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Sicilian Mafia

The Sicilian [10][11][12] At the time, it was understood as a proper name, fostered by the FBI and disseminated by the media. The FBI even added the article la to the term, calling it La Cosa Nostra (in Italy, the article la is not used when referring to Cosa Nostra).

In 1984, the Mafia turncoat Tommaso Buscetta revealed to the anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone that the term was used by the Sicilian Mafia as well.[13] Buscetta dismissed the word "mafia" as a mere literary creation. Other defectors, such as Antonino Calderone and Salvatore Contorno, confirmed the use of Cosa Nostra to describe the Mafia.[14] Mafiosi introduce known members to each other as belonging to cosa nostra ("our thing") or la stessa cosa ("the same thing"), meaning "he is the same thing, a mafioso, as you".

The Sicilian Mafia has used other names to describe itself throughout its history, such as "The Honoured Society". Mafiosi are known among themselves as "men of honour" or "men of respect".

Cosa Nostra should not be confused with other mafia-type organizations in Italy such as the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Camorra in Campania, or the Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia.


It is difficult to define exactly, the single function, or goal, of the phenomenon of the Mafia. Until the early 1980s, mafia was generally considered a unique Sicilian cultural attitude and form of power, excluding any corporate or organisational dimension.[15] Some even used it as a defensive attempt to render the Mafia benign and romantic: not a criminal association, but the sum of Sicilian values that outsiders never will understand.[16]

Leopoldo Franchetti, an Italian deputy who travelled to Sicily and who wrote one of the first authoritative reports on the mafia in 1876, saw the Mafia as an "industry of violence" and described the designation of the term "mafia":

the term mafia found a class of violent criminals ready and waiting for a name to define them, and, given their special character and importance in Sicilian society, they had the right to a different name from that defining vulgar criminals in other countries.
— Leopoldo Franchetti, 1876[17]

Franchetti saw the Mafia as deeply rooted in Sicilian society and impossible to quench unless the very structure of the island's social institutions were to undergo a fundamental change.[18]

Some observers saw "mafia" as a set of attributes deeply rooted in popular culture, as a "way of being", as illustrated in the definition by the Sicilian ethnographer, Giuseppe Pitrè:

Mafia is the consciousness of one's own worth, the exaggerated concept of individual force as the sole arbiter of every conflict, of every clash of interests or ideas.
— Giuseppe Pitrè, 1889[19]

Other scholars, like Gaetano Mosca say that:

It should be noted that with the word Mafia, the Sicilians intend to express two things, two social phenomena, that can be analyzed in separate ways even though they are closely related. The Mafia, or rather the essence of the Mafia, is a way of thinking that requires a certain line of conduct such as maintaining one's pride or even bullying in a given situation. On the other hand, the same word in Sicily can also indicate, not a special organization, but the combination of many small organizations, that pursue various goals, in the course of which its members almost always do things which are basically illegal and sometimes even criminal.
— Gaetano Mosca, 1901[20]

Like Pitrè, many scholars viewed mafiosi as individuals behaving according to specific

  • Direzione Investigativa Antimafia (Italian)
  • The Mafia in Sicilian History
  • Cosa Nostra – Rebranding the Mafia
  • Mafia Today daily updated mafia news site and Mafia resource

