", claims sovereignty
over a territory in which it operates its racket
s – usually a town or village or a neighbourhood (borgata) of a larger city.
1963 Ciaculli massacre: a car bomb, intended for Mafia boss Salvatore Greco, kills seven between police officers and military personnel near Palermo.
1985 Mafia: In New York City, Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti are shot dead on the orders of John Gotti, who assumes leadership of the Gambino family.
1991 Libero Grassi, an Italian businessman from Palermo is killed by the Mafia after taking a solitary stand against their extortion demands.
1992 In New York, Mafia boss John Gotti is convicted of murder and racketeering and is later sentenced to life in prison.
1992 Anti-Mafia Judge Paolo Borsellino is killed by a Mafia car bomb in Palermo, Italy together with five police officers.
1993 Italian former minister and Christian Democracy leader Giulio Andreotti is accused of mafia allegiance by the tribunal of Palermo.
", claims sovereignty
over a territory in which it operates its racket
s – usually a town or village or a neighbourhood (borgata) of a larger city. It's members call themselves "men of honor", though the public often refers to them as "mafiosi".
According to the classic definition, the Mafia is a criminality originating in Sicily - ie Cosa Nostra. However, the term "mafia" has become a sort of umbrella term for any organized criminal network with similar structure, methods, and interests.
The Mafia proper frequently parallels, collaborates with or clashes with, networks originating in other parts of southern Italy, such as the Camorra
), the 'Ndrangheta (from Calabria
), the Stidda
(southern Sicily) and the Sacra Corona Unita
). However, Giovanni Falcone
, the anti-Mafia judge murdered by the Mafia in 1992, objected to the inflation of the use of "Mafia" to organized crime in general:
- 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.
The American Mafia
arose from offshoots of the Mafia that emerged in the United States
during the late nineteenth century, following waves of emigration from Sicily. There were similar offshoots in Canada
among Italian Canadians. However, while the same has been claimed of organised crime in Australia
, this appears to result from confusion with 'Ndrangheta, which is generally regarded as more prominent among Italian Australians
EtymologyThere are several theories about the origin of the term "Mafia" (sometimes spelled "Maffia" in early texts). The Sicilian
adjective mafiusu (in Italian: mafioso) may derive from the slang Arabic mahyas (مهياص), meaning "aggressive boasting, bragging", or marfud (مرفوض) meaning "rejected". Roughly translated, it 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
. In reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective "mafiusa" means beautiful and attractive.
Other possible origins from Arabic:
- maha = quarry, cave
- mu'afa = safety, protection
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). 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.
According to legend
, the word Mafia was first used in the Sicilian revolt – the Sicilian Vespers
– against rule of the Capetian House of Anjou
on 30 March 1282. In this legend, Mafia is the acronym for "Morte Alla Francia, Italia Anela" (Italian for "Death to France, Italy cries!"). However, this version is now discarded by most serious historians.
"Cosa Nostra" and other namesAccording to Mafia turncoats (pentiti), the real name of the Mafia is "Cosa Nostra" ("Our thing"). When the American mafioso Joseph Valachi testified before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations
in 1963 (known as the Valachi hearings), he revealed that American mafiosi referred to their organization by the term cosa nostra ("our thing" or "this thing of ours"). At the time, it was understood as a proper name, fostered by the FBI and disseminated by the media. The designation gained wide popularity and almost replaced the term Mafia. 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 the Sicilian Mafia).
Italian investigators initially did not take the term seriously, believing it was used only by the American Mafia
. 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. 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. 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
HistoryThe 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.
Post-feudal SicilyModern scholars believe that its seeds were planted in the upheaval of Sicily's transition out of feudalism
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. 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. The nobles also released their private armies to let the state take over the task of law enforcement. However, the authorities were incapable of properly enforcing property rights and contracts, largely due to their inexperience with free market capitalism. Lack of manpower was also a problem: there were often less 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. With more property owners came more disputes that needed settling, contracts that needed enforcing, and properties that needed protecting. Because the authorities were undermanned and unreliable, property owners turned to extralegal arbitrators and protectors. These extralegal protectors would eventually organize themselves into the first Mafia clans.
Banditry was a growing problem at the time. Rising food prices, the loss of public and church lands, and the loss of feudal common rights pushed many desperate peasants to banditry. In response, local elites in countryside towns recruited 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. These companies-at-arms were often made up of former bandits and criminals, usually the most skilled and violent of them. Whilst this saved communities the trouble of training their own policemen, this may have made the companies-at-arms more inclined to collude with their former brethren rather than destroy them.
There was little Mafia activity in the eastern half of Sicily. 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. 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 full-time patrolling. This meant that guardians of such estates tended to be bound to a single employer, giving them little autonomy or leverage to demand high payments. 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.
Mafia activity was most prevalent in the most prosperous areas of western Sicily, especially Palermo
, where the dense concentrations of landowners and merchants offered ample opportunities for protection racketeering and extortion. There, a protector could serve multiple clients, giving him greater independence. The greater number of clients demanding protection also allowed him to charge high prices. The landowners in this region were also frequently absent and could not watch over their properties should the mafioso withdraw protection, further increasing his bargaining power.
The lucrative citrus
orchards around Palermo
were a favorite target of extortionists and protection racketeers, as they had a fragile production system that made them quite vulnerable to sabotage. Mafia clans forced landowners to hire their members as custodians by scaring away unaffiliated applicants. Cattle ranchers were also very vulnerable to thieves, and so they too needed mafioso protection.
