality. In later editions he expanded his investigations and consequently his theory, adding degeneracy as a cause of criminality and considering atavism to be a form of degeneracy. Although his theoretical linking of atavism and degeneracy was challenged by biologists, it did widen his original narrow concept of the born criminal, which had been the primary point of attack of his critics. Lombroso’s investigations also revealed that the born criminal had pathological symptoms in common with the moral imbecile and the epileptic, and this led him to expand his typology to include the insane criminal and the epileptic criminal. The insane criminal type includes the alcoholic, the mattoid, and the hysterical criminal. Further additions to the typology include the criminaloid—a criminal qualitatively similar to the born criminal but differing quantitatively from him —who had become a criminal more from precipitating external factors than from predisposing internal ones; the pseudocriminal; the habitual criminal; and the person who commits a crime of passion.

Although Lombroso did not believe that all criminal behavior is of organic origin, there is no doubt that he never completely relinquished his belief in the existence of the born criminal type. However, in the fifth and last edition of L’uomo delinquente in 1896–1897 reduced his estimate of the proportion of this type to 40 per cent of the total criminal population, and in his introduction to his daughter Gina’s summary of his work,Criminal Man (1911), he reduced it still further. In response to suggestions by friends and attacks by critics he also came to give more attention to factors in the physical and social environment of the offender. For example, in Crime: Its Causes and Remedies (1899) he not only revised the estimate of the born criminal to 33 percent of the criminal population but also discussed social circumstances which might be partially responsible for encouraging a variety of transmissible biological anomalies that in turn would function within and affect the social structure.

Lombroso was not entirely opposed to the death penalty but believed it should be used only as a last resort. He favored attempts to readjust the criminal and suggested a doctrine of symbiosis of crime, whereby society would make use of the labor arid aptitudes of offenders. Included in this doctrine is the idea of the compensation of the victims of crime from the proceeds of work done by prisoners.

Lombroso’s work influenced criminologica] thinking principally by redirecting emphasis from a legalistic concern for crime to a scientific study of the criminal. His approach is most evident in the clinical criminology of Benigno Di Tullio and his associates in Italy.

Marvin E. Wolfgang

[see alsoCriminology; Delinquency, article onPsychological Aspects; Penology; Psychology, article onConstitutional Psychology; andPsychopathicPersonality.]


(1876) 1896–1897 L’uomo delinquente in rapporto all’-antropologia, alia giurisprudenza ed alle discipline carcerarie. 5th ed., 3 vols. Turin (Italy): Bocca.

(1893) 1927 LOMBROSO, CESARE; and FERRERO, GUGLIELMO La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donnanormale. 5th ed. Turin (Italy): Bocca. → Partly translated as The Female Offender and published in 1958 by Philosophical Library.

(1897) 1907 Genio e degenerazione: Nuovi studie nuove battaglie. Palermo (Italy): Sandron.

(1899) 1911 Crime: Its Causes and Remedies. Boston: Little. → First published in Italian. A bibliography of the writings of Lombroso on criminal anthropology appears on pages 453-464.


Di Tullio, Benigno 1959 Cesare Lombroso e la politica criminale moderna.La scuola positiva Series 4th 1:495–508.

Kurella, Hans G. (1910) 1911 Cesare Lombroso: A Modern Man of Science. London: Rebman. → First published in German.

Lombroso-Ferrero, Gina 1911 Criminal Man According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso. New York and London: Putnam.

Lombroso-Ferrero, Gina (1915) 1921 Cesare Lombroso: Storia della vita e delle opere. 2d ed. Bologna (Italy): Zanichelli. → A short biography and a bibliography appear on pages 447-476.

Mannheim, Hermann 1936 Lombroso and His Place in Modern Criminology.Sociological Review 28:31-49.

Wolfgang, Marvin E. 1960 Cesare Lombroso. Pages 168–227 in Hermann Mannheim (editor),Pioneers in Criminology. London: Stevens.

Lombroso, Cesare

views updated May 21 2018


LOMBROSO, CESARE (1835–1909), Italian criminologist.

Often called the "father of criminology," Cesare Lombroso was a pioneer in establishing criminology as a social science. Born into a Jewish family of Verona, Italy, he studied medicine and psychiatry at universities in Italy and Austria. While volunteering as a military doctor in the new Italian army (1859–1863) he began to collect data on the physical and psychological characteristics of recruits. He subsequently transferred his methodology, based on measurement of the body and clinical interviews, to the insane and then to criminals. During his long career as a professor at the University of Turin he founded the discipline of criminal anthropology, which traced the causes of crime to abnormal physical and psychological characteristics in offenders. He thus challenged the reigning orthodoxy in legal thought that attributed criminal behavior to free will, arguing instead for the important role of biological determinism in lawbreaking.

