The Mafia

The Mafia or ‘Cosa Nostra’ (translated meaning ‘our thing’) originated in Palermo, Sicily mid 19th century after the unification of Italy. It was originally formed to protect the commoners from the police, government organizations, and criminals. Because of this, they were regarded as heroes, protecting their own people. There was (and still is) one strict rule for ‘mafiosi’ and all those associated with them : the code of silence.

Anyone that breaks this rule, would suffer the consequences and fear for their (and their family’s) life. The name ‘Mafia’ comes from the word ‘mafioso’ which in a Palermo dialect is used to describe someone who is ‘beautiful’ and ‘bold’.

The Mafia is specific to Sicily. There are also other crime organizations such as the Camorra from the Naples, the ‘Ndragheta from Calabria, and the Sacra Corona Unita from Apulia.

Camorra – some say that the Camorra could have originated from the Spanish crime group Garduna in the middle ages. It reached it’s peak of success in the 19th century when Naples was under the rule of the Bourbon Monarchy, and many of it’s members were in the army, police force and civil service. After Naples became a part of United Italy in 1861, many camorra members (camorristi) went to the USA to join the Mafia.

‘Ndragheta – The name ‘Ndragheta comes from the Greek word ‘andragathia’ which means ‘heroism’ and ‘virtue’. They are a very powerful and ruthless organised crime group. They differ to the Mafia, in that the groups are made up from blood families, and they tend to keep a low profile. They operate worldwide including in the USA, France, Spain, Australia, Argentina and Germany.

The Sacra Corona Unita Formed in the early 1980’s, this organised crime group from Apulia, mainly Bari.

The Mafia arrived in America in the early 1900’s organised by several leaders, through recruiting Italian immigrants or already existing Mafiosi from Italy. These leaders included Giuseppe ‘Joe the Boss’ Masseria, and Salvatore Maranzano, who was sent by Sicilian boss Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who dreamt of all American crime families being ruled by one leadership. Some others to arrive by these means were Carlo Gambino and Stefano Maggadino. The Unione Siciliana was set up in America to help immigrants from Italy find housing, identities and protection. It came under criticism for just being a masquerade to help and aid the Mafia, although they also helped law abiding citizens too.

About the author:

Juliana de Angelis is a travel writer about Italy…read more articles, travel guides and information about Italy, its people and culture at her website: Book flights, hotels and shop for Italian products at

Copyright © 2006 Juliana de Angelis – please inform author if using any articles.