External links

  • Alcorn, John (2004). Revolutionary Mafiosi: Voice and Exit in the 1890s, in: Paolo Viola & Titti Morello (eds.), L’associazionismo a Corleone: Un’inchiesta storica e sociologica (Istituto Gramsci Siciliano, Palermo, 2004)
  • Arlacchi, Pino (1988). Mafia Business. The Mafia Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-285197-7
  • Arlacchi, Pino (1993). Men of Dishonor: Inside the Sicilian Mafia, Morrow. ISBN 0-688-04574-X
  • (Italian) Arlacchi, Pino (1994). Addio Cosa nostra: La vita di Tommaso Buscetta, Milan: Rizzoli ISBN 88-17-84299-0
  • Chubb, Judith (1989). The Mafia and Politics, Cornell Studies in International Affairs, Occasional Papers No. 23.
  • Dickie, John (2007). Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. Hodder.  
  • Duggan, Christopher (1989). Fascism and the Mafia, New Haven: Yale University Press ISBN 0-300-04372-4
  • Duggan, Christopher (2008). The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 0-618-35367-4
  • Fijnaut, Cyrille & Letizia Paoli (2004), Organised crime in Europe: concepts, patterns, and control policies in the European Union and beyond, Springer, ISBN 1-4020-2615-3
  • Gambetta, Diego (1993). The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection. Princeton University Press.  
  • Gambetta, Diego (2009). Codes of the Underworld. Princeton University Press.  
  • Hess, Henner (1998). Mafia & Mafiosi: Origin, Power, and Myth, London: Hurst & Co Publishers, ISBN 1-85065-500-6
  • Lupo, Salvatore (2009). The History of the Mafia. New York: Columbia University Press.  
  • McCarthy, Dennis (2011). An Economic History of Organized Crime (PDF). Routledge.  
  • Mosca, Gaetano (2014). "What is Mafia." M&J, 2014. Translation of the book "Cosa è la Mafia," Giornale degli Economisti, Luglio 1901, pp. 236–62. ISBN 979-11-85666-00-6
  • Paoli, Letizia (2003). Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style. New York: Oxford University Press.  
  • Raab, Selwyn (2005). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.  
  • Schneider, Jane T. & Peter T. Schneider (2003). Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo, Berkeley: University of California Press ISBN 0-520-23609-2
  • Seindal, René (1998). Mafia: money and politics in Sicily, 1950-1997, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, ISBN 87-7289-455-5
  • Servadio, Gaia (1976), Mafioso. A history of the Mafia from its origins to the present day, London: Secker & Warburg ISBN 0-436-44700-2
  • Bandiera, Oriana (2002). Land Reform, the Market for Protection and the Origins of the Sicilian Mafia: Theory and Evidence. Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Apr., 2003), pp. 218–244.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gambetta (1993)
  2. ^ a b Gambetta (2009)
  3. ^ This etymology is based on the books Mafioso by Gaia Servadio; The Sicilian Mafia by Diego Gambetta; and Cosa Nostra by John Dickie (see Books below).
  4. ^ Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia. pp. 259-261.
  5. ^ John Follain (8 Jun 2009). The Last Godfathers. Hachette UK.  
  6. ^ Henner Hess (1998). Mafia & Mafiosi: Origin, Power and Myth. NYU Press. p. 1.  
  7. ^ Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, p. 136.
  8. ^ a b Lupo, The History of the Mafia, p. 3.
  9. ^ Lupo, History of the Mafia, pp. 1–2
  10. ^ Their Thing, Time, 16 August 1963.
  11. ^ Killers in Prison, Time, 4 October 1963.
  12. ^ "The Smell of It", Time, 11 October 1963.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dickie (2007)
  14. ^ Paoli (2003), p. 24
  15. ^ a b c Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 15
  16. ^ Schneider & Schneider, Reversible Destiny, p. 39
  17. ^ Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, p. 137
  18. ^ Servadio, Mafioso, p. 42-43
  19. ^ Giuseppe Pitrè, Usi e costumi, credenze e pregiudizi del popolo siciliano, Palermo 1889
  20. ^ Gaetano Mosca, "What is Mafia." M&J, 2014. Translation of the book "Cosa è la Mafia," Giornale degli Economisti, Luglio 1901, pp. 236-62.
  21. ^ a b Lupo, The History of the Mafia, pp. 1-3
  22. ^ Seindal, Mafia: money and politics in Sicily, p. 20
  23. ^ Diego Gambetta (1993). The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection
  24. ^ Lupo, The History of the Mafia, p. 7
  25. ^ HachetteAustralia (2011-02-09). "John Dickie on Blood Brotherhoods". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-12-11. 
  26. ^ a b Jason Sardell, Economic Origins of the Mafia and Patronage System in Sicily, 2009.
  27. ^ a b c d Oriana Bandiera, Private States and the Enforcement of Property Rights: Theory and evidence on the origins of the Sicilian mafia, 2001, pp. 8-10
  28. ^ D. Mack Smith. A History of Sicily: Modern Sicily, after 1713. p. 368.
  29. ^ a b Lupo, History of the Mafia, p. 34
  30. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 83
  31. ^ a b Gambetta (1993), p. 87
  32. ^ Gambetta. The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection. p. 94.
  33. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 39
  34. ^ Paoli. Mafia Brotherhoods. pg 161
  35. ^ Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 33
  36. ^ a b Lupo, History of the Mafia, p. 47
  37. ^ See: Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 33 (Colonna seemed to have known what he was talking about, as there was widespread suspicion that he was the protector of some important Mafiosi in Palermo).
  38. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 39-46
  39. ^ Gaia Servadio. Mafioso, p. 18
  40. ^ Lupo (2009), p. 49
  41. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 96
  42. ^ The Mafia and the ‘Problem of the Mafia”: Organised Crime in Italy, 1820-1970, by Gianluca Fulvetti, in Fijnaut & Paoli, Organised crime in Europe, p. 64.
  43. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 91-93
  44. ^ To Annihilate the Mafia, The New York Times, February 27, 1898
  45. ^ Buonanno, Paolo; Durante, Ruben; Prarolo, Giovanni; Vanin, Paolo (2015-08-01). "Poor Institutions, Rich Mines: Resource Curse in the Origins of the Sicilian Mafia". The Economic Journal 125 (586): F175–F202.  
  46. ^ Duggan, Fascism and the Mafia, p. 119
  47. ^ a b Dickie (2007), p. 152
  48. ^ Duggan, The Force of Destiny, p. 451-52
  49. ^ Lupo, History of the Mafia, p. 175
  50. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 173
  51. ^ Lupo (2009), p. 174
  52. ^ Lupo (2009), p. 182
  53. ^ Lupo, History of the Mafia, p. 179
  54. ^ Mafia Trial, Time, 24 October 1927
  55. ^ Mafia Scotched, Time, 23 January 1928
  56. ^ Selwyn Raab, Five Families, p. ?
  57. ^ a b Dickie (2007), p. 176
  58. ^ Lupo, History of the Mafia, p. 186
  59. ^ Lupo, History of the Mafia, p. 182
  60. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 243
  61. ^ Lupo. History of the Mafia. p. 188
  62. ^ Servadio, Mafioso, p. 91
  63. ^ Fighting the Mafia in World War Two, by Tim Newark, May 2007
  64. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 240
  65. ^ Lupo (2009), p. 189
  66. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 245
  67. ^ (Italian) Petrotta, La strage e i depistaggi, p. 97
  68. ^ (Italian) Portella, fu strage di mafia, La Sicilia, November 22, 2009
  69. ^ The Sack of Palermo and the Concrete Business of the Sicilian Mafia, Florence Newspaper
  70. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 293-297
  71. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 278
  72. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 281
  73. ^ Paoli. Mafia Brotherhoods. p. 167
  74. ^ McCarthy (2011), p. 44
  75. ^ Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, pp. 237-238
  76. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 312
  77. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 318
  78. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 325
  79. ^ Arlacchi (1993), p. 93
  80. ^ Arlacchi. Men of Dishonour. p. 120
  81. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 357
  82. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 358
  83. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 369-370
  84. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 371
  85. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 373
  86. ^ Dearth of honour. The Guardian. February 21, 2004.
  87. ^ Paoli. Mafia Brotherhoods. p. 54
  88. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 389-390
  89. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 416
  90. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 427
  91. ^ Dickie (2007), p. 429
  92. ^ "Berlusconi implicated in deal with godfathers", The Guardian, December 5, 2002
  93. ^ "Berlusconi aide 'struck deal with mafia'", The Guardian, January 8, 2003
  94. ^ "Mafia supergrass fingers Berlusconi" by Philip Willan, The Observer, January 12, 2003
  95. ^ (Italian) Caserta, revocato 41 bis a figlio Bidognetti: lo dice ancora l'Espresso, Casertasete, January , 2006
  96. ^ All the prime minister's men, by Alexander Stille, The Independent, September 24, 1995
  97. ^ Move over, Cosa Nostra, The Guardian, June 8, 2006
  98. ^ "Mexican Drug Cartels Join Forces with Italian Mafia to Supply Cocaine to Europe". Fox News Latino. June 21, 2012. Retrieved November 23, 2012. 
  99. ^ Mafia BrotherhoodsReview of Paoli, by Klaus Von Lampe
  100. ^ Arlacchi. Men of Dishonour. p. 33
  101. ^ Gambetta. The Sicilian Mafia. p. 111
  102. ^ Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, pp. 41
  103. ^ Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, pp. 42
  104. ^ Paoli. Mafia Brotherhoods. p. 42
  105. ^ Capeci. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. p. 9
  106. ^ Arlacchi, Addio Cosa nostra, p. 106
  107. ^ a b (Italian) Zu Binnu? Non è il superboss, Intervista a Salvatore Lupo di Marco Nebiolo, Narcomafie, April 2006
  108. ^ a b Gambetta. The Sicilian Mafia. p. 67
  109. ^ Warrant for British "Mafia wife, BBC News, January 8, 2007
  110. ^ Meet the Modern Mob, TIME Magazine, June 2, 2002
  111. ^ Diego Gambetta. Codes of the Underworld. pp. 206-208
  112. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 67
  113. ^ a b Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 53
  114. ^ Crisis among the "Men of Honour", interview with Letizia Paoli, Max Planck Research, February 2004
  115. ^ a b Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, p. 114
  116. ^ Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, pp. 53-54
  117. ^ Arlacchi, Men of Dishonor, p. 126
  118. ^ a b Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, p. 115
  119. ^ Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 54
  120. ^ Alcorn, Revolutionary Mafiosi.
  121. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 263
  122. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 151
  123. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 152
  124. ^ Stille. Excellent Cadavers. chpt 16
  125. ^ "Mafia's 'Ten Commandments' found". BBC News. November 9, 2007. 
  126. ^
  127. ^ Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, pp. 147, 268
  128. ^ Paoli. Mafia Brotherhoods. p. 111
  129. ^ Paoli. Mafia Brotherhoods. p. 112
  130. ^ Sicilian businessmen fight Mafia, BBC News, September 3, 2007
  131. ^ "Le mani della criminalità sulle imprese (The grip of criminality on enterprises)" (PDF) (in Italiano). November 2008. p. 17. 
  132. ^ "Le mani della criminalità sulle imprese (The grip of criminality on enterprises)" (PDF) (in Italiano). November 2008. 
  133. ^ Fighting the Sicilian mafia through tourism, The Guardian, May 17, 2008
  134. ^ Heroes in business suits stand up to fight back against Mafia, The Times, November 3, 2007
  135. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 171
  136. ^ Arlacchi (1993), p. 70
  137. ^ a b Gambetta (1993), p. 173
  138. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 197
  139. ^ Gambetta & 1993 (47)
  140. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 54
  141. ^ Gambetta & 1993 (57)
  142. ^ Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, pp. 68-71
  143. ^ Lupo, History of the Mafia, pp. 15
  144. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 184
  145. ^ Arlacchi. Men of Dishnor. p. 201
  146. ^ Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, pp. 185
  147. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 185
  148. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 230
  149. ^ Gambetta. The Sicilian Mafia. p. 231
  150. ^ Patients die as Sicilian mafia buys into the hospital service, The Guardian, January 1, 2007
  151. ^ Diego Gambetta. Codes of the Underworld. 2008
  152. ^ "Le mani della criminalità sulle imprese (The grip of criminality on enterprises)" (PDF) (in Italiano). October 22, 2007.  The statistics in the report were obtained from the Italian Ministry of the Interior.
  153. ^ Italian Mafia cashes in on recession, Euranet, March 9, 2009
  154. ^ Italian firms may be tempted by offers they can't refuse - from the mafia, The Guardian, July 23, 2009
  155. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 177
  156. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 66
  157. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 40
  158. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 42
  159. ^ Gambetta. The Sicilian Mafia. p. 87
  160. ^ Oriana Bandiera. Land Reform, the Market for Protection and the Origins of the Sicilian Mafia: Theory and Evidence. p. 13
  161. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 46
  162. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 44
  163. ^ Gambetta (2009), p. 193
  164. ^ Gambetta (1993), p. 61
  165. ^ 'Top Mafia boss' caught in Italy, BBC News, April 11, 2006


