ⓘ Cesare Lombroso


ⓘ Cesare Lombroso

Cesare Lombroso, was an Italian criminologist, physician, 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, degeneration theory, psychiatry and Social Darwinism, Lombrosos 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.


1. Early life and education

Lombroso was born in Verona, Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, on 6 November 1835 to a wealthy Jewish family. His father was Aronne Lombroso, a tradesman from Verona, and his mother was Zeffora or Zefira Levi from Chieri near Turin. Cesare Lombroso descended from a line of rabbis, which led him to study a wide range of topics in university. He studied literature, linguistics, and archæology at the universities of Padua, Vienna, and Paris. Despite pursuing these studies in university, Lombroso eventually settled on pursuing a degree in medicine, which he graduated with from the University of Pavia.


2. Career

Lombroso was initially an army surgeon, beginning 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. That year he wrote his most important and influential work, Luomo delinquente, which went through five editions in Italian and was published in various European languages.

Three of his works had been translated into English by 1900, including a partial translation of The Female Offender published in 1895 and read in August of that year by the late nineteenth century English novelist, George Gissing. Lombroso later became professor of psychiatry 1896 and criminal anthropology 1906 at the same university.


3. Personal life and final years

Lombroso married Nina de Benedetti on April 10, 1870. They had five children together, one of whom - Gina - would go on to publish a summary of Lombrosos work after his death. Later in life Lombroso came to be influenced by her husband, Guglielmo Ferrero, who led him to believe that not all criminality comes from ones inborn factors and that social factors also played a significant role in the process of shaping a criminal.

He died in Turin in 1909.


4. Concept of criminal atavism

Lombrosos 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 sensitivity 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 ones 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 womens criminal offending. In the text, Lombroso outlines a comparative analysis of "normal women" opposed to "criminal women" such as "the prostitute." However, Lombrosos "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 womens lesser involvement in crime reflected their comparatively lower levels of atavism."

Lombrosos 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. After he died, his skull and brain were measured according to his own theories by a colleague as he requested in his will; his head was preserved in a jar and is still displayed with his collection at the Museum of Psychiatry and Criminology in Turin.

Lombrosos theories were disapproved throughout Europe, especially in schools of medicine: notably by Alexandre Lacassagne in France. 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.


5. Legacy

Self-proclaimed the founder of modern scientific psychiatry, Lombroso is purported to have coined the term criminology. He institutionalized the science of psychiatry in universities. His graduating thesis from the University of Pavia dealt with "endemic cretinism". In the next several years, Lombrosos fascination with criminal behavior and society began, and he gained experience managing a mental institution. After a brief stint in the Italian army, Lombroso returned to the University of Pavia and became the first professor specializing in mental health. By the 1880s, his theories had reached the pinnacle of their fame, and his accolades championed them throughout the fields dedicated to examining mental illness. Lombroso differentiated himself from his predecessor and rival, Cesare Beccaria, through depicting his positivist school in opposition to Beccarias classist one which centered around the idea that criminal behavior is born out of free will rather than inherited physical traits. Lombrosos psychiatric theories were conglomerated and collectively called the positivist school by his followers. His school of thought was only truly abandoned in Italian universities curriculum after World War II.

Through his various publications, Lombroso established a school of psychiatry based on biological determinism and the idea that mental illness was via genetic factors. A persons predisposition to mental illness was determinable through his appearance, as explained in the aforementioned criminal atavism segment. Lombrosos theory has been cited as possibly "the most influential doctrine" in all areas studying human behavior, and indeed, its impact extended far and wide. According to Lombroso, criminal appearance was not just based on inherited physiognomy such as nose or skull shape, but also could be judged through superficial features like tattoos on the body. In particular, Lombroso began searching for a relationship between tattoos and an agglomeration of symptoms which are currently diagnosed as borderline personality disorder. He also believed that tattoos indicated a certain type of criminal.

Through his observations of sex workers and criminals, Lombroso hypothesized a correlation between left-handedness, criminality, and degenerate behavior. He also propagated the idea that left-handedness lead to other disabilities, by linking left-handedness with neurodegeneration and alcoholism. Lombrosos theories were likely accepted due to the pre-existing regional stigma against left-handedness, and greatly influenced the reception of left-handedness in the 20th century. His hypothesis even manifested in a new way during the 1980s and 1990s with a series of research studies grouping left-handedness with psychiatric disorders and autoimmune diseases.