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. 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." 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 ("humility"). Colonna warned in his report that the Italian government's brutal and clumsy attempts to crush unlawfulness only made the problem worse by alienating the populace. An 1865 dispatch from the prefect of Palermo
first officially described the phenomenon as a "Mafia". An 1876 police report makes the earliest known description of the familiar initiation ritual.
Mafiosi meddled in politics early on, bullying voters into voting for candidates they favoured. At this period in history, only a small fraction of the Sicilian population could vote, so a single mafia boss could control a sizeable chunk of the electorate and thus wield considerable political leverage. 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.
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. The report mentioned initiation rituals and codes of conduct, as well as criminal activities that included counterfeiting, ransom kidnappings, robbery, murder and witness intimidation. The Mafia also maintained funds to support the families of imprisoned members and pay defense lawyers.
Fascist suppressionIn 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, legitimising and empowering his rule. 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.
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, Cuccia instructed the townsfolk to not attend Mussolini's speech. Mussolini felt humiliated and outraged.
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. 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, or publicly slaughter their livestock. By 1928, over 11,000 suspects were arrested. Confessions were sometimes extracted through beatings and torture. Some mafiosi who had been on the losing end of Mafia feuds voluntarily cooperated with prosecutors, 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. Many were tried en masse. More than 1,200 were convicted and imprisoned, and many others were internally exiled without trial.
Mori's campaign ended in June 1929 when Mussolini recalled him to Rome
. Although he did not totally crush the Mafia as the Fascist press proclaimed, his campaign was nonetheless very successful. 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."
Sicily's murder rate sharply declined. Landowners were able to raise the legal rents on their lands; sometimes as much as ten-thousandfold. 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
Post-Fascist revivalIn 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. During the first six months of Allied occupation, party politics in Sicily were banned. Most institutions, with the exception of the police and carabinieri
, 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
. They could easily present themselves as political dissidents, and their anti-communist position made them further desirable. Mafia bosses reformed their clans, absorbing some of the marauding bandits into their ranks.
The changing economic landscape of Sicily would shift the Mafia's power base from the rural to the urban. The Minister of Agriculture – a communist – pushed for reforms in which peasants were to get larger shares of produce, be allowed to form cooperative
s 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. 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. 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.
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.
Sack of PalermoThe 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, 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% of building permits were given to just five people, none of whom represented major construction firms and were probably Mafia frontmen. 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.
First Mafia WarThe 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).
In 1962, the mafia boss Cesare Manzella
organized a drug shipment to America with the help of two Sicilian clans, the Grecos and the La Barberas. Manzella entrusted another 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.
Many non-mafiosi were killed in the crossfire. In April 1963, several bystanders were wounded during a shootout in Palermo
. 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. 117 suspects were put on trial in 1968, but most were acquitted or received light sentences. The inactivity plus money lost to legal fees and so forth reduced most mafiosi to poverty.
Smuggling boomThe 1950s and 1960s were difficult times for mafiosi, but in the 1970s their rackets grew considerably more lucrative, particularly smuggling. The most lucrative racket of the 1970s was cigarette smuggling. Sicilian and Neapolitan crime bosses negotiated a joint monopoly over the smuggling of cigarettes to Naples
When heroin refineries operated by Corsican gangsters
in Marseilles were shut down by French
traffickers looked to Sicily
. Starting in 1975, Cosa Nostra set up heroin refineries across the island. 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% of the heroin trade in the north-eastern United States. 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
Second Mafia WarIn the early 1970s, Luciano Leggio
, boss of the Corleon clan
and member of the Sicilian Mafia Commission
, forged a coalition of mafia clans known as the Corleonesi, with himself as its leader. He initiated a campaign to dominate Cosa Nostra and its narcotics trade. Because Leggio was imprisoned in 1974, he acted through his deputy, 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. In 1977, the Corleonesi had Gaetano Badalamenti
expelled from the Commission on trumped-up charges of hiding drug revenues. In April 1981, the Corleonesi murdered another rival member of the Commission, Stefano Bontade
, and the Second Mafia War
began in earnest. Hundreds of enemy mafiosi and their relatives were murdered, 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. In the end, the Corleonesi faction won and Riina
effectively became the "boss of bosses" of the Sicilian Mafia.
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.
Maxi trial and war against the governmentIn the early 1980s, the magistrates Giovanni Falcone
and Paolo Borsellino
began a campaign against Cosa Nostra. Their big break came with the arrest of Tommaso Buscetta
, a mafioso who chose to turn informant in exchange for protection from the Corleonesi
, who had already murdered many of his friends and relatives. Other mafiosi followed his example. Falcone and Borsellino compiled their testimonies and organized the 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 which 342 were convicted. In January 1992 the Italian Supreme Court confirmed these convictions.
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.
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.
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. Provenzano halted the campaign of violence and replaced it with a campaign of quietness known as pax mafiosi.
Provenzano yearsUnder 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. He also restored the common support fund for imprisoned mafiosi.
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.
Modern Mafia in ItalyThe 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
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. 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.
In addition to Salvatore Lima
, mentioned above, the politician Giulio Andreotti
and the High Court judge Corrado Carnevale
have long been suspected of having ties to the Mafia.
