The discipline of anthropology shares a history with criminology. As we learned in the last section from Lombroso, there was a well-established school of thought that believed we might learn something about criminals by studying their physical and mental characteristics.
Modern criminology has its roots in criminological anthropology as well as the study of morbid anatomy in medicine (criminals were often dissected to teach medical students and doctors). This fact establishes the interdisciplinary orientation of criminology, as well as its subsequent development. The emergence of criminology as an independent science is, moreover, related to the anthropological school of criminal law. Criminology branched off from criminal law, the development of which can be discovered in the valuable works of the representatives of this school. These works include works of Ch. Lombrozo (Russian author) “Crime” and “Criminal anthropology,” “Anarchists” by E. Ferri, “Criminal Sociology,” and “Criminology” by R.Garofalo (Konarbayeva and Kazachstan).
Since its inception, criminological anthropology has been subject to wide-ranging criticism, the essence of which was that the criminological anthropology put too much emphasis on heredity, atavism, and the anthropometric data of the criminal, which it hypothesized was the cause of committing crimes. Advocates of criminological anthropology have been cited for the limitations of these theories and their focus on what are alleged to be “pseudoscientific” ideas that aim to explain criminal behavior by a single reason (like Lombroso’s theory of the” born criminal”). Theories of criminological atavism were followed by theories that attributed criminality to moral degeneration and epilepsy. These were followed by psychiatric explanations that emphasized mental disability/mental illness.
Subsequently, a large body of criticism was addressed to criminological anthropology. This has lasted for more than a century and despite a new wave of theorizing the “biological” origins of crime, it continues to influence the modern interpretation of the subject as well as the methodology of criminological anthropology.
Historically, we might think of criminological anthropology as constituting a specific response to the limitations of the dogmatic classical school, which was not given to taking into consideration either the personality of the criminal or social conditions when considering the crime. Consequently, in the second half of the 19th century, it became apparent that the criminal law based on the theories of the classical school (which ignored social and psychological conditions and the reasons for the existence of crime) was not able to restrain the growth of crime. This meant that new approaches were necessary to solve the problem of crime.
There is, nevertheless, an interesting history that develops that we might trace to Italy, where we discover the roots of criminal anthropology in the study of medicine and morbid anatomy. The oldest anatomical theatre was built in Padua in 1594 to be used for medicine lessons at the local university. Anatomical theatres were subsequently built at universities and hospitals across Europe. Among the oldest in Italy are the anatomical theatres of the University of Bologna inside the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio built in 1637, those of the University of Pavia and Ferrara, and of the Ospedale del Ceppo in Pistoia (18th century).
Anatomical Theater, University of Padova, Italy
The Pleasures of Morbidity
The world’s oldest surviving anatomical theatre is situated in the Palazzo del Bo at the University of Padua and was built in 1594 by the Italian surgeon and Renaissance anatomist who helped found modern embryology, Girolamo Fabricius Acquapendente. Here, the elliptical-shaped theatre has six tiers carved from walnut and can accommodate up to 300 spectators. The seating is arranged so that each student would have an uncompromised view of the dissecting table (Lillie and Donati). The student of history will also find here the chair and lectern belonging to the University’s greatest lecturer, Galileo.
Still visible is the inscription, Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae (This is a place where the dead are pleased to help the living). Following the last dissection in 1872, the theatre has been preserved, even the original table still stands and now the building houses historic surgical tools and artefacts of medical importance(Lillie and Donati).
[Note: if you want to visit, the university is located at Palazzo del Bo, via VIII Febbraio, 2, Padua – note there are strict hourly sessions devoted to welcoming visitors].
Anatomical Theater, University of Bologna
At the University of Bologna is one of the world’s most beautiful anatomical theatres. Completely carved from spruce, construction of the anatomical theatre of Archiginnasio began in 1636 and was completed in 1737, when dissections of human cadavers were performed by candlelight.
Sections of the room are elaborately decorated and reigning over the room is the carving of a woman being offered a thigh bone by an angel and carved statues of physicians like Hippocrates, Galenus, etc. stand in niches.
In keeping with tradition when surgeons would consult the stars before performing operations, the ceiling is decorated with astrological symbols in the belief that every part of the body was placed under the guardianship of a zodiac sign. This ornate decoration reflects the understanding of man and his relationship with the cosmos.
Two famous statues of the Spellati, anatomical models displaying the muscles beneath the skin, hold up the canopy above the teacher’s chair and are the work of the well-known artist of anatomical wax displays, Ercole Lelli.
On January 29, 1944, during the Second World War, the theatre was almost completely destroyed; after the war ended, the theatre was rebuilt using all of the original pieces that were recovered among the rubble of the building.
The theatre is located at Archiginnasio of Bologna, Piazza Galvani, 1 and is open to the public.
The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia offers a more convenient local opportunity to see nothing short of an impressive display of medicine’s efforts to study crime and criminals using medical scientific methods. In addition to offering exhibits that attest to the progress of medicine and the birth of the modern hospital, there are showcases that feature more than 25,000 medical models of infectious diseases, osteological (bone & skeleton) specimens, cysts, tumors, organs, and old surgical instruments, many of which look more like implements of torture than medicine.
During the time of the 19th century, only criminals’ bodies were permitted to be disseminated and publicly displayed. Since most regular folks didn’t want to associate themselves with that element, it wasn’t fashionable to donate your body to science. Thus, grave robbing was a thing (doctors and scientists bought corpses), as were moulages, or wax sculptures.
In the above photo, we find a person depicted with late-stage syphilis. How would a doctor treat this patient? They were locked in a box with mercury fumes, which had a tendency to kill the person before the syphilis did.
“Criminological anthropology during the dynamic integration of scientific knowledge,” by Nurgul Konarbayeva and Astana Kazachstan.
“Italy’s Ancient Medical Schools: Anatomical Theaters,” by Barry Lillie and Silvia Donati.