Despite his stance on inherited immorality and biologically-destined criminal behavior, Lombroso believed in socialism and supposedly sympathized with stigmatization of lower socioeconomic statuses, placing him at odds with the biological determinism he espoused. His work stereotyping degenerates can even be seen as an influence behind Benito Mussolinis movement to clean the streets of Italy. Many adherents to Lombrosos positivist school stayed powerful during Mussolinis rule, because of the seamless way criminal atavism and biological determinism justified fascism. However, certain legal institutions did press back against the idea that criminal behavior is biologically determined.

Within the penal system, Lombrosos work led to new forms of punishment, where occasionally punishment varied based on the defendants biological background. There are a few instances in which case the physiognomy of the defendant actually mattered more than witness testimony and the defendant was subjected to harsher sentences.

During the period in Italy between the 1850s and 1880s, the Italian government debated legislation for the insanity plea. Judges and lawyers backed Beccarias classist school, tending to favor the idea that wrongdoers are breaking a societal contract with the option to exercise free will, tying into Beccarias classist school of social misbehavior. Lombroso and his followers argued for a criminal code, in which the criminal understood as unable to act with free will due to their biological predisposition to crime.

Since his research tied criminal behavior together with the insane, Lombroso is closely credited with the genesis of the criminal insane asylum and forensic psychiatry. His work sponsored the creation of institutions where the criminally insane would be treated for mental illness, rather than placed in jails with their saner counterparts. One example of an asylum for the criminally insane is Bridgewater State Hospital, which is located in the United States. Other examples of these institutions are Matteawan State Hospital and Danvers State Hospital. Most have closed down, but the concept is kept alive with modern correctional facilities like Cook County Jail. This facility houses the largest population of prisoners with mental illness in the United States. However, criminal insane asylums did exist outside of Italy while Lombroso was establishing them within the country. His influence on the asylum was at first regional, but eventually percolated to other countries who adopted some of Lombrosos measures for treating the criminally insane.

In addition to influencing criminal atavisim, Lombroso wrote a book called Genio e Follia, in which he discussed the link between genius and insanity. He believed that genius was an evolutionarily beneficial form of insanity, stemming from the same root as other mental illnesses. This hypothesis led to his request to examine Leo Tolstoy for degenerate qualities during his attendance at the 12th International Medical Congress in Moscow in 1897. The meeting went poorly, and Tolstoys novel Resurrection shows great disdain for Lombrosos methodology.

Towards the end of his life, Lombroso began to study pellagra, a disease which Joseph Goldberger simultaneously was researching, in rural Italy. He postulated that pellagra came from a nutrition deficit, officially proven by Goldberger. This disease also found its roots in the same poverty that caused cretinism, which Lombroso studied at the start of his medical career. Furthermore, before Lombrosos death the Italian government passed a law in 1904 standardizing treatment in mental asylums and codifying procedural admittance for mentally ill criminals. This law gave psychiatrists free rein within the criminal insane asylum, validating the field of psychiatry through giving the psychiatrists the sole authority to define and treat the causes of criminal behavior a position which Lombroso argued for from his early teaching days to his death.


6. Psychiatric art

Lombroso believed that genius was closely related to madness. In his attempts to develop these notions, Lombroso traveled to Moscow and met with Lev Tolstoy in hopes of elucidating and providing evidence for his theory of genius reverting or degenerating into insanity.

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.

Lombrosos The Man of Genius provided inspiration for Max Nordaus work, as evidenced by his dedication of Degeneration to Lombroso, whom he considered to be his "dear and honored master". In his exploration of geniuses descending into madness, Lombroso stated that he could only find six men who did not exhibit symptoms of "degeneration" or madness; Galileo, Da Vinci, Voltaire, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Darwin. On the other hand, Lombroso cited that men such as Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Mozart and Dante all displayed "degenerate symptoms". In order to justify which geniuses were degenerate or insane, Lombroso judged each genius by whether or not they displayed "degenerate symptoms", which included precocity, longevity, versatility, and inspiration. Lombroso supplemented these personal observations with measurements including facial angles, "abnormalities" in bone structure, and volumes of brain fluid. Measurements of skulls taken included those from Immanuel Kant, Alessandro Volta, Ugo Foscolo, and Ambrogio Fusinieri. Lombrosos approach in using skull measurements was inspired by the work and research in the field of phrenology by German doctor Franz Joseph Gall. In commenting on skull measurements, Lombroso would make observations such as "I have noted several characters which anthropologists consider to belong to the lower races, such as prominence of the styloid apophyses". This observation was recorded in response to his analysis of Alessandro Voltas skull. Lombroso connected geniuses to various health disorders as well, by listing signs of degeneration in chapter two of his work - some of which include abnormalities and discrepancies in height and pallor. Lombroso listed the following geniuses, among others, as "sickly and weak during childhood"; Demosthenes, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Isaac Newton, John Locke, Adam Smith, Robert Boyle, Alexander Pope, John Flaxman, Nelson, Albrecht von Haller, Korner, and Blaise Pascal. Other physical afflictions that Lombroso connected with degeneracy included rickets, emaciation, sterility, lefthandedness, unconsciousness, stupidity, somnambulism, smallness or disproportionality of the body, and amnesia. In his explanation of the connection between genius and the "degenerative marker" of height, Lombroso cites the following people: Owning, Henrik Ibsen, George Eliot, Thiers, Robert Browning, Louis Blanc, and Algernon Charles Swinburne among others. He continues by listing the only "great men of tall stature" that he knows of, including Petrarch, Friedrich Schiller, Foscolo, Bismarck, Charlemagne, Dumas, George Washington, Peter the Great, and Voltaire. Lombroso further cited certain personality traits as markers of degeneracy, such as "a fondness for special words" and "the inspiration of genius".