By the late 1990s, the weakened Cosa Nostra had to yield most of the illegal drug trade to the 'Ndrangheta crime organization from Calabria
. In 2006, the latter was estimated to control 80% of the cocaine
imported to Europe.
DefinitionIt is difficult to exactly define the Mafia or a single function or goal of the phenomenon. Until the early 1980s, mafia was generally considered a unique Sicilian cultural attitude and form of power, excluding any corporate or organisational dimension. 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.
, 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":
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.
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
Like Pitrè, many scholars viewed mafiosi as individuals behaving according to specific subcultural
codes, but did not consider the Mafia a formal organisation. Judicial investigations and scientific research in the 1980s provided solid proof of the existence of well-structured Mafia groups with entrepreneurial characteristics. The Mafia was seen as an enterprise and its economic activities became the focus of academic analyses. Ignoring the cultural aspects, the Mafia is often erroneously seen as similar to other non-Sicilian organized criminal associations.
However, these two paradigm
s 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.
The economic paradigm was prevalent when the Italian Penal Code definition of criminal conspiracy (Article 416) was extended by Pio La Torre
. Article 416 bis defines an association as being of Mafia-type nature "when those belonging to the association exploit the potential for intimidation which their membership gives them, and the compliance and omerta which membership entails and which lead to the committing of crimes, the direct or indirect assumption of management or control of financial activities, concessions, permissions, enterprises and public services for the purpose of deriving profit or wrongful advantages for themselves or others." The term Mafia-type organisations is used to clearly distinguish the uniquely Sicilian Mafia from other criminal organisations – such as the Camorra, the 'Ndrangheta, the 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.”
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.
Structure and compositionCosa Nostra is not a monolithic organization, but rather a loose association of groups known alternately as "families", "cosche", "borgatas" or "clans" (despite the name, their members are generally not related by blood). Today, according to the Chief Prosecutor of Palermo, Francesco Messineo, there are 94 Mafia clans in Sicily subject to 29 mandamenti
, with a total of at least 3,500 to 4,000 full members. Most are based in western Sicily, almost half of them in the province of Palermo
explained to prosecutors the command structure of a typical clan. A clan is led by a "boss" (capofamiglia or rappresentante), who is aided by an underboss
(a sotto capo) and supervised by one or more advisers (consigliere). Under his command are groups (decina) of about ten "soldiers" (soldati or operai). Each decina is led by a capodecina
(or sometimes caporegime).
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. 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.
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). His tenure is also frequently short: elections are yearly, and he might be deposed sooner for misconduct or incompetence.
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 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
). 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.
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."
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. According to Mafia historian Salvatore Lupo "the emphasis of the media on the definition of a 'capo di tutti capi' is without any foundation".
MembershipMembership 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. A prospective mafioso is carefully tested for obedience, discretion, ruthlessness and skill at spying. He is almost always required to commit murder as his ultimate trial, 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).
Traditionally, only men can become mafiosi, though in recent times there have been reports of women assuming the responsibilities of imprisoned mafiosi relatives.
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. 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.
A mafioso's legitimate occupation, if he has any, generally does not affect his prestige within Cosa Nostra. Historically, most mafiosi were employed in menial jobs, and many bosses did not work at all. Professionals such as lawyers and doctors do exist within the organization, and are employed according to whatever useful skills they have.
CommissionSince 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.
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.
A major function of the Commission is to regulate the use of violence. 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. Any murder of a mafioso or prominent individual (police, lawyers, politicians, journalists, etc.) must be approved by the commission. Such acts can potentially upset other clans and spark a war, so the Commission provides a means by which to obtain their approval.
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. 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.
Initiation ceremonyOne 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 describes the initiation ritual he underwent in the spring of 1893: "[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." (Soon after Verro broke with the Mafia and – according to police reports – became their most bitter enemy. He was killed by the Mafia in 1915 when he was the mayor of Corleone.)
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 an 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."
IntroductionsA mafioso is not supposed to introduce himself to another mafioso he does not personally know, even if both mafiosi know of each other through reputation. If he wants to establish a relationship, he must ask a third mafioso that 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, thus preventing outsiders or undercover policemen from infiltrating the Mafia.
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 America in the 1950s, he could not introduce himself to his own mafioso father, but had to wait for a mafioso from America who knew of his induction to come to Sicily.
EtiquetteMafiosi of equal status sometimes call each other "compare", while inferiors call their superiors "padrino". Both are Sicilian terms for "godfather".
Ten CommandmentsIn November 2007 Sicilian police reported to have found a list of "Ten Commandments" in the hideout of mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo
. They are thought to be guidelines on how to be a good, respectful and honourable mafioso.
- No one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.
- Never look at the wives of friends.
- Never be seen with cops.
- Don't go to pubs and clubs.
- Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty - even if your wife is about to give birth.
- Appointments must absolutely be respected.
- Wives must be treated with respect.
- When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.
- Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.
- 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.
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.
The need for secrecy and inconspicuousness deeply colors the traditions and mannerisms of mafiosi. Mafiosi are discouraged from consuming alcohol or 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. Mafiosi are also forbidden from writing down anything about their activities, lest such evidence be discovered by police.
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.
Current clansThe following data is based mainly on the biannual reports of the Direzione Investigativa Antimafia (Antimafia Investigation Department): This information is several years old, and since clans come and go, it may not be perfectly accurate.