See also

Defendant Position Arrested in Penalty Status Notes
Totò Riina Boss, Corleonesi 1993 Life imprisonment Opera Prison (MI) Article 41-bis prison regime (1993-2001)
Bernardo Provenzano Boss, Corleonesi 2006 Life imprisonment Prison of Parma (PR) Article 41-bis prison regime (2006-2013)
Leoluca Bagarella Boss, Corleonesi 1995 Life imprisonment Prison of Parma (PR) Article 41-bis prison regime (since 1995)
Salvatore Lo Piccolo Boss, Corleonesi 2007 Life imprisonment Opera Prison (MI) Article 41-bis prison regime (since 2007)
Matteo Messina Denaro Boss, Corleonesi wanted

The status of the most dangerous living Sicilian mafiosi:

Current status

Informants and witness

Notable Sicilian mafiosi

When a Mafia boss retires from leadership (or is killed), his clan's reputation as effective protectors and enforcers often goes with him. If his replacement has a weaker reputation, clients may lose confidence in the clan and defect to its neighbours, causing a shift in the balance of power and possible conflict. Ideally, the successor to the boss will have built a strong reputation of his own as he worked his way up the ranks, giving the clan a reputable new leader.[164] In this way, established Mafia clans have a powerful edge over newcomers who start from scratch; joining a clan as a soldier offers an aspiring mafioso a chance to build up his own reputation under the guidance and protection of senior mafiosi.

The more fearsome a mafioso's reputation is, the more he can win disputes without having recourse to violence. It can even happen that a mafioso who loses his means to commit violence (e.g. his soldiers are all in prison) can still use his reputation to intimidate and provide protection if everyone is unaware of his weakness and still believes in his power.[162] However, in the tough world of the Mafia, such bluffs generally do not last long, as his rivals will soon sense his weakness and challenge him.[163]

Compared to other occupations, reputation is especially valuable for a mafioso, as his primary product is protection through intimidation. The reputation of a mafioso is dichotomous: he is either a good protector or a bad one; there is no mediocrity. This is because a mafioso can only either succeed at an act of violence or fail utterly. There is no spectrum of quality when it comes to violent protection.[161] Consequently, a series of failures can completely ruin a mafioso's reputation, and with it his business.

The Mafia's power comes from its reputation to commit violence, particularly murder, against virtually anyone. Through reputation, mafiosi deter their enemies and enemies of their clients. It allows mafiosi to protect a client without being physically present (e.g. as bodyguards or watchmen), which in turn allows them to protect many clients at once.[159][160]


Murders are almost always carried out by members. It is very rare for the Mafia to recruit an outsider for a single job, and such people are liable to be eliminated soon afterwards because they become expendable liabilities.[156] Mafia violence is most commonly directed at other Mafia families competing for territory and business.[157] Violence is more common in the Sicilian Mafia than the American Mafia because Mafia families in Sicily are smaller and more numerous, creating a more volatile atmosphere.[158]

Sheets commemorating murdered Antimafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. They read: "You did not kill them: their ideas walk on our legs".


Violence and reputation

Certain types of crimes are forbidden by Cosa Nostra, either by members or freelance criminals within their domains. Mafiosi are generally forbidden from committing theft (burglary, mugging, etc.). Kidnapping is also generally forbidden, even by non-mafiosi, as it attracts a great deal of public hostility and police attention. These rules have been violated from time to time, both with and without the permission of senior mafiosi.[155]

Forbidden crimes

In a 2007 publication, the Italian small-business association Confesercenti reported that about 25.2 percent of Sicilian businesses were indebted to loan sharks, who collected around €1.4 billion a year in payments.[152] This figure has risen during the late-2000s recession, as tighter lending by banks forces the desperate to borrow from the Mafia.[153][154]

Loan sharking

The Sicilian Mafia in Italy is believed to have a turnover of €6.5 billion through control of public and private contracts.[150] Mafiosi use threats of violence and vandalism to muscle out competitors and win contracts for the companies they control.[1] They rarely manage the businesses they control themselves, but take a cut of their profits, usually through payoffs (Pizzo).[151]

Bid rigging

Mafiosi rarely directly involve themselves in smuggling operations. When they do, it is usually when the operations are especially risky. In this case, they may induct smugglers into their clans in the hope of binding them more firmly.[149] This was the case with heroin smuggling, where the volumes and profits involved were too large to keep the operations at arm's length.

Mafiosi provide protection and invest capital in smuggling gangs. Smuggling operations require large investments (goods, boats, crews, etc.) but few people would trust their money to criminal gangs. It is mafiosi who raise the necessary money from investors and ensure all parties act in good faith. They also ensure that the smugglers operate in safety.[148]


Although they are not ideological themselves, mafiosi have traditionally opposed extreme parties such as Fascists and Communists, and favoured centre candidates.[147]

Politicians usually repay this support with favours, such as sabotaging police investigations or giving contracts and permits.[146]

Politicians have always sought us out because we can provide votes. [...] between friends and family, each man of honor can muster up forty to fifty other people. There are between 1,500 and 2,000 men of honor in Palermo province. Multiply that by fifty and you get a nice package of 75,000 to 100,000 votes to go to friendly parties and candidates.[145]

Politicians court mafiosi to obtain votes during elections. A mafioso's mere endorsement of a certain candidate can be enough for his clients, relatives and associates to vote for said candidate. A particularly influential mafioso can bring in thousands of votes for a candidate; such is the respect a mafioso can command.[144] The Italian Parliament has a huge number of seats (945, roughly 1 per 64,000 citizens) and a large number of political parties competing for them, meaning a candidate can win with only a few thousand votes. A mafia clan's support can thus be decisive for his success.

Vote buying

Other activities

A protection racketeer cannot tolerate competition within his sphere of influence from another racketeer. If a dispute erupted between two clients protected by rival racketeers, the two racketeers would have to fight each other to win the dispute for their respective client. The outcomes of such fights can be unpredictable (not to mention bloody), and neither racketeer could guarantee a victory for his client. This would make their protection unreliable and of little value. Their clients might dismiss them and settle the dispute by other means, and their reputations would suffer. To prevent this, mafia clans negotiate territories in which they can monopolize the use of violence in settling disputes.[142] This is not always done peacefully, and disputes over protection territories are at the root of most Mafia wars.[143]

Protection territories

Mafiosi generally do not involve themselves in the management of the businesses they protect or arbitrate. Lack of competence is a common reason, but mostly it is to divest themselves of any interests that may conflict with their roles as protectors and arbitrators. This makes them more trusted by their clients, who need not fear their businesses being taken over.

In many situations, mafia bosses prefer to establish an indefinite long-term bond with a client, rather than make one-off contracts. The boss can then publicly declare the client to be under his permanent protection (his "friend", in Sicilian parlance). This leaves little public confusion as to who is and isn't protected, so thieves and other predators will be deterred from attacking a protected client and prey only on the unprotected.[141]

Mafiosi approach potential clients in an aggressive but friendly manner, like a door-to-door salesman.[139] They may even offer a few free favors as enticement. If a client rejects their overtures, mafiosi sometimes coerce them by vandalizing their property or other forms of harassment. Physical assault is rare; clients may be murdered for breaching agreements or talking to the police, but not for simply refusing protection.[140]

Client relations

The primary method by which the Mafia stifles competition, however, is the overseeing and enforcement of collusive agreements between businessmen. Mafia-enforced collusion typically appear in markets where collusion is both desirable (inelastic demand, lack of product differentiation, etc.) and difficult to set up (numerous competitors, low barriers to entry).[138] Industries which fit this description include garbage collection.