Lombroso is best known for his concept of the "born criminal," an atavistic throwback on the evolutionary scale who can be identified by physical and psychological "anomalies." Using a social Darwinist framework, Lombroso likened these anomalies in criminals to typical traits of "savage" man, animals, and even plants. Physical anomalies included small heads, low foreheads, jug ears, and large jaws; abnormal psychological traits included vindictiveness, vanity, lack of probity, and, in the case of women, lack of modesty and of maternal feelings. Despite his emphasis on innate and hereditary causes of crime, Lombroso did not ignore the importance of social factors like poverty, illiteracy, and overcrowded housing that could lead to "occasional" criminality. The humanitarian streak in his work led him to join the Italian Socialist Party, where he found a following among those who compared his materialistic explanations of crime favorably to Karl Marx's economic determinism.

Lombroso went beyond theory to enumerate practical policies to protect society from crime. Contrary to the "classical school" of penology, which traced its philosophy back to Cesare Beccaria's famous Enlightenment tract On Crimes and Punishments (Dei delitti e delle pene; 1765), criminal anthropology argued that degrees of punishment should correlate with the dangerousness of offenders rather than the severity of their crimes. From this perspective, born criminals, whose atavistic constitution denied any possibility of reform, deserved perpetual separation from society in special prisons for incorrigibles or, in the case of the most violent recidivists, capital punishment. Lombroso discouraged incarceration for occasional criminals because prisons tended to corrupt rather than reeducate their inmates and instead recommended probation or suspended sentences. Believing that only criminal anthropologists could accurately identify and classify criminals, Lombroso sought to place his disciples in key positions within the police, courts, and prisons.

Lombroso expounded his criminological theory in a series of books, including his classic companion works Criminal Man (L'uomo delinquente; five editions from 1876 to 1897) and Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman (La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale; coauthored with Guglielmo Ferrero, 1893). Founding editor of the journal Archivio di antropologia criminale, psichiatria e medicina legale (Archives of criminal anthropology, psychiatry, and legal medicine), he gained national and international fame as the leader, along with Enrico Ferri and Raffaele Garofalo, of the "Italian" or "positivist" school of criminology. While the Italian school dominated debates at the first international Congress of Criminal Anthropology held in Rome (1885), Lombroso's ideas soon came under attack for emphasizing atavism at the expense of other biological determinants of crime and for underestimating the role of "social milieu" in shaping human behavior. In response to his critics Lombroso expanded his theory of the etiology of crime to include "moral insanity," degeneracy, epilepsy, and a host of sociological factors while never abandoning his primary allegiance to atavism.

After many years of neglect, the theories of Lombroso have elicited a revival of scholarship since the 1990s. These studies have been concentrated in three areas. First, Italian historians have been reevaluating Lombroso's importance to the intellectual and institutional history of his own nation. Once considered marginal and simplistic, criminal anthropology is now being recognized as consonant with many mainstream scientific and legal developments of its day. Second, international scholars are reevaluating Lombroso's influence in shaping late-nineteenth-century criminology in Europe and the Americas. Even in nations like France, where individual criminologists conducted highly public feuds with Lombroso, theories of crime were permeated with biological and deterministic rhetoric. Finally, historians of gender and racism have had to come to terms with Lombroso's voluminous data purporting to prove the inferiority of women to men and establish a hierarchy of races. Research remains to be done on his contributions to the development of sexology, the study of prison culture, and the establishment of criminological museums.

See alsoCrime; Darwin, Charles; Degeneration; Durkheim, Émile; Positivism.


Primary Sources

Lombroso, Cesare. Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman. Edited by Nicole Hahn Rafter and Mary Gibson. Durham, N.C., 2004.

Secondary Sources

Frigessi, Delia. Cesare Lombroso. Turin, Italy, 2003.

Gibson, Mary. Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology. Westport, Conn., 2002.

Villa, Renzo. Il deviante e i suoi segni: Lombroso e la nascita dell'antropologia criminale. Milan, 1985.

Mary Gibson

Lombroso, Cesare (1836-1909)

views updated May 09 2018

Lombroso, Cesare (1836-1909)

Italian psychiatrist, criminal anthropologist, and psychic investigator. He was born on November 18, 1836, at Verona, and studied at Padua, Vienna, and Paris. In 1862 he began his professional career as a professor of psychiatry at Pavia, then served successively as director of the lunatic asylum at Pesaro, professor of forensic medicine and psychiatry at Turin, and finally professor of criminal anthropology.

