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Cesare Lombroso: Father of Modern Criminology

I became aware of Cesare Lombroso while taking an Intro to Criminology class, and decided to look deeper into his life and the effects

Father of Criminology

Cesare Lombroso was a famous physician and criminologist in the 1800s. He eventually became a criminologist—a person who studies crime and those that commit them. He is one of the first people to be in this field, and one of its creators.

Even though most of his work has been discredited, he is still renowned for being one of the first people to start looking into the "why" of a crime, and what exactly made a person a criminal, as opposed to someone who is not a criminal.

Criminology and all of its related fields remain a popular topic today. Criminology has grown to include law enforcement, psychologists, sociologists, lawyers, and even anthropologists. It's still a relatively new field, starting in the 1800s with scientists like Cesare Lombroso. Some actually consider Lombroso the father of modern criminology.

But who was he, and what contributions did he make that so many consider him the father of criminology?

An Overview of His Life

Cesare Lombroso was born in 1835 in Verona, Italy. His family was wealthy; his father was a talented tradesman, and could afford to send him to the university. Lombroso studied in Vienna and Paris. He became an army doctor in 1859, and stayed there until 1866. He then became a visiting lecturer at Pavia.

He also ran an insane asylum in 1871, and became a professor of forensic medicine in 1878. It's thought that it was at Pavia and the insane asylum that he found his interest in the criminal mind. He later became a professor of psychiatry and criminal anthropology, before dying at Turin in 1909, leaving behind quite the legacy.

L'uomo Delinquente and Other Works

L'uomo delinquente ("The Criminal Mind") was the book that Lombroso wrote detailing his theories regarding criminals, what makes a criminal, and how they can be distinguished from ordinary citizens. The book went through five different editions. It was mostly published in Italian, not published in English until 1900, nine years before his death.

The first edition was short, about 225 pages. The last edition was extremely long; over 1900 pages. It was these publications that began solidifying Lombroso's title as the father of criminology. He published many other works, such as Le Crime, Causes et Remèdes. However, these works were not as popular, and did not have the same impact.

Other scientists, of course, refuted his work, and began making arguments as to their own beliefs in criminology, which perpetuated and grew the field. What was in these works, however, that caused such a spark, and created a whole new field in law enforcement?

Lombroso's Theories

Lombroso believed that there was a "criminal type," as well as "born criminals." He believed that most criminals did not commit the crimes of their own will, but out of their primal nature. Lombroso studied criminals in detail, noting their height and weight, any markings on the skin, age, profession, and any other information that he could get a hold of. He focused especially on the skulls of the criminals.

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This was the beginning of his study of criminology. He stated that criminals were the result of a type of devolution of the person. Most were born this way (the born criminals), and the criminality and brutality could be traced through families This, he supposed, could be easily seen in the physical aspects of the criminal. A person, he argued, could tell a criminal simply by his looks and biology.

Essentially, he believed that criminals were a type of throwback to early man, the primitive form of what humans are today. It was highly likely that these traits were passed down through the generations. There were, he supposed, those who were born with the primitive traits, and those who degenerated into those throwbacks by leading a life with primitive likes, also known as criminaloids.

Those who enjoyed plenty of alcohol, women, and other things considered "degenerate" were more likely to devolve into a more primitive man, and develop the physical traits that Lombroso thought were signs of criminality. Some of there were: large amounts of body hair, large foreheads, long arms, and possible mental deficiencies.

One thing that stuck out to me and showed Lombroso's level of detail (or, as some have argued, absurd reasoning) was the fact that he noted that prostitutes, no matter what class of society they fell into, tended to be left-handed.

Lastly, he did believe that the insane were actually less regressed than criminals. He thought that the insane were still closer to the modern man than criminals. He also looked a little into how society and status played a role with the criminals and crime. He also believed that the more dangerous a person was, the more severe the punishment should be.

Here is a Copy of Lombroso's Work!

A Discredited Pioneer

While Lombroso was ultimately discredited, and his research did not make any major changes in the laws of his time, his work had a huge impact on the field of criminology. He looked to the criminals themselves for answers on why crimes were committed.

This approach was radically different from anything that had come before it, and his work was considered revolutionary. If you are looking at the schools of criminology, Lombroso falls into the Positivist school. The Positivist school thought that the person could not really control their actions, but was ruled by biology and society. In a way, the crimes were not entirely their fault.

While his theories were, for the most part, wrong, he did begin making important links between biology, society, and the reasons for crime. Many others built on his work, and began the modern field of criminology. Cesare Lombroso had so many fascinating theories, more than what I can get into in a short article.

Further Reading

To find out more about Cesare Lombroso, I recommend these articles:

Cesare Lombroso: The Criminal Man

Cesare Lombroso, Italian criminologist

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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