Mafiosi sometimes protect businessmen from competitors by threatening their competitors with violence. If two businessmen are competing for a government contract, the protected can ask his mafioso friends to bully his rival out of the bidding process. In another example, a mafioso acting on behalf of a coffee supplier might pressure local bars into serving only his client's coffee.

Protection from competition

Protection from theft is one service that the Mafia provides to paying "clients". Mafiosi themselves are generally forbidden from committing theft[135] (though in practice they are merely forbidden from stealing from anyone connected to the Mafia).[136] Instead, mafiosi make it their business to know all the thieves and fences operating within their territory. If a protected business is robbed, the clan will use these contacts to track down and return the stolen goods and punish the thieves, usually by beating them up.[137] Since the pursuit of thieves and their loot often goes into territories of other clans, clans routinely cooperate with each other on this matter, providing information and blocking the sale of the loot if they can.[137]

Protection from theft

It is estimated that the Sicilian Mafia costs the Sicilian economy more than €10 billion a year through protection rackets.[130] Roughly 70 percent of Sicilian businesses pay protection money to Cosa Nostra.[131] Monthly payments can range from €200 for a small shop or bar to €5,000 for a supermarket.[132][133][134] In Sicily, protection money is known as pizzo; the anti-extortion support group Addiopizzo derives its name from this. Mafiosi might sometimes ask for favours instead of money, such as assistance in committing a crime.

Mafiosi have protected a great variety of clients over the years: landowners, plantation owners, politicians, shopkeepers, drug dealers, etc. Whilst some people are coerced into buying protection and some do not receive any actual protection for their money (extortion), by and large there are many clients who actively seek and benefit from mafioso protection. This is one of the main reasons why the Mafia has resisted more than a century of government efforts to destroy it: the people who willingly solicit these services protect the Mafia from the authorities. If one is enjoying the benefits of Mafia protection, one does not want the police arresting one's mafioso.[1]

The Mafia's protection is not restricted to illegal activities. Shopkeepers often pay the Mafia to protect them from thieves. If a shopkeeper enters into a protection contract with a mafioso, the mafioso will make it publicly known that if any thief were foolish enough to rob his client's shop, he would track down the thief, beat him up, and, if possible, recover the stolen merchandise (mafiosi make it their business to know all the fences in their territory).[1]

In one of his books, Gambetta illustrates this concept with the scenario of a meat wholesaler who wishes to sell some meat to a supermarket without paying sales tax. Since the transaction is essentially a black market deal, the agents cannot turn to the police or the courts if either of them cheats the other. The seller might supply rotting meat, or the purchaser might refuse to pay. The mistrust and fear of being cheated with no recourse might prevent these two agents from making a profitable transaction. To guarantee each other's honesty, the two parties can ask the local mafia clan to oversee the transaction. In exchange for a commission, the mafioso promises to both the buyer and seller that if either of them tries to cheat the other, the cheater can expect to be assaulted or have his property vandalized. Such is the mafioso's reputation for viciousness, impartiality, and reliability that neither the buyer nor the seller would consider cheating with him overseeing the deal. The transaction thus proceeds smoothly.[1]

Scholars such as Diego Gambetta and Leopold Franchetti have characterized the Mafia as a "cartel of private protection firms". The primary activity of the Mafia is to provide protection and guarantee trust in areas of the Sicilian economy where the police and courts cannot be relied upon. The Mafia arbitrates disputes between criminals, organizes and oversees illicit business deals, and protects businessmen and criminals from cheats, thieves, and vandals. This aspect of the Mafia is often overlooked in the media because, unlike drug dealing and extortion, it is often not reported to the police.

Protection rackets

To a degree, mafiosi also impose omertà on the general population. Civilians who buy their protection or make other deals are expected to be discreet, on pain of death. Witness intimidation is also common.

The need for secrecy and inconspicuousness deeply colors the traditions and mannerisms of mafiosi. Mafiosi are discouraged from consuming alcohol or other drugs, as in an inebriated state they are more likely to blurt out sensitive information. They also frequently adopt self-effacing attitudes to strangers so as to avoid unwanted attention.[128] Whereas most Sicilians tend to be very verbose and expressive, mafiosi tend to be more terse and subdued. Mafiosi are also forbidden from writing down anything about their activities, lest such evidence be discovered by police.[129]

Omertà is a code of silence and secrecy that forbids mafiosi from betraying their comrades to the authorities. The penalty for transgression is death, and relatives of the turncoat may also be murdered. Mafiosi generally do not associate with police (aside perhaps from corrupting individual officers as necessary). For instance, a mafioso will not call the police when he is a victim of a crime. He is expected to take care of the problem himself. To do otherwise would undermine his reputation as a capable protector of others (see below), and his enemies may see him as weak and vulnerable.


These rules are not to touch the women of other men of honour; not to steal from other men of honour or, in general, from anyone; not to exploit prostitution; not to kill other men of honour unless strictly necessary; to avoid passing information to the police; not to quarrel with other men of honour; to maintain proper behavior; to keep silent about Cosa Nostra around outsiders; to avoid under all circumstances introducing oneself to other men of honour.[127]

The pentito Antonino Calderone recounted similar Commandments in his 1987 testimony:

  1. No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.
  2. Never look at the wives of friends.
  3. Never be seen with cops.
  4. Don't go to pubs and clubs.
  5. Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty - even if your wife is about to give birth.
  6. Appointments must absolutely be respected. (probably refers to formal rank and authority.)[126]
  7. Wives must be treated with respect.
  8. When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
  9. Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.
  10. People who can't be part of Cosa Nostra: anyone who has a close relative in the police, anyone with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn't hold to moral values.

In November 2007 Sicilian police reported discovery of a list of "Ten Commandments" in the hideout of mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, thought to be guidelines on good, respectful and honourable conduct for a mafioso.[125]

Ten Commandments

Mafiosi of equal status sometimes call each other "compare", while inferiors call their superiors "padrino".[124] "Padrino" is the Italian term for "godfather".


This tradition is upheld very scrupulously, often to the detriment of efficient operation. For instance, when the mafioso Indelicato Amedeo returned to Sicily following his initiation in the United States in the 1950s, he could not announce his membership to his own mafioso father, but had to wait for a mafioso from the United States who knew of his induction to come to Sicily and introduce the son to the father.[2] Were the Mafia a legal organization, a simple phone call or signed certificate could have settled the matter quickly and easily.

There is always a risk that outsiders and undercover policemen might masquerade as a mafioso to infiltrate the organization. To ensure this does not happen, a mafioso must never introduce himself to another mafioso he does not personally know, even if he knows the other through reputation. If he wants to establish a relationship, he must ask a third mafioso whom they both personally know to introduce them to each other in a face-to-face meeting. This intermediary can vouch that neither of the two is an impostor.


[123] These elements have been the subject of much curiosity and speculation. The sociologist [122] The elements of the ceremony have changed little over the Mafia's history.

