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Cesare Lombroso

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Cesare Lombroso: “Father of Criminology” Biagina Wickham Le Moyne College CJS 221

Abstract Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was known as “the father of criminology.” He was an Italian that was convinced that serious and violent offenders had inherited criminal traits. He created a strict biological determinism and this allowed for a jumping off point for other criminologists.

Cesare Lombroso is known as the “father of criminology”. He branched his research off of positivism and the studies of J.K. Lavater, Franz Joseph Gall, Johann K. Spurzheim, and the classical criminology work of Cesare Beccaria. Classical criminology brought forth a closer look at criminals and their behavior and Beccaria was the “first [to call] public attention to those wretched beings.(CRIMINALMAN)” Lombroso viewed the Classical School of Criminology as being based “on the assumption that [most] criminals are endowed with intelligence and feelings like normal individuals, and that they commit misdeeds consciously, being prompted thereto by their unrestrained desire for evil.(CRIMINALMAN)” The Classical School focused solely on the offense of the criminal and the severity of the punishment which is dependent on the seriousness of the crime; this created the basis of the whole penal system(CRIMINALMAN). On the contrary the Modern or Positivist School of Criminology focuses on “the anti-social tendencies of criminals [that] are the result of their physical and psychic organization, which differs essentially from that of normal individuals [and] embraces his organic and psychic constitution and social life.” The Modern School seeks to study the linguistics and variety of the incidences of the criminal with the intent to cure instead of punish (CRIMINALMAN)” In his studies Lombroso related specific physical characteristics of a person to criminal behavior in order to prove his theory that one was born a criminal. He believed in a strict form of biological determinism, which is shown through his research. Cesare Lombroso was born November 6, 1835 as Ezechia Marco Lombroso in Verona, Italy. He was the second of five children born (AMODERNMANOFSCIENCE) to his father, Aronne Lombroso a tradesman from Verona and his mother Zefora Levi from Chieri. They were a very wealthy Jewish-Italian family and “lived with his maternal grandfather until [he] died” (Journal of the, 1916). After his grandfather’s death his parents were left “in reduced circumstances” and moved to “a small villa near Verona” (Journal of the, 1916), while Lombroso, who was five years old at the time, was “intrusted to the care of his uncle Davide Levi” (Journal of the, 1916). While living with his uncle, Lombroso was taught, “to read and write [and was given] lessons in poetry” (Journal of the, 1916). His uncle instilled in him notions and aspirations about freedom and politics, which influenced Lombroso throughout his life. After three years he was sent back to live with his parents who sent him to grammar school. There he studied Latin, Greek, history, geography, and mathematics. Lombroso is described as being a “very timid, sensitive, and affectionate child” (Journal of the, 1916), who did not have many friends. His first childhood friend stole one of his favorite books and sold it, this event is credited to fueling Lombroso to ascertain the real cause of crime (Journal of the, 1916). Cesare Lombroso attended the University of Padua, the University of Vienna, the University of Paris, and the University of Pavia. While at the Universities of Padua, Vienna, and Paris he studied archeology, linguistics, and literature (NEWWORLDENCYCLOPEDIA). In 1852 he enrolled in the University of Pavia to study medicine (Borzacchiello, 2003). He travelled throughout Italy to research the study of Mental Alienation and Cretinism; which is defined as a congenital abnormal condition marked by a physical stunting and mental retardations caused by severe hypothyroidism; in attempt to discover the origin and cure. In 1858 he graduated from the University of Pavia with highest honors (Journal of the, 1916), and in 1859 he also received a degree in surgery from the University of Genoa (Wolfgang, 1968).
He enrolled in the “Military Medical Corps” (Borzacchiello, 2003), in July of 1859 because “he felt it was his duty to enlist” (Journal of the, 1916). Lombroso wanted to retire after the campaign in 1859 but was promoted to the position of doctor of the second-class battalion where he studied the soldiers gathering data on where they were from, their height and weight and size of their heads, and he continued his studies in psychiatry; again in 1861 Lombroso was promoted to a first class battalion. A year later in 1862 he was invited to teach a course in psychiatry at the University of Pavia (Journal of the, 1916), and was the first professor of mental disease studies (Carra & Barale, 2004). However, in order to make enough money to live he also worked as a physician in Pavia and was chosen to be the “Doctor in Chief” (Journal of the, 1916). In 1870 Lombroso married Nina De Benedetti and together they had five children (Borzacchiello, 2003). He became the director of the insane asylum in Pesaro during the year 1871. The following year Lombroso returned to the University of Pavia and published a book entitled Genio e Follia, which described his theory that genius was very closely linked to insanity (Carra & Barale, 2004). In 1876 Lombroso moved to Turin and became a professor of forensic medicine and hygiene at the university and the same year published his book L’uomo Delinquents or The Criminal Man, (Carra & Barale, 2004), which presented his theory of atavism, this book was revised into five different editions between 1876 and 1897 (18 CRIMSTUDYCIME&CRIM). Lombroso later became a professor of psychiatry in 1896 and then criminal anthropology in 1906 at the University of Turin (Wolfgang, 1968).