The city of Palermo
itself has 28 clans divided among 8 mandamenti
, whilst the surrounding province is divided into 6 mandamenti.
|Brancaccio||Ludovico Sansone||Brancaccio, Ciaculli, Corso dei Mille, Roccella|
|Noce||Luigi Caravello||Malaspina-Cruillas, Noce|
|Pagliarelli||Giovanni Nicchi||Borgo Molara, Corso Calatafimi, Pagliarelli, Rocca-Mezzo Monreale|
|Passo di Rigano - Boccadifalco||(unknown)||Altarello, Passo di Rigano - Boccadifalco, Torretta, Uditore|
|Porta Nuova||(unknown)||Borgo Vecchio, Palermo Centro, Porta Nuova|
|Resuttana|| Gaetano Fidanzati
Gaetano Fidanzati is a historical boss of the Sicilian Mafia. He is the boss of the Resuttana mandamento in Palermo. He was on the "most wanted list" of the Italian Ministry of the Interior since 2008, until his arrest on December 5, 2009....
|Acquasanta - Arenella, Resuttana|
|San Lorenzo||(unknown)||Capaci, Carini, Cinisi, Partanna Mondello, San Lorenzo, Terrasini, Tommaso Natale - Sferracavallo|
|Santa Maria de Gesu'||Sandro Capizzi||Santa Maria di Gesu', Villagrazia di Palermo|
|San Giuseppe Jato||Gregorio Agrigento|
|Corleone||Rosario Lo Bue|
|Belmonte Mezzagno||Antonino Spera|
|San Mauro Castelverde||Francesco Bonomo|
The province of Agrigento
has 42 active clans within 6 mandamenti. Giuseppe Falsone
is the current provincial representative to the Commission.
|Porto Empedocle|| Realmonte
Realmonte is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 90 km south of Palermo and about 10 km west of Agrigento....
Siculiana is a town and comune in the province of Agrigento, Sicily, southern Italy, 13 km. west from the provincial capital Agrigento.-History:...
, Giardina Gallotti
Giardina Galloti is a village of approximately 1200 inhabitants in the Sicilian province of Agrigento. It is part of the municipality of Agrigento....
Agrigento , is a city on the southern coast of Sicily, Italy, and capital of the province of Agrigento. It is renowned as the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas , one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia during the golden...
Villaseta is a village in Sicily, part of the municipality of Agrigento, with a population of roughly 6,300....
, Joppolo Giancaxio
Joppolo Giancaxio is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 80 km south of Palermo and about 8 km northwest of Agrigento...
|Campobello di Licata|| Canicattì
Canicattì is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 90 km southeast of Palermo and about 25 km east of Agrigento.-History:...
Favara can refer to:*Favara, Agrigento, a town in Italy*Favara, Valencia, a town in Spain...
Camastra is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 100 km southeast of Palermo and about 20 km southeast of Agrigento. As of 31 December 2004, it had a population of 2,133 and an area of 16.3 km².Camastra borders the following...
, Campobello di Licata
Campobello di Licata
Campobello di Licata is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 110 km southeast of Palermo and about 30 km east of Agrigento...
Castrofilippo is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 90 km southeast of Palermo and about 15 km east of Agrigento...
, Grotte, Licata
Licata is a city and comune located on the south coast of Sicily, at the mouth of the Salso River , about midway between Agrigento and Gela...
Naro is a comune in the province of Agrigento, in the island of Sicily, Italy. It is bounded by the comuni of Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Camastra, Campobello di Licata, Canicattì, Castrofilippo, Delia, Favara, Licata, Palma di Montechiaro, Ravanusa and Sommatino.-History:Naro was founded in the...
Racalmuto is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian Autonomous Region of Sicily, located about 90 km southeast of Palermo and about 15 km northeast of Agrigento.Racalmuto borders the following municipalities: Bompensiere, Canicattì, Castrofilippo, Favara,...
Ravanusa is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 110 km southeast of Palermo and about 35 km east of Agrigento....
Cianciana is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located in the middle valley of the Platani river, about 70 km south of Palermo and about 25 km northwest of Agrigento...
, Alessandria della Rocca
Alessandria della Rocca
Alessandria della Rocca is a comune and small agricultural town located in west central Sicily in the northern part of the Province of Agrigento, in Italy. Many of the town's inhabitants emigrated to the United States, particularly Tampa, Florida, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries....
Bivona is an Italian comune in the Province of Agrigento, Sicily.-Geography:Bivona is located at the feet of the Monti Sicani, in the mainland of Agrigento, on the boundary with the province of Palermo...
Cammarata is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 60 km southeast of Palermo and about 35 km north of Agrigento on the eponymous mountain in a territory rich of forests....
, San Giovanni Gemini
San Giovanni Gemini
San Giovanni Gemini is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 60 km southeast of Palermo and about 35 km north of Agrigento. As of 31 December 2004, it had a population of 8,102 and an area of 26.3 km².San Giovanni Gemini borders the...
, Santo Stefano di Quisquina
Burgio is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 60 km south of Palermo and about 40 km northwest of Agrigento...
Calamonaci is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 70 km south of Palermo and about 35 km northwest of Agrigento....
, Cattolica Eraclea
Cattolica Eraclea is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 80 km south of Palermo and about 20 km northwest of Agrigento nearby the Platani river valley....
