Italian Journal of Criminology

The official journal of the Italian Society of Criminology

by Pierpaolo Martucci

In a perspective of historical criminology, the Author reconstructs the formalities of the evaluation of witness in the routine of the penal trial typical of the Modern Age, from the XVI to the XVIII century, before the birth of judicial psychology. The contribution points out how the Renaissance and Baroque age judges - during the investigation and in the judgement - could not only use of legal, philosophical and religious rules, but also of notions drawn from knowledge and used as “auxiliary forensic sciences”: the judicial astrology and, above all, the “metoposcopia” and the “fisiognomica”. The metoposcopia pretended to interpret man’s hidden characteristics, inclinations and tendencies through the reading of lines and other signs on man’s forehead. The fisiognomica, for the same purpose, analysed the lines of face and body, (“phisionomic syllogism”). According to the cultural vision of the age, metoposcopia and fisiognomica were not considered divinatory arts but part of the Natural Philosophy (today’s natural science) and consequently allowable by religious orthodoxy. The resort to torture was also considered a technical tool minutely disciplined and valid for the analysis of witness, a real strategy of psychological pressure calibrated on the quality of witness and on the nature of investigation. The Author analyses an exemplary case happened in the first half of the eighteenth century, as a model of questioning with torture of a contradictory witness. His hypothesis is that in some cases torture could constitute a psychosomatic technique to stimulate the witness memory through a controlled administration of physical pain. According to Author’s opinion, the objective analysis of the original historical sources stresses how the ancient criminal justice apparatuses had elaborated a proper baggage of proto-criminological notions and of forensic psychology, not devoid of intuitions and anticipations, later revived by the positivistic criminology.

Docente di Antropologia Criminale all’Università degli Studi di Trieste
Pierpaolo Martucci
Contacts: Pierpaolo Martucci, Dipartimento di Scienze Giuridiche, Università degli Studi
di Trieste, Piazzale Europa 1, 34127 Trieste, Tel. 0405583083, e-mail: martucci(at)

From: Rassegna Italiana di Criminologia n. 2/2010



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