After his arrest, the mafioso Giovanni Brusca described the ceremony in which he was formally made a full member of Cosa Nostra. In 1976 he was invited to a "banquet" at a country house. He was brought into a room where several mafiosi were sitting around a table upon which sat a pistol, a dagger and piece of paper bearing the image of a saint. They questioned his commitment and his feelings regarding criminality and murder (despite him already having a history of such acts). When he affirmed himself, Salvatore Riina, then the most powerful boss of Cosa Nostra, took a needle and pricked Brusca's finger. Brusca smeared his blood on the image of the saint, which he held in his cupped hands as Riina set it alight. As Brusca juggled the burning image in his hands, Riina said to him: "If you betray Cosa Nostra, your flesh will burn like this saint."[13]

[I] was invited to take part in a secret meeting of the Fratuzzi. I entered a mysterious room where there were many men armed with guns sitting around a table. In the center of the table there was a skull drawn on a piece of paper and a knife. In order to be admitted to the Fratuzzi, [I] had to undergo an initiation consisting of some trials of loyalty and the pricking of the lower lip with the tip of the knife: the blood from the wound soaked the skull.
— Bernardino Verro[120][121]

One of the first accounts of an initiation ceremony into the Mafia was given by Bernardino Verro, a leader of the Fasci Siciliani, a popular movement of democratic and socialist inspiration, which arose in Sicily in the early 1890s. In order to give the movement teeth and to protect himself from harm, Verro became a member of a Mafia group in Corleone, the Fratuzzi (Little Brothers). In a memoir written many years later, he described the initiation ritual he underwent in the spring of 1893:

Initiation ceremony

Rituals and codes of conduct

The Commission also deals with matters of succession. When a boss dies or retires, his clan's reputation often crumbles with his departure. This can cause clients to abandon the clan and turn to neighboring clans for protection. These clans would grow greatly in status and power relative to their rivals, potentially destabilizing the region and precipitating war.[118] The Commission may choose to divide up the clan's territory and members among its neighbors. Alternatively, the commission has the power to appoint a regent for the clan until it can elect a new boss.[118][119]

A major function of the Commission is to regulate the use of violence.[113][115] For instance, a mafioso who wants to commit a murder in another clan's territory must ask the permission of the local boss; the commission enforces this rule.[115] Any murder of a mafioso or prominent individual (police, lawyers, politicians, journalists, etc.) must be approved by the commission.[116] Such acts can potentially upset other clans and spark a war, so the Commission provides a means by which to obtain their approval.[117]

Contrary to popular belief, the commissions do not serve as a centralized government for the Mafia. The power of the commissions are limited and clans are autonomous and independent. Rather, each Commission serves as a representative mechanism for consultation of independent clans who decide by consensus. "Contrary to the wide-spread image presented by the media, these superordinate bodies of coordination cannot be compared with the executive boards of major legal firms. Their power is intentionally limited. And it would be entirely wrong to see in the Cosa Nostra a centrally managed, internationally active Mafia holding company," according to criminologist Letizia Paoli.[114]

Since the 1950s, the Mafia has maintained multiple commissions to resolve disputes and promote cooperation among clans. Each province of Sicily has its own Commission. Clans are organized into districts (mandamenti) of three or four geographically adjacent clans. Each district elects a representative (capo mandamento) to sit on its Provincial Commission.[113]


A mafioso's legitimate occupation, if any, generally does not affect his prestige within Cosa Nostra.[1] Historically, most mafiosi were employed in menial jobs, and many bosses did not work at all.[1] Professionals such as lawyers and doctors do exist within the organization, and are employed according to whatever useful skills they have.[112]

Although clans are also called "families", their members are usually not related by blood. The Mafia actually has rules designed to prevent nepotism. Membership and rank in the Mafia are not hereditary. Most new bosses are not related to their predecessor. The Commission forbids relatives from holding positions in inter-clan bodies at the same time.[111] That said, mafiosi frequently bring their sons into the trade. They have an easier time entering, because the son bears his father's seal of approval and is familiar with the traditions and requirements of Cosa Nostra.

Traditionally, only men can become mafiosi, though in recent times there have been reports of women assuming the responsibilities of imprisoned mafiosi relatives.[109][110]

To be part of the Mafia is highly desirable for many street criminals. For one, mafiosi receive a great deal of respect, for everyone knows that to offend a mafioso is to risk lethal retribution from him or his colleagues. Mafiosi have an easier time getting away with crimes, negotiating deals, and demanding privileges. A full member also gains more freedom to participate in certain rackets which the Mafia controls (particularly protection racketeering).

Membership in Cosa Nostra is open only to Sicilian men. A candidate cannot be a relative or have any close links with a lawman, such as a policeman or a judge. There is no strict age limit: boys as young as sixteen have been initiated.[108] A prospective mafioso is carefully tested for obedience, discretion, courage, ruthlessness and skill at espionage.[13][108] He is almost always required to commit murder as his ultimate trial,[13] even if he doesn't plan to be a career assassin. The act of murder is to prove his sincerity (i.e. he is not an undercover policeman) and to bind him into silence (i.e. he cannot break omertà without facing murder charges himself).


The media has often made reference to a "capo di tutti capi" or "boss of bosses" that allegedly "commands all of Cosa Nostra". Calogero Vizzini, Salvatore Riina, and Bernardo Provenzano were especially influential bosses who have each been described by the media and law enforcement as being the "boss of bosses" of their times. While a powerful boss may exert great influence over his neighbors, the position does not formally exist, according to Mafia turncoats such as Buscetta.[106][107] According to Mafia historian Salvatore Lupo "the emphasis of the media on the definition of a 'capo di tutti capi' is without any foundation".[107]

Other than its members, Cosa Nostra makes extensive use of "associates". These are people who work for or aid a clan (or even multiple clans) but are not treated as true members. These include corrupt officials and prospective mafiosi. An associate is considered by the mafiosi nothing more than a tool, someone that they can "use", or "nothing mixed with nil."[13]

The consigliere ("counselor") of the clan is also elected on a yearly basis. One of his jobs is to supervise the actions of the boss and his immediate underlings, particularly in financial matters (e.g. preventing embezzlement).[104] He also serves as an impartial adviser to the boss and mediator in internal disputes. To fulfill this role, the consigliere must be impartial, devoid of conflict of interest and ambition.[105]

The underboss is usually appointed by the boss. He is the boss' most trusted right-hand man and second-in-command. If the boss is killed or imprisoned, he takes over as leader.

The boss of a clan is typically elected by the rank-and-file soldiers (though violent successions do happen). Due to the small size of most Sicilian clans, the boss of a clan has intimate contact with all members, and doesn't receive much in the way of privileges or rewards as he would in larger organizations (such as the larger Five Families of New York).[102] His tenure is also frequently short: elections are yearly, and he might be deposed sooner for misconduct or incompetence.[103]

The actual structure of any given clan can vary. Despite the name decina, they do not necessarily have ten soldiers, but can have anything from five to thirty.[100] Some clans are so small that they don't even have decinas and capodecinas, and even in large clans certain soldiers may report directly to the boss.[101]

In 1984, the mafioso informant Tommaso Buscetta explained to prosecutors the command structure of a typical clan.[13] A clan is led by a "boss" (capofamiglia or rappresentante), who is aided by an underboss (capo bastone or sotto capo) and supervised by one or more advisers (consigliere). Under his command are groups (decina) of about ten "soldiers" (soldati, operai, or picciotti). Each decina is led by a capodecina.

Hierarchy of a Cosa Nostra clan.

Clan hierarchy

Cosa Nostra is not a monolithic organization, but rather a loose confederation of about one hundred groups known alternately as "families", " or "clans" (despite the name, their members are generally not related by blood), each of which claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village or a neighborhood of a larger city, though without ever fully conquering and legitimizing its monopoly of violence. For many years, the power apparatuses of the single families were the sole ruling bodies within the two associations, and they have remained the real centers of power even after superordinate bodies were created in the Cosa Nostra beginning in the late 1950s (the Sicilian Mafia Commission).[99]

Structure and composition

By the late 1990s, the weakened Cosa Nostra had to yield most of the illegal drug trade to the Calabria. In 2006, the latter was estimated to control 80 percent of the cocaine imported to Europe.[97] In 2012, it was reported that the Mafia had joined forces with the Mexican drug cartels.[98]

In addition to Salvatore Lima, mentioned above, the deceased politician Giulio Andreotti and the High Court judge Corrado Carnevale have long been suspected of having ties to the Mafia.[96]

The alleged deal included a repeal of 41 bis, among other anti-Mafia laws in return for electoral support in Sicily. Nevertheless, Giuffrè's declarations have not yet been confirmed. The Italian Parliament, with the full support of Forza Italia reinforced the provisions of the 41 bis, which was to expire in 2002 but has been prolonged for another four years and extended to other crimes such as terrorism. However, according to one of Italy’s leading magazines, L'Espresso, 119 mafiosi – one-fifth of those incarcerated under the 41 bis regime – have been released on an individual basis.[95] The human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern that the 41-bis regime could in some circumstances amount to "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" for prisoners.