, Lucca Sicula
Lucca Sicula is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 60 km south of Palermo and about 40 km northwest of Agrigento....
Ribera is a Spanish word that translates into "the basin of a river", and may refer to:Locations* Ribera, Agrigento, a comune in the province of Agrigento, Sicily, Italy...
, Villafranca Sicula
Villafranca Sicula is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 60 km south of Palermo and about 40 km northwest of Agrigento...
Montallegro is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 80 km south of Palermo and about 25 km northwest of Agrigento....
|Sambuca di Sicilia|| Sambuca di Sicilia
Sambuca di Sicilia
Sambuca di Sicilia is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 68 km southwest of Palermo and about 89 km northwest of Agrigento...
Caltabellotta is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 60 km south of Palermo and about 45 km northwest of Agrigento.-History:...
Menfi is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 70 km southwest of Palermo and about 60 km northwest of Agrigento....
Montevago is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 60 km southwest of Palermo and about 70 km northwest of Agrigento....
, Santa Margherita di Belice
Santa Margherita di Belice
Santa Margherita di Belice is a town in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region of Sicily.It rises in south-west Sicily, 400 metres above sea level, near to where the borders of the Province of Agrigento, Province of Trapani and Province of Palermo meet...
Sciacca , also Schiacca, is a town and comune in the province of Agrigento on the southwestern coast of Sicily...
Casteltermini is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 70 km southeast of Palermo and about 25 km north of Agrigento....
Aragona is a small commune in the province of Agrigento in the Italian island of Sicily. Aragona is known in the Sicilian language as Aragunaor Raona...
Raffadali is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 80 km south of Palermo and about 10 km northwest of Agrigento.-Prehistoric:...
, Sant'Angelo Muxaro
Sant'Angelo Muxaro is an Arbëresh comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 70 km south of Palermo and about 20 km north of Agrigento...
, San Biagio Platani
San Biagio Platani
San Biagio Platani is a comune in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 70 km south of Palermo and about 20 km north of Agrigento...
, Santa Elisabetta
Santa Elisabetta is a small town in the Province of Agrigento in the Italian region Sicily, located about 80 km south of Palermo and about 13 km north of Agrigento...
Lampedusa is the largest island of the Italian Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The comune of Lampedusa e Linosa is part of the Sicilian province of Agrigento which also includes the smaller islands of Linosa and Lampione. It is the southernmost part of Italy. Tunisia, which is about ...
Linosa is one of the Pelagie Islands in the Sicily Channel of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a frazione of the comune of Lampedusa e Linosa, part of the province of Agrigento, Sicily, Italy. It has a population of 450 inhabitants.-Geography:...
, Palma di Montechiaro
Palma di Montechiaro
Palma di Montechiaro is a town and comune in the province of Agrigento, Sicilia, Italy.Formerly known as Palma, in 1863, Montechiaro was added to the name, in honour of the Chiaramonte family whose stronghold is close to the town.-Main sights:*Mother Church*Castle*Benedictine Monastery*Ducal...
The province of Trapani
has 17 clans, divided among 4 mandamenti. Matteo Messina Denaro
is the current provincial representative to the Commission.
|Castelvetrano|| Matteo Messina Denaro
Matteo Messina Denaro
Matteo Messina Denaro , also known as Diabolik, is a Sicilian mafioso. He got his nickname from the Italian comic book character of the same name. He is considered to be one of the new leaders of Cosa Nostra after the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano on April 11, 2006...
Castelvetrano is a town and comune in the province of Trapani, Sicily, Italy. The archeological site of Selinunte is located within the territory of the comune. It was the birthplace of Giovanni Gentile, the key philosopher of the Fascist movement in Italy.The town is predominantly a farming town,...
, Campobello di Mazara
Campobello di Mazara
Campobello di Mazara is an Italian town in Sicily, part of the province of Trapani. Its inhabitants are scattered in the town center and the minor seaside frazioni of Tre Fontane and Torretta Granitola, populated mostly during the summer period...
Salaparuta is a town and comune in South-Western Sicily, Italy, in the valley of the Belice river, administratively part of the province of Trapani. It had 1,781 inhabitants as of 2007....
Poggioreale is a small town and comune in Sicily, Italy, set on the Belice valley, which administratively belongs to the province of Trapani....
, Santa Ninfa
Santa Ninfa is a town and comune in South-Western Sicily, Italy, administratively part of the province of Trapani. It has 5,074 inhabitants as of 2004....
Gibellina is a small city and comune in the mountains of central Sicily, Italy in the Province of Trapani. It was destroyed by the 1968 earthquake....
Partanna is a town and comune in South-Western Sicily, Italy, administratively part of the province of Trapani. It has 11,427 inhabitants as of 2004. It is located 58 km south-west of Trapani....
|Mazara del Vallo|| Mariano Agate
Mariano Agate is a member of the Sicilian Mafia. He is the boss of Mazara del Vallo Mafia family since the 1970s when he replaced the old boss Mariano Licari. He also was the boss of the mandamento of Mazara, including the Mafia families of Marsala, Salemi and Vita...
| Mazara del Vallo
Mazara del Vallo
Mazara del Vallo is a town and comune in southwestern Sicily, Italy, which lies mainly on the left bank at the mouth of the Mazaro river, administratively part of the province of Trapani....
Vita or VITA may refer to:Things:*Vita , a brief biography, often that of a saint * Vita , a character in the anime series, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's* A curriculum vitae...