In his book L’uomo Delinquents, Cesare Lombroso studied cadavers and autopsies from executed criminals and the soldiers in the army to try to scientifically establish what variance there was between criminals and noncriminals. Lombroso concluded that certain physical traits were linked to criminal behavior. He believed that those criminals who were repeat offenders or involved in serious and violent crimes suffered from atavistic anomalies that were inherited. He concluded that these “born criminals” or “atavistic humans” were physically more primitive. Lombroso also concluded these stigmatas, or physical traits of a born criminal are “heavy jaw, receding brow, scanty beard, long arms” (CREATING BORN CRIMINALS 120), strong canine teeth such as those in primitive man needed for eating raw flesh, sloping foreheads, high cheekbones, forward projected jaw, nervous insensitivity and flattened or upturned noses (THENEWCRIM66). Lombroso believed that any five of these stigmata “indicated a fully developed criminal type” (THENEWCRIM66) and that less than three indicated a non-criminal.
He also believed that there were social and behavioral stigmatas associated with criminal behavior or atavism, which he called “psychical anomalies”. These “psychical anomalies” include “laziness and frivolity, [the] use of argot, [the] tendency to inscribe [the] cell with hieroglyphics and [a] body with tattoos, and [the] moral insensibility and emotional instability” (CREATINGBORNCRIMINALS 120). In the later additions of L’Uomo Delinquents, Lombroso polished his idea of the born crimina and added several other types including “the insane, the passionate, the female and the occasional criminal” (INVENTCRIM149). Throughout his work, Lombroso places great emphasis on the weak intelligence of criminal offenders and states “intelligence is feeble in some and exaggerated in others” (CREATEBORN120). He believes that criminals are not only mentally weak, but also morally weak.
Lombroso believes the only way to deal with criminal offenders is to try to cure them. He argues for individualization of the punishments and states that “punishments should vary according to the type of criminal” (CREATE123). Those who commit crimes of passion or politics should not be imprisoned, the upper-level criminals should attend probation and have an indeterminate sentence, while those “born criminals” should be kept in complete isolation and in some extreme cases be executed (CREATE123).
Lombroso concluded that criminals had no control over their criminality because of the inherent defects they suffered from (THENEWCRIM66). To sum up Lombroso’s theory, one must focus on the individual criminal, instead of the legal act itself; emphasize scientific determinism and reject the ideas of free will or individual choice; treat, correct, or cure the criminal offender because one must assume that they are somehow different, “sick”, or pathological; and finally reject punishments that attempt to promote deterrence through correctional treatment (CRIM19). Lombroso’s work brought forth evolutionary interpretations of human behavior (CRIM11). His theories were questions and brought speculation because he had failed to examine noncriminals in order to compare them, and he had no real evidence of what primitive man supposed characteristics were (CRIM12). The lack of empirical evidence in his research ultimately led to his downfall. Lombroso died October 19, 1909 in Turin and left his legacy of biological determinism. Although today Lombroso’s theories are mostly discredited, he is world renowned for creating the concept of biological factors in human behavior, let alone criminal behavior.
Carra, G., & Barale, F. (2004). Cesare lombroso, m.d., 1835-1909. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(4), 624-624. Retrieved from

Wolfgang, M. E. (1968). Lombroso, cesare. In International encyclopedia of the social sciences Thomson Gale. Retrieved from

(1916). Journal of the american institute of criminal law and criminology. (1 ed., Vol. 7, pp. 139-142). Chicago, Il: The Northwestern University Press. Retrieved from lombroso life timeline&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3

Borzacchiello, A. (2003, April). Cesare lombroso the inventor of criminal anthropology. Retrieved from

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