Cesare Lombroso and his Classification of Criminals

The name of Cesare Lombroso is strongly linked to the history of criminology.


The name of Cesare Lombroso is strongly linked to the history of criminology. Their classification of criminals was, for a long time, the main tool to establish the profile of criminals. In fact, many of its postulates are still debated in the field of law.

Cesare Lombroso, a physician and training anthropologist, is considered the father of criminology. His work “Experimental anthropological treatise of delinquent man” is assumed as the first systematized compilation in this area. Together with Enrico Ferri and Raffaele Garofalo, he was one of the great representatives of primitive criminology or positivist criminology.

“There are certain clues in a crime scene that, by their very nature, do not lend themselves to being picked up or examined. How do you collect love, anger, hatred, fear …? These are things that we are trained to know how to search.”

-James Reese-

The thought of Cesare Lombroso was strongly influenced by Darwin’s theories. In this sense, Lombroso went on to say that criminals were “the missing link”, a being that was somewhere between simian and man.

The highlight of Cesare Lombroso’s work was his classification of criminals. He divided them into: born criminal, crazy moral delinquent, epileptic delinquent, crazy delinquent, passionate delinquent and occasional delinquent. Let’s see how he defined each of those categories.

Cesare Lombroso and the born criminal

For Cesare Lombroso it was possible to determine if someone was delinquent by analyzing their bodily characteristics. According to his approach, the criminal presents features of organic and psychic inferiority that are evident to the eyes.

In the case of the born criminal, this would be characterized, from the physical point of view, by the following features: small skull, large ocular orbit, sunken forehead, bulging in the lower part of the posterior area of ​​the head, etc. Psychologically he is insensitive, impulsive and does not feel remorse.

Delinquent moral madman

According to Cesare Lombroso, the morally insane criminal is rarely placed in special psychological care centers. Instead, he is often found in prisons and brothels. They are cunning, unfriendly, vain and selfish.

From the physical point of view, they resemble the born criminal in his prominent jaw. His face shows several asymmetries. However, in this case it is not easy to identify it by its appearance, but by its behavior. They simulate madness and from childhood we can identify in them this way of being.

Epileptic Delinquent

For Lombroso, epilepsy was a sign of criminality. This could manifest itself in the usual way, with attacks, or occur without any apparent manifestation. In both cases, we would talk about one of the most dangerous criminals.

They would be characterized as vague, animal lovers, destructive and vain. Lombroso also points out that they would have a tendency to commit suicide and that, along with the moral fools, they are the only ones that seek to associate to commit a crime.

Crazy offender

Cesare Lombroso distinguishes between crazy criminals and crazy criminals. Crazy delinquents are sick who do not reason and are not responsible for their actions. Crazy criminals, on the other hand, commit a crime and then go crazy in prison.

It indicates that there are three types of crazy criminals: the alcoholic, the hysterical and the mattoid. The first is the one who gets drunk and commits crimes. The hysteric has a great tendency to lie and a natural inclination to eroticism. The mattoid, on the other hand, is in the line that separates sanity from madness. Delinque on impulse.

Delinquent passionate

The passionate delinquent acts on impulse and is moved by noble passions. Low passions are reserved only for common criminals. It has no particular physical features that identify it, except that its age ranges between 20 and 30 years.

These types of criminals are extremely affectionate and feel a great shock after committing the crime. Sometimes they try to commit suicide. The reasons that lead them to commit a crime can be three: mourning, infanticide and political passion.

Occasional offender

Lombroso says that occasional criminals are classified into three groups: pseudo-criminals, criminals and professional criminals. The first commit crimes that can be of three types: involuntary and without perversity (motivated almost always by necessity).

Criminals are those who commit crimes that are moved or pressured by circumstances. Under normal conditions, they would not commit them, even if they have a predisposition to it. Finally, professional criminals are those that combine legal activities with crimes.

The theory and classification of criminals Cesare Lombroso remained valid for a time, but then was radically revalued. There were serious deficiencies in the different contrasts that were tried using the scientific method. Also, at times, it became dangerous: it incited prejudice and sometimes advocated the “final elimination” of the criminal.