The incarcerated bosses are currently subjected to harsh controls on their contact with the outside world, limiting their ability to run their operations from behind bars under the article 41-bis prison regime. Antonino Giuffrè – a close confidant of Provenzano, turned pentito shortly after his capture in 2002 – alleges that in 1993 Cosa Nostra had direct contact with representatives of Silvio Berlusconi who was then planning the birth of Forza Italia.[92][93][94]

Modern Mafia in Italy

The tide of defectors was greatly stemmed. The Mafia preferred to initiate relatives of existing mafiosi, believing them to be less prone to defection. Provenzano was arrested in 2006, after 43 years on the run. His successor as boss is Messina Denaro.

Under Bernardo Provenzano's leadership, murders of state officials were halted. He also halted the policy of murdering informants and their families, with a view instead to getting them to retract their testimonies and return to the fold.[91] He also restored the common support fund for imprisoned mafiosi.

Provenzano years

After Riina's capture, leadership of the Mafia was briefly held by Leoluca Bagarella, then passed to Bernardo Provenzano when the former was himself captured in 1995.[90] Provenzano halted the campaign of violence and replaced it with a campaign of quietness known as pax mafiosa.

After Riina's arrest, the Mafia began a campaign of terrorism on the Italian mainland. Tourist spots such as the Via dei Georgofili in Florence, Via Palestro in Milan, and the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and Via San Teodoro in Rome were attacked, leaving 10 dead and 93 injured and causing severe damage to cultural heritage such as the Uffizi Gallery. When the Catholic Church openly condemned the Mafia, two churches were bombed and an anti-Mafia priest shot dead in Rome.[89]

The Mafia retaliated violently. In 1988, they murdered a Palermo judge and his son; three years later a prosecutor and an anti-mafia businessman were also murdered. Salvatore Lima, a close political ally of the Mafia, was murdered for failing to reverse the convictions as promised. Falcone and Borsellino were killed by bombs in 1992. This led to a public outcry and a massive government crackdown, resulting in the arrest of Salvatore Riina in January 1993. More and more defectors emerged. Many would pay a high price for their cooperation, usually through the murder of relatives. For example, Francesco Marino Mannoia's mother, aunt and sister were murdered.[13]

In the early 1980s, the magistrates Maxi Trial, which lasted from February 1986 to December 1987. It was held in a fortified courthouse specially built for the occasion. 474 mafiosi were put on trial, of whom 342 were convicted. In January 1992 the Italian Supreme Court confirmed these convictions.

Buscetta (in sunglasses) is led into court at the Maxi Trial, circa 1986.

Maxi trial and war against the government

At the same time the Corleonesi waged their campaign to dominate Cosa Nostra, they also waged a campaign of murder against journalists, officials and policemen who dared cross them. The police were frustrated with the lack of help they were receiving from witnesses and politicians. At the funeral of a policeman murdered by mafiosi in 1985, policemen insulted and spat at two attending politicians, and a fight broke out between them and military police.[88]

In the early 1970s, Salvatore Riina, to whom he would eventually hand over control. The Corleonesi bribed cash-strapped Palermo clans into the fold, subverted members of other clans and secretly recruited new members.[83] In 1977, the Corleonesi had Gaetano Badalamenti expelled from the Commission on trumped-up charges of hiding drug revenues.[84] In April 1981, the Corleonesi murdered another rival member of the Commission, Stefano Bontade, and the Second Mafia War began in earnest.[85] Hundreds of enemy mafiosi and their relatives were murdered,[86] sometimes by traitors in their own clans. By manipulating the Mafia's rules and eliminating rivals, the Corleonesi came to completely dominate the Commission. Riina used his power over the Commission to replace the bosses of certain clans with hand-picked regents.[87] In the end, the Corleonesi faction won and Riina effectively became the "boss of bosses" of the Sicilian Mafia.

Second Mafia War

When heroin refineries operated by Corsican gangsters in Marseilles were shut down by French authorities, morphine traffickers looked to Sicily. Starting in 1975, Cosa Nostra set up heroin refineries across the island.[81] As well as refining heroin, Cosa Nostra also sought to control its distribution. Sicilian mafiosi moved to the United States to personally control distribution networks there, often at the expense of their U.S. counterparts. Heroin addiction in Europe and North America surged, and seizures by police increased dramatically. By 1982, the Sicilian Mafia controlled about 80 percent of the heroin trade in the north-eastern United States.[82] Heroin was often distributed to street dealers from Mafia-owned pizzerias, and the revenues could be passed off as restaurant profits (the so-called Pizza Connection).

The 1950s and 1960s were difficult times for the mafia, but in the 1970s their rackets grew considerably more lucrative, particularly smuggling. The most lucrative racket of the 1970s was cigarette smuggling.[80] Sicilian and Neapolitan crime bosses negotiated a joint monopoly over the smuggling of cigarettes to Naples.

Smuggling boom

Many non-mafiosi were killed in the crossfire. In April 1963, several bystanders were wounded during a shootout in Palermo.[76] In May, Angelo La Barbera survived a murder attempt in Milan. In June, six military officers and a policeman in Ciaculli were killed while trying to dispose of a car bomb. These incidents provoked national outrage and a crackdown in which nearly 2,000 arrests were made. Mafia activity fell as clans disbanded and mafiosi went into hiding. The Sicilian Mafia Commission was dissolved; it would not reform until 1969.[77] 117 suspects were put on trial in 1968, but most were acquitted or received light sentences.[78] The inactivity plus money lost to legal fees and so forth reduced most mafiosi to poverty.[79]

In 1962, the mafia boss Calcedonio Di Pisa, to handle the heroin. When the shipment arrived in America, however, the American buyers claimed some heroin was missing, and paid Di Pisa a commensurately lower sum. Di Pisa accused the Americans of defrauding him, while the La Barberas accused Di Pisa of embezzling the missing heroin. The Sicilian Mafia Commission sided with Di Pisa, to the open anger of the La Barberas. The La Barberas murdered Di Pisa and Manzella, triggering a war.[75]

The First Mafia War was the first high-profile conflict between Mafia clans in post-war Italy (the Sicilian Mafia has a long history of violent rivalries).

First Mafia War

The 1950s saw the Mafia heavily penetrate the construction and cement industries. The cement business was appealing to the Mafia because it allows high levels of local economic involvement and is a good front for illegitimate operations.[74]

Mafia organizations entirely control the building sector in Palermo – the quarries where aggregates are mined, site clearance firms, cement plants, metal depots for the construction industry, wholesalers for sanitary fixtures, and so on.
— Giovanni Falcone, 1982[73]

The post-war period saw a huge building boom in Palermo. Allied bombing in World War II had left more than 14,000 people homeless, and migrants were pouring in from the countryside,[71] so there was a huge demand for new homes. Much of this construction was subsidized by public money. In 1956, two Mafia-connected officials, Vito Ciancimino and Salvatore Lima, took control of Palermo's Office of Public Works. Between 1959 and 1963, about 80 percent of building permits were given to just five people, none of whom represented major construction firms and were probably Mafia frontmen.[72] Construction companies unconnected with the Mafia were forced to pay protection money. Many buildings were illegally constructed before the city's planning was finalized. Mafiosi scared off anyone who dared to question the illegal building. The result of this unregulated building was the demolition of many historic buildings and the erection of apartment blocks, many of which were not up to standard.

