Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909)

Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), the so-called ‘father of criminal anthropology’ , was born in Verona in 1835. He was of Jewish-Italian descent. He studied medicine at the Universities of Pavia, Padova, and Vienna, qualifying as a doctor in 1858, and as a surgeon in 1859. He became interested in cretinism and pellagra, then endemic in parts of Italy, and eventually submitted a doctoral thesis on cretinism. In 1859 he began service as an army doctor. During his time in the army he measured several thousand soldiers with the aim of expressing numerically their physical differences. He also became interested in clinical psychiatry, and in 1862, when he left the army, gave a series of lectures in psychiatry and anthropology.

From 1863 to 1872 Lombroso was in charge of the treatment of mental patients at hospitals in Pavia, Pesaro, and Reggio Emilia. In 1876 he was appointed to the department of legal medicine and public hygiene at the University of Turin, and in 1896 he was made professor of psychiatry and clinical psychiatry. In 1906 he was made professor of criminal anthropology. With Enrico Ferri, he founded an important journal, Archivio di Psichiatria e Antropologia criminale, in 1880. He married in 1869 and had two daughters, Paola and Gina. For many years he was a municipal councillor in Turin.

The main principle in Lombroso’s best-known works is the conception of an intimate relation between mental and physical characteristics, and that the possession of certain traits - a particular cranial measurement or the shape of an ear, for example - predisposed their owner to recidivism. Such physical ‘stigmata’ - which Lombroso ceaselessly catalogued in books like The Criminal Man (1876) and Crime: Its Causes and Remedies (1899) - were considered to be throwbacks or examples of atavism, the reappearance of familial or racial traits from earlier ascendants at a lower stage of evolution. Although his precise theories have been discredited, Lombroso’s work did make possible the advancement of the science of criminal anthropology, and in one sense, Lombrosian traces remain in the accepted theory of criminal ‘profiling’ used today. Cesare Lombroso died in 1909. Other important works include: Genio e follia (1877; trans. The Man of Genius, 1891); ( with Guglielmo Ferrero, his son-in-law), La Donna delinquente (1893; English trans. , The Female Offender, 1895).