In 1872 he investigated the disease known as pellagra and concluded that in Italy it was caused by a poison in diseased maize eaten by the peasants. He also researched madness and genius, about which he authored several books, then turned his attention to psychic research. His later studies in criminal behavior were conducted concurrently with his psychic investigations.

His involvement in the paranormal resulted from an article he wrote for the July 1888 Fanfulla della Domenica on the "Influence of Civilization and Opportunity of Genius." In it he concluded:

"Who knows whether I and my friends who laugh at spiritism are not in error, since, just like hypnotised persons, thanks to the dislike of novelties which lurks in all of us, we are unable to perceive that we are in error, and just like many lunatics, being in the dark as regards the truth, we laugh at those who are not in the same condition."

After reading this article, Cavaliere Ercole Chiaia of Naples addressed an open letter to Lombroso and invited him to sittings with the medium Eusapia Palladino in Naples. In March 1891 Lombroso accepted the invitation. With Professors Tamburini, Bianchi, and Violi and Drs. Ascenzi, Prenta, Limoncelli, Gigli, and Ciolfi, Lombroso witnessed the extraordinary medium. In a subsequent letter to Ciolfi, the reporter of the sittings, Lombroso openly declared: "I am ashamed and grieved at having opposed with so much tenacity the possibility of the socalled spiritistic facts; I say the facts because I am still opposed to the theory. But the facts exist, and I boast of being a slave to facts."

Lombroso's admission caused a great sensation in Italy. As a direct consequence, a memorable series of sittings was held with the same medium in October 1892 at Dr. Finzi's house in Milan. The facts were completely confirmed for Lombroso, who pursued his research assiduoulsy. He conducted experiments in thought-transmission and contributed many articles on the phenomena of mediumship to the 1896 Archivio di Psichiatria. His investigation of a haunted house in Turin is of special interest (see poltergeist ).

In 1900 Lombroso wrote to M. T. Falcomer: "I am like a little pebble on the beach. As yet I am uncovered; but I feel that each tide draws me a little closer to the sea."

In 1901 and 1902 Lombroso participated at further sittings with Palladino in Genoa and in 1907 in Turin. He came progressively to accept the spirit hypothesis, and, against the protests of friends who believed he would ruin an honorable reputation, he published his findings After DeathWhat? (1909).

The book is richly illustrated and presents a very lucid and sincere account of the phenomena of mediumship. Lombroso's chief credit was his fearless confession to the truth of his strange observations at a period when, despite the courage of William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace and J. C. F. Zöllner, the physical phenomena of Spiritualism were held in utter disdain. Following Lombroso's open declaration, a group of scientists resolved to put aside prejudice and investigate in a serious frame of mind.

Lombroso died suddenly at Turin on October 19, 1909.


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Lombroso, Cesare. After DeathWhat? Boston: Small, Maynard, 1909.

. The Man of Genius. London: Scott, 1891.

Lombroso, Cesare

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LOMBROSO, CESARE (1835–1909), Italian physician and criminologist. Born in Verona, Lombroso studied at Pavia, Padua, and Vienna. Lombroso took degrees in medicine and surgery in 1858. After his military service as a surgeon in the Italian army, he worked as a doctor at Pavia, Pesaro, and Regio Emilia. Lombroso then taught legal medicine and public hygiene at the Turin University. He was appointed professor of psychiatry in 1896, and in 1906, professor of criminal anthropology.

While at the University of Vienna he studied psychology and psychiatry, as well as the anatomy and physiology of the brain. For 30 years he advocated his revolutionary theories of criminology.

Lombroso begun his studies during his four years of army service. He made systematic measurements of physical differences among soldiers from various regions of Italy, including soldiers from the newly annexed territories of Southern Italy (formerly the Kingdom of Naples), and of differences between well-disciplined and aggressive or criminal soldiers.

Lombroso's theories were much influenced by French positivism and by Darwinian evolutionary theories. In his research on criminality Lombroso concluded that certain innate physical characteristics are connected with social behavior. His conception of the "born criminal" resulted from his observations, physical measurement, and comparisons of mentally ill and sane people, and of criminals and law-abiding citizens. All men, including the "born criminal," are born with certain faculties, both mental and physical, which decisively influence their behavior. Lombroso published his theory, asserting that the "true criminal" was atavistic, in his controversial L'Uomodelinquente ("The Criminal Man," 1876). It was in 1876 that Lombroso became professor of legal medicine and public hygiene at Turin University, which appointed him professor of psychiatry in 1896, and ten years later created a chair in criminal anthropology for him.