Sack of Palermo

In the 1950s, a crackdown in the United States on drug trafficking led to the imprisonment of many American mafiosi. Furthermore, Cuba, a major hub for drug smuggling, fell to Fidel Castro. This prompted the American mafia boss Joseph Bonanno to return to Sicily in 1957 to franchise out his heroin operations to the Sicilian clans. Anticipating rivalries for the lucrative American drug market, he negotiated the establishment of a Sicilian Mafia Commission to mediate disputes.[70]

The changing economic landscape of Sicily would shift the Mafia's power base from rural to the urban areas. The Minister of Agriculture – a communist – pushed for reforms in which peasants were to get larger shares of produce, be allowed to form cooperatives and take over badly used land, and remove the system by which leaseholders (known as "gabelloti") could rent land from landowners for their own short-term use.[66] Owners of especially large estates were to be forced to sell off some of their land. The Mafia, which had connections to many landowners, murdered many socialist reformers. The most notorious attack was the Portella della Ginestra massacre, when 11 persons were killed and 33 wounded during May Day celebrations on May 1, 1947. The bloodbath was perpetrated by the bandit Salvatore Giuliano who was possibly backed by local Mafia bosses.[67][68] In the end, though, they couldn't stop the process, and many landowners chose to sell their land to mafiosi, who offered more money than the government.[69]

In 1943, nearly half a million Allied troops invaded Sicily. Crime soared in the upheaval and chaos. Many inmates escaped from their prisons, banditry returned and the black market thrived.[13] During the first six months of Allied occupation, party politics in Sicily were banned.[60] Most institutions, with the exception of the police and carabinieri,[61] were destroyed, and the American occupiers had to build a new order from scratch. As Fascist mayors were deposed, the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT) simply appointed replacements. Many turned out to be mafiosi, such as Calogero Vizzini and Giuseppe Genco Russo.[62][63] They could easily present themselves as political dissidents,[64] and their anti-communist position gave them additional credibility. Mafia bosses reformed their clans, absorbing some of the marauding bandits into their ranks.[65]

Post-Fascist revival

Sicily's murder rate sharply declined.[58] Landowners were able to raise the legal rents on their lands; sometimes as much as ten-thousandfold.[59] Many mafiosi fled to the United States. Among these were Carlo Gambino and Joseph Bonanno, who would go on to become powerful Mafia bosses in New York City.

Mori's campaign ended in June 1929 when Mussolini recalled him to Rome. Although he did not permanently crush the Mafia as the Fascist press proclaimed, his campaign was nonetheless very successful at suppressing it. As the Mafia informant Antonino Calderone reminisced: "The music changed. Mafiosi had a hard life. [...] After the war the mafia hardly existed anymore. The Sicilian Families had all been broken up."[57]

Cuccia’s careless remark has passed into history as the catalyst for Mussolini’s war on the Mafia. When Mussolini firmly established his power in January 1925, he appointed Cesare Mori as the Prefect of Palermo in October 1925 and granted him special powers to fight the Mafia.[47] Mori formed a small army of policemen, carabinieri and militiamen, which went from town to town, rounding up suspects. To force suspects to surrender, they would take their families hostage, sell off their property,[49] or publicly slaughter their livestock.[50] By 1928, over 11,000 suspects were arrested.[51] Confessions were sometimes extracted through beatings and torture. Some mafiosi who had been on the losing end of Mafia feuds voluntarily cooperated with prosecutors,[52] perhaps as a way of obtaining protection and revenge. Charges of Mafia association were typically leveled at poor peasants and gabellotti (farm leaseholders), but were avoided when dealing with major landowners.[53] Many were tried en masse.[54][55] More than 1,200 were convicted and imprisoned,[56] and many others were internally exiled without trial.[57]

As prime minister, he visited Sicily in May 1924 and passed through Piana dei Greci where he was received by the mayor/Mafia boss Francesco Cuccia. At some point Cuccia expressed surprise at Mussolini’s police escort and whispered in his ear: "You are with me, you are under my protection. What do you need all these cops for?" After Mussolini rejected Cuccia's offer of protection, the sindaco, feeling he had been slighted, instructed the townsfolk not to attend the duce's speech. Mussolini felt humiliated and outraged.[47][48]

In 1925, Benito Mussolini initiated a campaign to destroy the Mafia and assert Fascist control over Sicilian life. The Mafia threatened and undermined his power in Sicily, and a successful campaign would strengthen him as the new leader, legitimizing and empowering his rule.[46] Not only would this be a great propaganda coup for Fascism, but it would also provide an excuse to suppress his political opponents on the island, since many Sicilian politicians had Mafia links.

Cesare Mori, the prefect who led the Fascist campaign against the Mafia.

Fascist suppression

[45] One study attributes the emergence of the Sicilian Mafia to the

In a series of reports between 1898 and 1900, Ermanno Sangiorgi, the police chief of Palermo, identified 670 mafiosi belonging to eight Mafia clans that went through alternating phases of cooperation and conflict.[42] The report mentioned initiation rituals and codes of conduct, as well as criminal activities that included counterfeiting, kidnappings for ransom, murder, robbery and witness intimidation. The Mafia also maintained funds to support the families of imprisoned members and pay defense lawyers.[43] In an attempt to annihilate the Mafia, Italian troops arrested 64 people of Palermo in February 1898.[44]

Mafiosi meddled in politics early on, bullying voters into voting for candidates they favored. At this period in history, only a small fraction of the Sicilian population could vote, so a single mafia boss could control a sizable chunk of the electorate and thus wield considerable political leverage.[41] Mafiosi used their allies in government to avoid prosecution as well as persecute less well-connected rivals. The highly fragmented and shaky Italian political system allowed cliques of Mafia-friendly politicians to exert a lot of influence.[13]

In 1864, Niccolò Turrisi Colonna, leader of the Palermo National Guard, wrote of a "sect of thieves" that operated across Sicily. This "sect" was mostly rural, composed of cattle thieves, smugglers, wealthy farmers and their guards.[35][36] The sect made "affiliates every day of the brightest young people coming from the rural class, of the guardians of the fields in the Palermitan countryside, and of the large number of smugglers; a sect which gives and receives protection to and from certain men who make a living on traffic and internal commerce. It is a sect with little or no fear of public bodies, because its members believe that they can easily elude this."[37] It had special signals to recognize each other, offered protection services, scorned the law and had a code of loyalty and non-interaction with the police known as umirtà ("code of silence").[36][38] Colonna warned in his report that the Italian government's brutal and clumsy attempts to crush crime only made the problem worse by alienating the populace. An 1865 dispatch from the prefect of Palermo to Rome first officially described the phenomenon as a "Mafia".[8][39] An 1876 police report makes the earliest known description of the familiar initiation ritual.[40]

The early Mafia was heavily involved with citrus growers and cattle ranchers, as these industries were particularly vulnerable to thieves and vandals and thus badly needed protection. Citrus plantations had a fragile production system that made them quite vulnerable to sabotage.[33] Likewise, cattle are very easy to steal. The Mafia was often more effective than the police at recovering stolen cattle; in the 1920s, it was noted that the Mafia's success rate at recovering stolen cattle was 95%, whereas the police managed only 10%.[34]

The Mafia was (and still is) a largely western phenomenon. There was little Mafia activity in the eastern half of Sicily. This did not mean there was little violence; the most violent conflicts over land took place in the east, but they did not involve mafiosi.[29] In the east, the ruling elites were more cohesive and active during the transition from feudalism to capitalism. They maintained their large stables of enforcers, and were able to absorb or suppress any emerging violent groups.[30] Furthermore, the land in the east was generally divided into a smaller number of large estates, so there were fewer landowners and their large estates often required its guardians to patrol it full-time. The owners of such estates needed to hire full-time guardians.[31] By contrast, in the west the estates tended to be smaller and thus did not require the total, round-the-clock attention of a protector. It was cheaper for these estates to contract their protection to a mafioso rather than employ full-time guards. A mafioso in these regions could protect multiple small estates at once, which gave him great independence and leverage to charge high prices.[31] The landowners in this region were also frequently absent and could not watch over their properties should the protector withdraw, further increasing his bargaining power.[32]

1900 map of Mafia presence in Sicily. Towns with Mafia activity are marked as red dots. The Mafia operated mostly in the west, in areas of rich agricultural productivity.

