Punishment has historically functioned as a key factor of social control. At different times, its mechanisms, techniques, and purposes have varied significantly, changing the authority and legitimacy of those who have sought to shape and govern a social order. The sociological notion of social control elaborated at the beginning of the 20th century refers to multiple elements that cannot simply be reduced to law, criminal law in particular. However, especially after the revisionist turn of the 1970s, the idea of social control as a coercive response to deviant behaviors through penal and institutionalized mechanisms has made inroads into research on the history of criminal justice. At first, the origins and development of prisons in late modernity as models of punishment in place of medieval corporal chastisements were scrutinized. The penal shift from the body to the soul, beneath its rhetoric of rationalization and humanization, was driven by conscious projects for controlling and disciplining a changing society by means of institutions of confinement. Although this interpretation was occasionally criticized, it contributed to the development of a critical historical analysis of criminal law in which the notion of social control can be profitably applied to the study of different periods and features of the penal apparatus. A first example is the age of medieval ius commune (12th–16th centuries), when emergent sovereign entities characterizing the pluralistic political scenario before the formations of modern states extensively resorted to a strategic use of criminal law to impose their hegemonic powers. A second case is penal modernism. In the last decades of the 19th century, when state monopolies of violence were undisputed and imprisonment was largely imposed, criminological positivism brought about a rethinking of the rationale of punishment based on the idea of social defense, which also implied a reconceptualization of criminal law as a means of social control.