While Lombroso gradually came to admit the existence of acquired criminogenic factors, pathological or environmental, he continued to claim that the true criminal was a subspecies of man of an atavistic origin. In his later period he gave more attention to environmental factors as causes of crime, and developed an inclusive typology of the various forms of crime which recognized that a great deal of criminality is not organic or endogenous but a product of diverse exogenous and environmental factors. In the field of penology Lombroso supported such reformist ideas as the compensation of the victims of crime from the prison work of the malefactor. Despite his views on inherited delinquency he was against capital punishment, favoring the rehabilitation of the criminal by a "symbiosis" with his society, whereby the latter would make constructive use of the evildoer and his work potential.

Although the idea of the "born criminal" is no longer accepted, Lombroso remains an important figure in the history of the behavioral sciences. Scholars honor him as a pioneer, and even his critics credit him with shifting the emphasis in criminology from the crime itself to the criminal and his origins.

Lombroso's studies also covered other fields. Thus he wrote "The Man of Genius/The Gifted Man," published in 1888. In this work of scholarship Lombroso considered another type of deviant, the "genius."

A friend of Max *Nordau he had an interest in Zionism and espoused this doctrine in 1900. In 1894, he published a monograph on antisemitism in which he analyzed the manifestations of atavism in antisemites and their folly. Lombroso thus stressed the anthropological degeneration of the antisemite, as in the criminal.

Lombroso published a considerable number of books and articles of which only a few have been translated. His only important book translated into English is Crime, Its Causes and Conditions (1911).


H. Mannheim, in: Sociological Review, 28 (1936), 31–49; Wolfgang, in H. Mannheim (ed.), Pioneers in Criminology (1960), 168–227; Vervaeck, in: Archives de l'anthropologie criminelle, 25 (1910), 561–83. Add. Bibliography: P.L. Bauma Bollone, Cesare Lombroso, ovvero il principio dell' irresponsabilità (1992); A. Cavaglion, "Tendenze nazionali ed albori sionistici," in: G. Luzzatto Voghera and C. Vivanti (eds.), Gli ebrei in Italia ii, Storia d'Italia, Annali, 11 (1997), 1313–16.

[Zvi Hermon and

Ellen Friedman /

Samuele Rocca (2nd ed.)]

Cesare Lombroso

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Cesare Lombroso

The Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) devised the now-outmoded theory that criminality is determined by physiological traits. Called the father of modern criminology, he concentrated attention on the study of the individual offender.

Born in Verona on Nov. 6, 1835, Cesare Lombroso studied medicine at the universities of Pavia, Padua, Vienna, and Genoa. His interests in psychology and psychiatry merged with his study of the physiology and anatomy of the brain and ultimately led to his anthropometric analysis of criminals. While he was in charge of the insane at hospitals in Pavia, Pesaro, and Reggio Emilia (1863-1872), his interest in physiognomical characteristics of the mentally disturbed increased.

In 1876 Lombroso became professor of legal medicine and public hygiene at the University of Turin. 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 but never in English. A deep and lasting friendship developed between Lombroso and his chief student, Enrico Ferri, who became Italy's leading criminologist.

Concept of Atavism

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 man characterized by physical features reminiscent of apes, lower primates, and early man 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 (environment, opportunity, poverty).

Lombroso's research methods were clinical and descriptive, with precise details of skull dimension and other measurements. But he did not enjoy the benefits of rigorous statistical comparisons of criminals and noncriminals. Adequate control groups, which he lacked, might have altered his general conclusions. 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. He died in Turin on Oct. 19, 1909.

Lombroso's theories were influential 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 noncriminals were seriously challenged by Charles Goring (The English Convict, 1913), who made elaborate comparisons and found insignificant statistical differences.

Further Reading

A useful study of Lombroso is H. G. Kurella, Cesare Lombroso: A Modern Man of Science (trans. 1911). See also Hermann Mannheim, ed., Pioneers in Criminology (1960). □

Lombroso, Cesare

views updated Jun 11 2018

Lombroso, Cesare (1836–1909) An Italian army physician who developed the theory of the criminal type. Although he modified his views over his life, he is primarily known for studying the physiognomies of criminals, and suggesting that much crime was biological and hereditary, theorizing from Darwinian evolutionary theory that many criminals were atavistic throwbacks to an earlier and more primitive species. He is often considered to be the founder of modern positivist criminology.