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Cesare Lombroso

LOMBROSO, CESARE (1835–1909), Italian physician and criminologist. Born in Verona, Lombroso studied at Pavia, Padua, and Vienna. Lombroso took degrees in medicine and surgery in 1858. After his military service as a surgeon in the Italian army, he worked as a doctor at Pavia, Pesaro, and Regio Emilia. Lombroso then taught legal medicine and public hygiene at the Turin University. He was appointed professor of psychiatry in 1896, and in 1906, professor of criminal anthropology.

While at the University of Vienna he studied psychology and psychiatry, as well as the anatomy and physiology of the brain. For 30 years he advocated his revolutionary theories of criminology.

Lombroso begun his studies during his four years of army service. He made systematic measurements of physical differences among soldiers from various regions of Italy, including soldiers from the newly annexed territories of Southern Italy (formerly the Kingdom of Naples), and of differences between well-disciplined and aggressive or criminal soldiers.

Lombroso's theories were much influenced by French positivism and by Darwinian evolutionary theories. In his research on criminality Lombroso concluded that certain innate physical characteristics are connected with social behavior. His conception of the "born criminal" resulted from his observations, physical measurement, and comparisons of mentally ill and sane people, and of criminals and law-abiding citizens. All men, including the "born criminal," are born with certain faculties, both mental and physical, which decisively influence their behavior. Lombroso published his theory, asserting that the "true criminal" was atavistic, in his controversial L'Uomodelinquente ("The Criminal Man," 1876). It was in 1876 that Lombroso became professor of legal medicine and public hygiene at Turin University, which appointed him professor of psychiatry in 1896, and ten years later created a chair in criminal anthropology for him.

While Lombroso gradually came to admit the existence of acquired criminogenic factors, pathological or environmental, he continued to claim that the true criminal was a subspecies of man of an atavistic origin. In his later period he gave more attention to environmental factors as causes of crime, and developed an inclusive typology of the various forms of crime which recognized that a great deal of criminality is not organic or endogenous but a product of diverse exogenous and environmental factors. In the field of penology Lombroso supported such reformist ideas as the compensation of the victims of crime from the prison work of the malefactor. Despite his views on inherited delinquency he was against capital punishment, favoring the rehabilitation of the criminal by a "symbiosis" with his society, whereby the latter would make constructive use of the evildoer and his work potential.

Although the idea of the "born criminal" is no longer accepted, Lombroso remains an important figure in the history of the behavioral sciences. Scholars honor him as a pioneer, and even his critics credit him with shifting the emphasis in criminology from the crime itself to the criminal and his origins.

Lombroso's studies also covered other fields. Thus he wrote "The Man of Genius/The Gifted Man," published in 1888. In this work of scholarship Lombroso considered another type of deviant, the "genius."

A friend of Max *Nordau he had an interest in Zionism and espoused this doctrine in 1900. In 1894, he published a monograph on antisemitism in which he analyzed the manifestations of atavism in antisemites and their folly. Lombroso thus stressed the anthropological degeneration of the antisemite, as in the criminal.

Lombroso published a considerable number of books and articles of which only a few have been translated. His only important book translated into English is Crime, Its Causes and Conditions (1911).


H. Mannheim, in: Sociological Review, 28 (1936), 31–49; Wolfgang, in H. Mannheim (ed.), Pioneers in Criminology (1960), 168–227; Vervaeck, in: Archives de l'anthropologie criminelle, 25 (1910), 561–83. Add. Bibliography: P.L. Bauma Bollone, Cesare Lombroso, ovvero il principio dell' irresponsabilità (1992); A. Cavaglion, "Tendenze nazionali ed albori sionistici," in: G. Luzzatto Voghera and C. Vivanti (eds.), Gli ebrei in Italia II, Storia d'Italia, Annali, 11 (1997), 1313–16.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.