Cesare Lombroso

Born: 6 November 1835, Verona, Italy

Died: 19 October 1909, Turin, Italy

Cesare Lombroso, the founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology (November 6, 1835 – October 19, 1909) was a vocal opponent of the established Classical School, which claimed that crime was a natural quality of humans and that rational choices were the foundation of behavior. Using a scientific method and concepts taken from physiognomy, early eugenics, psychiatry, and Social Darwinism, Lombroso maintained that criminality was inherited and that physical deformity could identify a “born criminal,” confirming a criminal as “savage,” or “atavistic.” While his specific distinguishing features are no longer considered valid, the concept of factors that predispose people to commit crimes remains central to criminology research. Together with his emphasis on the scientific method, this revolutionary approach has earned Lombroso the title “father” of scientific criminology.


Cesare Lombroso was born Ezechia Marco Lombroso on November 6, 1835, in Verona, Italy. He studied literature, linguistics, and archaeology at the Universities of Padua, Vienna, and Paris, and was the son of a long line of rabbis.

He eventually earned a medical degree from the University of Turin and went on to work as a neuropsychiatrist. Lombroso served as an army surgeon during the Austro-Italian War of 1859, often known as the Second War for Italian Independence (the first being the Austro-Sardinian War of 1849).

He was named professor of mental illnesses at Pavia in 1862 and later took over the insane asylum at Pesaro. He then became a professor of medical law and psychiatry at the University of Turin. He used cadavers to undertake comprehensive anthropometric studies, focusing on the shape of the skull as a marker of abnormalities. This research was started by Franz Joseph Gall, a German physician who specialized in phrenology and intrinsic sociopathology. He married Nina De Benedetti on April 10, 1870. Gina, one of their five children, edited and released her father’s later works after his death.

Lombroso was an open materialize early in his career, saying in his 1909 book After Death – What? that “If ever there was an individual in the world opposed to spiritism by scientific knowledge, and I may say, by instinct, I was that person.” The defense of the notion that every force is a property of matter and the soul is an emanation of the brain had become an inexhaustible lifetime pursuit for me. (1909, Lombroso)

After conducting thorough research into the phenomenon of Eusapia Palladino, a well-known spiritualist, he was obliged to significantly revise his opinions. “I feel humiliated and grieved for having fought the possibility of the so-called spiritistic facts with such tenacity,” he subsequently wrote.

In 1909, Lombroso died in Turin.


Cesare Lombroso made a name for himself in the nineteenth century by claiming to have found the source of crime. L’Uomo delinquente or The Criminal Man, his most famous work, was published in 1876. He wrote a lot more, including Le Crime, Causes et Remèdes in French.

Lombroso argued in these volumes that anatomical examinations of criminals’ post-mortem bodies indicated that they were physically different from regular people. He said that criminals have stigmata (marks) on their bodies, which he claimed are anomalous skull and jaw measurements. Lombroso even claimed to be able to distinguish between offenders based on their physical traits. His work, The Criminal Man, has been reprinted six times. In time, and under the influence of his son-in-law, Guglielmo Ferrero, Lombroso included the view that social factors were also involved in the causation of crime and that all criminality is not inborn.

The concept of atavism

“Atavism” is one concept that comes to mind while thinking of Lombroso. He used this term to describe those who had not fully matured. These people were “throwbacks” to earlier forms of man or primates, according to him. He came up with this theory after seeing anatomical anomalies in the skulls, brains, and other portions of offenders’ skeletons, muscles, and viscera.

As he autopsied the body of a known Italian criminal named Giuseppe Villela, the basic notion of Lombroso’s work hit him. Certain features of Villela’s skull (particularly, a depression on the occiput that he named the median occipital fossa) reminded him of the skulls of “inferior races” and “the lower types of apes, rodents, and birds.” He concluded that the primary source of criminal tendencies was organic—heredity was the most important factor in deviance. Lombroso’s coined the term “atavism” to describe the appearance of persons who resembled ancestral, prehuman forms of life.

In his early writings, Lombroso regarded “born criminals” as a type of human subspecies. However, in later writings, he grew to think of them less as evolutionary artifacts and more as examples of stopped development and degeneration.