Lombrosos methods and explanations in The Man of Genius were rebutted and questioned by the American Journal of Psychiatry. In a review of The Man of Genius they stated, "here we have hypothesis claiming to be the result of strict scientific investigation and reluctant conviction, bolstered up by half-told truths, misrepresentations and assumptions. Lombrosos work was also criticized by Italian anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi who, in his review of Lombrosos The Man of Genius --and specifically his classifications and definitions of "the genius" - stated "by creating a genius according to his own fancy, an ideal and abstract being, and not by examining the personality of a real living genius, he naturally arrives at the conclusion that all theories by which the origin of genius is sought to be explained on a basis of observation, and especially that particular one which finds in degeneration the cause or one of the causes of genius, are erroneous." Sergi continued by stating that such theorists are "like the worshippers of the saints or of fetishes, who do not recognize the material from which the fetish is made, or the human origin from which the saint has sprung".


7. Spiritualism

Later in his life Lombroso began investigating mediumship. Although originally skeptical, he later became a believer in spiritualism. As an atheist 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. The article "Exit Eusapia!" was published in the British Medical Journal on November 9, 1895. 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.

The anthropologist Edward Clodd wrote 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." Lombrosos 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.


8. 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 Emile Zolas 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 Conrads The Secret Agent, delivers a speech denouncing Lombroso. The assistant prosecutor in Leo Tolstoys Resurrection uses Lombrosos theories to accuse Maslova of being a congenital criminal. In Bram Stokers Dracula, Count Dracula is described as having a physical appearance Lombroso would describe as criminal.


9.1. Works Original Italian

  • 1873 Sulla microcefala e sul cretinismo con applicazione alla medicina legale
  • 1893 La Donna Delinquente: La prostituta e la donna normale Co-authored with Lombrosos son-in-law Guglielmo Ferrero.
  • 1888 Luomo di genio in rapporto alla psichiatria
  • 1864 Genio e follia
  • 1897 Genio e degenerazione
  • 1909 Ricerche sui fenomeni ipnotici e spiritici
  • 1898 Les Conquêtes recentes de la psychiatrie
  • 1900 Lezioni de medicina legale
  • 1859 Ricerche sul cretinismo in Lombardia
  • 1902 Delitti vecchi e delitti nuovi
  • 1899 Le crime; causes et remedes
  • 1894 Gli anarchici
  • 1891 Palimsesti del carcere
  • 1894 Le più recenti scoperte ed applicazioni della psichiatria ed antropologia criminale
  • 1890 Sulla medicina legale del cadavere second edition
  • 1879 Considerazioni al processo Passannante
  • 1892 Trattato della pellagra
  • 1876 Luomo delinquente
  • 1865 Studi clinici sulle mallatie mentali
  • 1881 Lamore nel suicidio e nel delitto
  • 1894 Lantisemitismo le scienze moderne
  • 1871 Luomo bianco e luomo di colore

In 1906, a collection of papers on Lombroso was published in Turin as Lopera di Cesare Lombroso nella scienza e nelle sue applicazioni.


9.2. Works English translations

  • 2004 Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman. Translated by Nicole Hahn Rafter and Mary Gibson.
  • 2004 The Criminal Anthropological Writings of Cesare Lombroso
  • 2006 Criminal Man. Translated by Nicole Hahn Rafter and Mary Gibson.
  • 1895 The Female Offender. The 1895 English translation was a partial translation which left out the entire section on the normal woman and which, in true Victorian fashion, sanitised Lombrosos language.
  • 1891 The Man of Genius, Walter Scott.
  • 1899 Crime: Its Causes and Remedies
  • 1909 After Death - What?
  • 1911 Criminal Man, According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso

