Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was very influential to criminology at the end of the nineteenth century. Known as “the father of Criminology”1, he was the author of several publications, although a lot more can be found on Lombroso through the work of others (especially as most of Lombroso’s work was never actually translated from the Italian language it was written in). As commented by Wolfgang: “The ideas, investigations and detailed voluminous analyses of Lombroso have been reviewed so often in criminological literature that it is both unnecessary and impossible to present all of this material…”.
Lombroso looked at biological factors to explain criminal behaviour, and focused on the theory of atavism, which suggests that criminals are distinguished from non-criminals by “the manifestation of multiple physical anomalies, which are of atavistic or degenerative origin”.
It was Lombroso’s belief that the mentality of these atavistic individuals was also inferior and more primitive, and thus the behaviour of these persons was contrary to the general accepted expectations of civilised society.
Taking a positivist approach (the idea that human life can be explained through science), Lombroso aimed to prove his theory by applying statistical data to his investigations.
As dissatisfied with previous investigations of delinquent behaviour due to their abstract methodology, Lombroso believed in the need for first hand observations. 4 He therefore used his medical knowledge (Lombroso had trained in medicine at University) and applied this to studies of Italian Soldiers, and later inmates at Italian prisons, taking cranial measurements, and observing his sample for distinct physical characteristics.
Lombroso proposed that the criminal was a biological ‘throwback’ to an earlier stage of the evolutionary process. He believed the criminal was thus “more primitive and savage than the non-criminal counterpart”. 5 In his infamous book ‘L’Uomo Delinquente’, otherwise known as ‘The Criminal Man’, Lombroso became convinced that the criminal was not just a disparity from the norm, but virtually it’s own species… a subspecies, with certain defining characteristics, including: “… deviation in head size and shape…asymmetry of the face; excessive dimensions of the jaw and cheek bones; eye defects and peculiarities; ears of unusual size… “
He also added that there were certain features distinctly found in the born criminal, such as sensory and functional peculiarities like more insensibility to pain, a lack of moral sense and absence of remorse, and finally (and perhaps most importantly) other manifestations like an excessive use of slang, and extensive body tattooing. 7 Lombroso went onto define certain “types” of criminals, and divided these into three classes.