Salemi is a town and comune in South-Western Sicily, Italy, administratively part of the province of Trapani. It is located in the Belice Valley.-History:...
Marsala is a seaport city located in the Province of Trapani on the island of Sicily in Italy. The low coast on which it is situated is the westernmost point of the island...
|Alcamo||Antonino Melodia|| Alcamo
Alcamo is the fourth largest city in the province of Trapani, in north-western Sicily, southern Italy.-History:Alcamo was founded in 828 by the Muslim commander al-Kamuk , though other sources date its origin to c. 972...
, Castellamare del Golfo, Calatafimi
|Trapani|| Vincenzo Virga
Vincenzo Virga is the boss of the Trapani Mafia family and mandamento since 1982, when the previous boss, Salvatore Minore, was murdered....
Trapani is a city and comune on the west coast of Sicily in Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Trapani. Founded by Elymians, the city is still an important fishing port and the main gateway to the nearby Egadi Islands.-History:...
Paceco is a town and comune in Western Sicily, Italy, administratively part of the province of Trapani, located nearby the Trapani city area . It has 11,110 inhabitants as of 2004....
Valderice is a town and comune in South-Western Sicily, Italy, administratively part of the province of Trapani. It has 11,544 inhabitants as of 2004. The city is located in the inland, close to the provincial capital city of Trapani, but includes also a seaside frazione, Bonagia, in its territory....
Custonaci is a town and comune in South-Western Sicily, Italy, administratively part of the province of Trapani.- Economy :The coast around Mount Cofano attracts tourists to the pretty seaside village of Cornino....
Protection racketsProtection racket
eering is one of the Sicilian Mafia's core activities. 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. But many scholars, such as Diego Gambetta
and Leopold Franchetti, see it as the Mafia's defining characteristic, the source of their power and place in Sicily society. Gambetta describes the Mafia as a cartel of "private protection firms" who act as guarantors of trust and security in areas of the economy where such things are scarce and fragile. In exchange for money or favors, mafiosi use the credible threat of violence to protect their clients from fraudsters, thieves, and competitors.
For example: suppose a meat wholesaler wishes to sell some meat to a supermarket without paying taxes. Neither the seller nor buyer can turn to the police and the courts for help should something go wrong, such as the seller supplying rotten meat, or the buyer not paying up. The law does not enforce black market agreements; it punishes them. Without the arbitration of the law, the seller could cheat the buyer with impunity, or vice versa. If the parties both do not trust each other, they cannot do business and they could both lose out on a profitable deal. Instead, the parties can approach the local mafia clan to supervise their illegal deal. In exchange for a commission, the mafioso makes it clear 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 and reliability that neither the buyer nor the seller would consider cheating. Only a fool would dare cheat somebody protected by the Mafia. With the dealers satisfied that this mafioso can deter cheating, the transaction proceeds smoothly and all parties leave satisfied.
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).
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 you are enjoying the benefits of Mafia protection, you do not want the police arresting your mafioso.
It is estimated that the Sicilian Mafia costs the Sicilian economy more than €10 billion a year through protection racket
s. Roughly 70% of Sicilian businesses pay protection money to Cosa Nostra. Monthly payments can range from €200 for a small shop or bar to €5,000 for a supermarket. In Sicily, protection money is known as pizzo
; the anti-extortion support group Addiopizzo
derives its name from this. Mafiosi might sometimes ask for favors instead of money, such as assistance in committing a crime.
Protection from theftProtection from theft is one service that the Mafia provides to paying "clients". Mafiosi themselves are generally forbidden from committing theft (though in practice they are merely forbidden from stealing from anyone connected to the Mafia). 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. 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.
Protection from competitionMafiosi 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.
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
). Industries which fit this description include garbage collection.
Protection from fraudMafia protection is often sought in illegal business transactions and agreements, because the parties involved cannot turn to the courts for protection. For instance, if a supermarket owner wishes to buy meat from a wholesaler without paying taxes, one or both of these agents may pay a mafioso to supervise their deal. The mafioso makes it clear that if the buyer fails to pay or the seller sells spoiled meat, the cheater will be assaulted or have his property vandalized.
Client relationsMafiosi approach potential clients in an aggressive but friendly manner, like a door-to-door salesman. 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.
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.
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.
Protection territoriesA 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. This is not always done peacefully, and disputes over protection territories are at the root of most Mafia wars.
Vote buyingPoliticians 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. 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.
Politicians usually repay this support with favors, such as sabotaging police investigations or giving contracts and permits.
Although they are not ideological themselves, mafiosi have traditionally opposed extreme parties such as Fascists and Communists, and favored center candidates.
SmugglingMafiosi 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.
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. This was the case with heroin smuggling, where the volumes and profits involved were too large to keep the operations at arm's length.
Bid riggingThe Sicilian Mafia in Italy is believed to have a turnover of €6.5 billion through control of public and private contracts. Mafiosi use threats of violence and vandalism to muscle out competitors and win contracts for the companies they control. They rarely manage the businesses they control themselves, but take a cut of their profits, usually through payoffs (Pizzo
Loan sharkingIn a 2007 publication, the Italian small-business association Confesercenti reported that about 25.2% of Sicilian businesses were indebted to loan shark
s, who collected around €1.4 billion a year in payments. This figure has risen during the late-2000s recession, as tighter lending by banks forces the desperate to borrow from the Mafia.