Through biological determinism, Lombroso promoted the concept of a “born criminal”: offenders have specific physiognomic characteristics or defects. Physiognomy is the study of character and personality traits based on physical characteristics of the face and body. While most individuals evolve, the violent criminal, according to Lombroso, has degraded and hence represents a cultural or evolutionary regression.

If criminality was inherited, Lombroso proposed that physical atavistic stigmata, such as large jaws, forward projection of jaw, low sloping forehead, high cheekbones, flattened or upturned nose, handle-shaped ears, hawk-like noses or fleshy lips, hard shifty eyes, scanty beard or baldness, insensitivity to pain, and long arms relative to lower limbs, could be used to identify the “born criminal.”

Lombroso focused on a purportedly scientific process for detecting criminal behavior and isolating those capable of the most horrible acts. In accumulating anthropological, social, and economic data, he argued for the study of persons using measures and statistical methodologies.

Lombroso’s beliefs were amended as a result of subsequent research and more rigorous statistical analysis. He went on to describe atavistic stigmata and differentiate between two categories of offenders: insane criminals and “criminals.” Despite the stigmata, insane criminals were not born criminals; rather, they became criminals as a result of “a brain mutation that completely disturbs their moral nature.”

Kleptomaniacs and child molesters were among the insane criminals. Criminaloids lacked the physical characteristics of born or insane criminals, and they entered the criminal world later in life, committing less serious crimes. Criminaloids were further divided into habitual criminals and non-habitual criminals, based on their interactions with other criminals, alcohol misuse, or other “distressing conditions.”

Lombroso argued for the humane treatment of criminals, arguing for the exclusion of atavistic, born criminals from society for their own and society’s safety, rehabilitation for those who were not born criminals, and against capital punishment.

Female criminality

Lombroso’s investigations on female criminality began with measurements and pictures of female skulls in search of atavism. Female criminals, on the other hand, were uncommon and exhibited few symptoms of degeneration since they had “developed less than men due to the sedentary nature of their life,” he found.

Females’ natural passivity, according to Lombroso, kept them from breaking the law because they lacked the knowledge and initiative to become criminals (Lombroso 1980).

Cortical dysplasia, and epilepsy

Lombroso believed that variables impacting the embryonic development of the central nervous system (CNS), particularly the hierarchically superior brain centers, were responsible for criminality, genius, and epilepsy. Lombroso and his collaborators were the first to describe the findings of cortical dysplasia in epileptic patients in 1896.

Lombroso emphasized the importance of direct observation of the patient, as well as anthropological, social, neurophysiological, economic, and clinical data, to prove his beliefs. Lombroso described a prevalence of large pyramidal neurons and polymorphous cells in the grey matter of the frontal brain in 13 epilepsy patients with the help of his student Luigi Roncoroni.

The majority of the large pyramidal neurons were randomly organized, with their apical dendrites oriented incorrectly. With the presence of extensive gliosis, the number of nerve cells was considerably reduced. Furthermore, in most individuals, the granular layers were much decreased or nonexistent, and the subcortical white matter had numerous nerve cells. This discovery had never been seen before in criminal and healthy control patients’ specimens. Lombroso and Roncoroni described their discovery as proof of a halt in CNS development. Cesare Lombroso and coworkers described developmental abnormalities in the frontal cortex of epilepsy patients more than a century ago, similar to what became known as Taylor’s dysplasia.


Cesare Lombroso (1856–1929) and Raffaele Garofalo (1851–1934) were founding members of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology, which included Enrico Ferri (1856–1929) and Cesare Lombroso (1856–1929). They rejected the classicists’ concept of free will and equality, in which any human makes logical decisions to behave like a criminal by free choice, and replaced it with the presumption of determinism.

Based on anthropometric measurements, Lombroso developed the concept of the “atavistic,” or born, criminal. Although other criminologists have questioned the concept’s scientific validity, Lombroso is credited with shifting emphasis away from the legalistic study of crime and toward the scientific study of the criminal.

The experimental method based on experimentally obtained facts and their investigation was appreciated in this new scientific criminology. The knowledge would be gathered slowly and methodically, through systematic observation and scientific analysis.

Lombroso distinguished the born criminal from those who become criminals due to circumstance in later work, emphasizing the need of separating these groups while considering the efficiency of punishment. He is also known for calling for the humane treatment of convicts and the usage of the death sentence to be limited.

error: Content is protected !!