9.3. Works Selected articles

  • "The Modern Literature of Italy Since the Year 1870", The Monist, Vol. I, No. 3, 1890.
  • "The Heredity of Acquired Characteristics," The Forum, Vol. XXIV, 1898.
  • "Innovation and Inertia in the World of Psychology", The Monist, Vol. I, No. 3, 1890.
  • "Criminal Anthropology Applied to Pedagogy", The Monist, Vol. VI, No. 1, October 1895.
  • "Why Criminals of Genius Have No Type," The International Quarterly, Vol. VI, 1902.
  • "The Physiognomy of the Anarchists", The Monist, Vol. I, No. 3, 1890.
  • "Illustrative Studies in Criminal Anthropology", The Monist, Vol. I, No. 2, 1890.
  • "Was Columbus Morally Irresponsible?," The Forum, Vol. XXVII, 1899.

9.4. Works Other

  • "Cesare Lombroso", Biblioteca Federata di Medicina F. Rossi, Università degli studi di Torino. Works in Italian, French and German.
  • Drahms, August. The Criminal, Introduction by Cesare Lombroso, The Macmillan Company, 1900.
  • MacDonald, Arthur. Criminology, Introduction by Cesare Lombroso, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1893.


10. Bibliography

  • Knepper, Paul; Ystehede, P. J. 2012. The Cesare Lombroso Handbook. Routledge.
  • Gatti, Uberto; Verde, Alfredo 2012. "Cesare Lombroso: Methodological Ambiguities and Brilliant Intuitions". International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. 35 1: 19–26. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2011.11.004. PMID 22154472.
  • Quiros, Constancio Bernaldo de 1912. "Cesare Lombroso, 1836-1909". Modern Theories of Criminality. Little, Brown & Company.
  • Rafter, Nicole Hahn and Mary Gibson. 2004. Introduction to Criminal Woman English translation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Past, Elena 2012. Methods of Murder: Beccarian Introspection and Lombrosian Vivisection in Italian Crime Fiction. University of Toronto Press.
  • Gould, Stephen J. 1996. The Mismeasure of Man. W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-31425-0.
  • Gaakeer, Jeanne 2005. "The Art to Find the Minds Construction in the Face, Lombrosos Criminal Anthropology and Literature: The Example of Zola, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy". Cardozo Law Review. 26 6.
  • Hill, John S. 1970. "The Influence of Cesare Lombroso on Frank Norriss Early Fiction". American Literature. 42 1: 89–91. doi:10.2307/2924383. JSTOR 2924383.
  • Albrecht, Adalbert 1910. "Cesare Lombroso". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. I 2: 71–83. doi:10.2307/1133036. JSTOR 1133036.
  • Jacobs, Robert G. 1968. "Comrade Ossipons Favorite Saint: Lombroso and Conrad". Nineteenth-Century Fiction. 23 1: 74–84. doi:10.2307/2932318. JSTOR 2932318.
  • Kushner, Howard I 2011. "Cesare Lombroso and the Pathology of Left-handedness". The Lancet. 377 9760: 118–119. doi:10.1016/S0140-67361160009-3. PMID 21226230.
  • Wolfgang, Marvin E. 1961. "Pioneers in Criminology: Cesare Lombroso 1835-1909". The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science. 52 4: 361–391. doi:10.2307/1141263. JSTOR 1141263.
  • Mannheim, Hermann 1960. Pioneers in Criminology. Stevens & Sons.
  • Horn, David G. 2003. The Criminal Body: Lombroso and the Anatomy of Deviance. Routledge.
  • Bianchi, A. G. 11 Feb 1922. "Cesare Lombroso - A Life of Service". The Living Age.
  • Gibson, Mary 2002. Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology. Praeger.
  • Bradley, Kate 2009. "Cesare Lombroso 1835-1909". Fifty Key Thinkers in Criminology. Routledge.
  • Chio, A.; et al. 2004. "Cesare Lombroso, Cortical Dysplasia, and Epilepsy: Keen Findings and Odd Theories". Neurology. 63 1: 194. doi:10.1212/wnl.63.1.194-a. PMID 15249647.
  • Kushner, Howard I. 2012. "Deficit or Creativity: Cesare Lombroso, Robert Hertz, and the Meanings of Left-handedness". Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition. 18 4: 416–436. doi:10.1080/1357650x.2012.697171. PMID 22757625.
  • Kurella, Hans 1911. "Cesare Lombroso: A Modern Man of Science". Rebman Company.
  • Kenny, Courtney Stanhope 1910. "The Death of Lombroso". Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation. New Series. 10 2.
  • Fleming, Rebecca B. 2000. "Scanty Goatees and Palmar Tatoos: Cesare Lombrosos Influence on Science and Popular Opinion" PDF. The Concord Review.