Forbidden crimesCertain 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.
MurderMurders 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.
ReputationThe Mafia's power comes from its reputation to commit violence, particularly murder, against virtually anyone and get away with it. 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.
Compared to other occupations, reputation is especially valuable for a mafioso, and they are especially vulnerable to blows in reputation. 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. Consequently, a series of failures can completely ruin a mafioso's reputation, and with it his business.
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. 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.
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 neighbors, 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. 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.
Violent successionsMafia violence is most commonly directed at other Mafia families competing for territory and business.
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.
Prominent Sicilian mafiosi
- Vito Cascioferro (1862–1943 or 1945), often depicted as the "boss of bosses", although such a position does not exist in the loose structure of Cosa Nostra in Sicily, imprisoned by Cesare MoriCesare MoriCesare Mori was a prefect before and during the Fascist period in Italy. He is known in Italy as the Iron Prefect because of his iron-fisted campaigns against the Mafia on Sicily in the second half of the 1920s.- Early years :Mori was born in Pavia and grew up in an orphananage and was only...
- Calogero VizziniCalogero VizziniCalogero Don Calò Vizzini was a historical Mafia boss of Villalba in the Province of Caltanissetta, Sicily. Vizzini was considered to be one of the most influential and legendary Mafia bosses of Sicily after World War II until his death in 1954...
(1877–1954), boss of Villalba, was considered to be one of the most influential Mafia bosses of Sicily after World War II until his death in 1954.
- Giuseppe Genco RussoGiuseppe Genco RussoGiuseppe Genco Russo was an Italian mafioso, the boss of Mussomeli in the Province of Caltanissetta, Sicily....
(1893–1976), boss of MussomeliMussomeliMussomeli is a town and comune in the province of Caltanissetta, Sicily, Italy.-History:Mussomeli was founded in the 14th century by Manfredo III Chiaramonte with the name Manfredi, but later the current name, probable of Arab origin, was reimposed. In 1549 it became a county under the Lanza family...
, considered to be the heir of Calogero Vizzini.
- Michele NavarraMichele NavarraMichele Navarra was a powerful member of the Sicilian Mafia. He was a qualified physician and headed the Mafia Family from the town of Corleone...
(1905–1958), boss of the Mafia Family in CorleoneCorleoneCorleone is a small town and comune of approximately 12,000 inhabitants in the Province of Palermo in Sicily, Italy....
from 1940s to 1958
- Salvatore "Ciaschiteddu" Greco (1923–1978), boss of the Mafia Family in CiaculliCiaculliCiaculli is an outlying suburb of Palermo, Sicily in Italy. It counts less than 5000 residents. Ciaculli is close to the suburb of Croceverde. Ciaculli has been important within the history of the Cosa Nostra. The best known Mafia family is the Greco Mafia clan...
, he was the first "secretary" of the first Sicilian Mafia CommissionSicilian Mafia CommissionThe Sicilian Mafia Commission, known as Commissione or Cupola, is a body of leading Mafia members to decide on important questions concerning the actions of, and settling disputes within the Sicilian Mafia or Cosa Nostra...
that was formed somewhere in 1958.
- Gaetano BadalamentiGaetano BadalamentiGaetano Badalamenti was a powerful member of the Sicilian Mafia. Don Tano Badalamenti was the capofamiglia of his hometown Cinisi, Sicily, and headed the Sicilian Mafia Commission in the 1970s...
(1923–2004), boss of the Mafia Family in CinisiCinisiCinisi is a town and a comune in the province of Palermo in Sicily. As of 2007 it had an estimated population of 12,100.-Geography:The town is part of the Palermo metropolitan area, borders with the municipalities of Carini and Terrasini and count the civil parish of Punta Raisi, seat of Palermo...
- Angelo La BarberaAngelo La BarberaAngelo La Barbera was a powerful member of the Sicilian Mafia. Together with his brother Salvatore La Barbera he ruled the Mafia family of Palermo Centro...
(1924–1975) boss of the Mafia Family in Palermo Centro
- Michele GrecoMichele GrecoMichele Greco was a member of the Sicilian Mafia, previously incarcerated for multiple murders. His nickname was "il Papa" because of his ability to mediate between different Mafia families...
(1924–2008), boss of the Mafia Family in CroceverdeCroceverdeCroceverde is an outlying suburb of Palermo, Sicily in Italy. It has less than 5000 residents. Croceverde is close to the suburb of Ciaculli. It has been important within the history of the Cosa Nostra, and is relatively rural in character....
- Luciano LeggioLuciano LeggioLuciano Leggio was an Italian criminal and leading figure of the Sicilian Mafia. He was the head of the Corleonesi, the Mafia faction that originated in the town of Corleone...
(1925–1993), boss of the CorleoneCorleoneCorleone is a small town and comune of approximately 12,000 inhabitants in the Province of Palermo in Sicily, Italy....
clan and instigator of the Second Mafia WarSecond Mafia WarThe Second Mafia War was a conflict within the Sicilian Mafia, mostly taking place in the early 1980s. As with any criminal organization, the history of the Sicilian Mafia is replete with conflicts and power struggles, and the violence that results from them, but these are generally localised and...
- Tommaso BuscettaTommaso BuscettaTommaso Buscetta was a Sicilian mafioso. Although he was not the first pentito in the Italian witness protection program, he is widely recognized as the first important one breaking omertà...