In countryside towns that lacked formal constabulary, local elites responded to banditry by recruiting young men into "companies-at-arms" to hunt down thieves and negotiate the return of stolen property, in exchange for a pardon for the thieves and a fee from the victims.[29] These companies-at-arms were often made up of former bandits and criminals, usually the most skilled and violent of them.[27] While this saved communities the trouble of training their own policemen, it may have made the companies-at-arms more inclined to collude with their former brethren rather than destroy them.[27] Scholars such as Salvatore Lupo have identified these groups as "proto-Mafia".

The Mafia began in the 19th century. Modern scholars believe the seeds were planted in the upheaval of Sicily's transition out of feudalism beginning in 1812 and its later annexation by mainland Italy in 1860. Under feudalism, the nobility owned most of the land and enforced law and order through their private armies. After 1812, the feudal barons steadily sold off or rented their lands to private citizens. Primogeniture was abolished, land could no longer be seized to settle debts, and one fifth of the land was to become private property of the peasants.[26] After Italy annexed Sicily in 1860, it redistributed a large share of public and church land to private citizens. The result was a huge boom in landowners: from 2,000 in 1812 to 20,000 by 1861.[27] With this increase in property owners and commerce came more disputes that needed settling, contracts that needed enforcing, transactions that needed oversight, and properties that needed protecting. The barons were releasing their private armies to let the state take over the job of enforcing the law, but the new authorities were not up to the task, largely due to their inexperience with capitalism.[1] Lack of manpower was also a problem: there were often fewer than 350 active policemen for the entire island. Some towns did not have any permanent police force, only visited every few months by some troops to collect malcontents, leaving criminals to operate with impunity from the law in the interim.[28] Compounding these problems was banditry: rising food prices,[27] the loss of public and church lands,[26] and the loss of feudal commons pushed many desperate peasants to steal. In the face of rising crime, booming commerce, and inefficient authorities, property owners turned to extralegal arbitrators and protectors. These extralegal protectors would eventually organize themselves into the first Mafia clans.

Post-feudal Sicily

The genesis of Cosa Nostra is hard to trace because mafiosi are very secretive and do not keep historical records of their own. In fact, they have been known to spread deliberate lies about their past, and sometimes come to believe in their own myths.[25]


There are several lines of interpretation, often blended to some extent, to define the Mafia: it has been viewed as a mirror of traditional Sicilian society; as an enterprise or type of criminal industry; as a more or less centralized secret society; and/or as a juridical ordering that is parallel to that of the state – a kind of anti-state. The Mafia is all of these but none of these exclusively.[24]

Scholars such as Diego Gambetta[23] and Leopoldo Franchetti have characterized the Sicilian Mafia as a "cartel of private protection firms", whose primary business is protection racketeering: they use their fearsome reputation for violence to deter people from swindling, robbing, or competing with those who pay them for protection. For many businessmen in Sicily, they provide an essential service when they cannot rely on the police and judiciary to enforce their contracts and protect their properties from thieves (this is often because they are engaged in black market deals).

The economic paradigm was prevalent when the Italian Penal Code definition of criminal conspiracy (Article 416) was extended by Sacra Corona Unita – that are structured like the Mafia, but are not the Mafia. According to historian Salvatore Lupo, “if everything is Mafia, nothing is Mafia.”[21]

However, these two paradigms missed essential aspects of the Mafia that became clear when investigators were confronted with the testimonies of Mafia turncoats, like those of Buscetta to judge Falcone at the Maxi Trial. The economic approach to explain the Mafia did illustrate the development and operations of the Mafia business, but neglected the cultural symbols and codes by which the Mafia legitimized its existence and by which it rooted itself into Sicilian society.[15]

[21] According to Mafia turncoats (

"Cosa Nostra" and other names

While there was a time when people were reluctant to pronounce the word "Mafia" ... nowadays people have gone so far in the opposite direction that it has become an overused term ... I am no longer willing to accept the habit of speaking of the Mafia in descriptive and all-inclusive terms that make it possible to stack up phenomena that are indeed related to the field of organized crime but that have little or nothing in common with the Mafia.[9]
— Giovanni Falcone, 1990

The term "mafia" has become a generic term for any organized criminal network with similar structure, methods, and interests. Giovanni Falcone, the anti-Mafia judge murdered by the Mafia in 1992, however, objected to the conflation of the term "Mafia" with organized crime in general:

The public's association of the word with the criminal secret society was perhaps inspired by the 1863 play "I mafiusi di la Vicaria" ("The Mafiosi of the Vicaria") by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaetano Mosca. The words Mafia and mafiusi are never mentioned in the play; they were probably put in the title to add a local flair. The play is about a Palermo prison gang with traits similar to the Mafia: a boss, an initiation ritual, and talk of "umirtà" (omertà or code of silence) and "pizzu" (a codeword for extortion money).[7] The play had great success throughout Italy. Soon after, the use of the term "mafia" began appearing in the Italian state's early reports on the phenomenon. The word made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo, Filippo Antonio Gualterio.[8]

  • mahyas (مهياص) = aggressive boasting, bragging
  • marfud (مرفوض) = rejected
  • mu'afa = safety, protection[4]
  • Ma àfir = the name of an Arab tribe[5] that ruled Palermo[6]

Sicily was once an Islamic emirate, therefore "mafia" might have Arabic roots. Possible Arabic roots of the word include:

The word "mafia" originated in Sicily, though its origins are uncertain. The Sicilian adjective mafiusu (in Italian: mafioso), roughly translated, means "swagger," but can also be translated as "boldness, bravado". In reference to a man, mafiusu in 19th century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta.[3] In reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective "mafiusa" means beautiful and attractive. The Sicilian word mafie refers to the caves near Trapani and Marsala,[1] which were often used as hiding places for refugees and criminals.



  • Etymology 1
    • "Cosa Nostra" and other names 1.1
  • Definitions 2
  • History 3
    • Post-feudal Sicily 3.1
    • Fascist suppression 3.2
    • Post-Fascist revival 3.3
    • Sack of Palermo 3.4
    • First Mafia War 3.5
    • Smuggling boom 3.6
    • Second Mafia War 3.7
    • Maxi trial and war against the government 3.8
    • Provenzano years 3.9
    • Modern Mafia in Italy 3.10
  • Structure and composition 4
    • Clan hierarchy 4.1
    • Membership 4.2
    • Commission 4.3
  • Rituals and codes of conduct 5
    • Initiation ceremony 5.1
    • Introductions 5.2
    • Etiquette 5.3
    • Ten Commandments 5.4
    • Omertà 5.5
  • Protection rackets 6
    • Protection from theft 6.1
    • Protection from competition 6.2
    • Client relations 6.3
    • Protection territories 6.4
  • Other activities 7
    • Vote buying 7.1
    • Smuggling 7.2
    • Bid rigging 7.3
    • Loan sharking 7.4
    • Forbidden crimes 7.5
  • Violence and reputation 8
    • Murder 8.1
    • Reputation 8.2
  • Notable Sicilian mafiosi 9
    • Informants and witness 9.1
    • Current status 9.2
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Sources 12
  • External links 13

Following waves of emigration, the Mafia has spread to other countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia.


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