(1928–2000), a mafioso who turned informant in 1984. Buscetta's evidence was used to great effect during the Maxi-Trials.
- Salvatore RiinaSalvatore RiinaSalvatore "Totò" Riina is a member of the Sicilian Mafia who became the most powerful member of the criminal organization in the early 1980s. Fellow mobsters nicknamed him The Beast due to his violent nature, or sometimes The Short One due to his diminutive stature...
(born 1930), also known as Totò Riina, emerged from the Second Mafia WarSecond Mafia WarThe Second Mafia War was a conflict within the Sicilian Mafia, mostly taking place in the early 1980s. As with any criminal organization, the history of the Sicilian Mafia is replete with conflicts and power struggles, and the violence that results from them, but these are generally localised and...
as the "boss of bosses" until his arrest in 1993.
- Bernardo ProvenzanoBernardo ProvenzanoBernardo Provenzano is a member of the Sicilian Mafia and is suspected of having been the head of the Corleonesi, a Mafia faction that originated in the village of Corleone, and de facto capo di tutti capi of the entire Sicilian Mafia until his arrest in 2006.His nickname is Binnu u tratturi...
(born 1933), successor of Riina as head of the CorleonesiCorleonesiThe Corleonesi is the name given to a faction within the Sicilian Mafia that dominated Cosa Nostra in the 1980s and the 1990s. It was called the Corleonesi because its most important leaders came from the town of Corleone, first Luciano Leggio and later Totò Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and Leoluca...
faction and as such was considered one of the most powerful bosses of the Sicilian Mafia. Provenzano was a fugitive from justice since 1963. He was captured on 11 April 2006 in Sicily. Before capture, authorities had reportedly been "close" to capturing him for 10 years.
- Stefano BontadeStefano BontadeStefano Bontade was a powerful member of the Sicilian Mafia. Some sources spell his surname Bontate. He was the capomafia of the Santa Maria di Gesù Family in Palermo...
(1939–1981), boss of the Santa Maria di Gesù clan. His murder by the CorleonesiCorleonesiThe Corleonesi is the name given to a faction within the Sicilian Mafia that dominated Cosa Nostra in the 1980s and the 1990s. It was called the Corleonesi because its most important leaders came from the town of Corleone, first Luciano Leggio and later Totò Riina, Bernardo Provenzano and Leoluca...
in 1981 inaugurated the Second Mafia WarSecond Mafia WarThe Second Mafia War was a conflict within the Sicilian Mafia, mostly taking place in the early 1980s. As with any criminal organization, the history of the Sicilian Mafia is replete with conflicts and power struggles, and the violence that results from them, but these are generally localised and...
- Leoluca BagarellaLeoluca BagarellaLeoluca Bagarella is an Italian criminal and member of the Sicilian Mafia. He is from the town of Corleone and was a member of the Corleonesi.-Biography:...
(born 1941), member of the Mafia Family in CorleoneCorleoneCorleone is a small town and comune of approximately 12,000 inhabitants in the Province of Palermo in Sicily, Italy....
arrested in 1995
- Salvatore Lo PiccoloSalvatore Lo PiccoloSalvatore Lo Piccolo , also known as the Baron , is a Sicilian mafioso and one of the most powerful bosses of Palermo, Sicily. Lo Piccolo rose through the ranks of the Palermo mafia throughout the 1980s and he became the capo-mandamento of the San Lorenzo district in the early 1990s, replacing...
(born 1942), considered to be one of the successors of Provenzano.
- Salvatore InzerilloSalvatore InzerilloSalvatore Inzerillo was an Italian criminal, a member of the Sicilian Mafia, also known as Totuccio . He rose to be a powerful boss of Palermo's Passo di Rigano family...
(1944–1981), boss of the Mafia Family in Passo di Rigano
- Giovanni 'Lo Scannacristiani' BruscaGiovanni BruscaGiovanni Brusca is a former member of the Sicilian Mafia. He murdered the anti-Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone in 1992 and once stated that he had committed between 100 and 200 murders but was unable to remember the exact number...
(born 1957), who was involved in the murder of Giovanni FalconeGiovanni FalconeGiovanni Falcone was an Sicilian/Italian prosecuting magistrate born in Palermo, Sicily. From his office in the Palace of Justice in Palermo, he spent most of his professional life trying to overthrow the power of the Mafia in Sicily...
- Matteo Messina DenaroMatteo Messina DenaroMatteo Messina Denaro , also known as Diabolik, is a Sicilian mafioso. He got his nickname from the Italian comic book character of the same name. He is considered to be one of the new leaders of Cosa Nostra after the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano on April 11, 2006...
(born 1962), considered to be one of the successors of Provenzano.
- 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 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. ISBN 978-0-340-93526-2
- Duggan, Christopher (1989). Fascism and the Mafia, New Haven: Yale University Press ISBN 0300043724
- Duggan, Christopher (2008). The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 0618353674
- 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. London: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-80742-1
- Gambetta, Diego (2009). Codes of the Underworld. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-11937-3
- 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, ISBN 978-0-231-13134-6
- Paoli, Letizia (2003). Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-515724-9 (Review by Klaus Von Lampe) (Review by Alexandra V. Orlova)
- Raab, Selwyn (2005). Five Families. The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, ISBN 978-1-86105-952-9
- 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.