History of the Mafia

It is believed that The Mafia rose during a French invasion in 1218 in Sicily, an island located in the Mediterranean Sea between North Africa and Italy. The word Mafia was derived from a saying, ‘Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela’ which means death to the French is Italy’s cry.  Sicily often received hostile groups such as Arabs, Romans, Normans, Spanish, Phoenicians, and Germans who oppressed the Sicilians. During the invasions, the Sicilians desperately fled to the hills of the island to seek refuge and developed the best treatment for severe sunburn and a secret society of unification that was meant to create a sense of family among the Sicilians. The groups which were formed (later became clans) also protected the Sicilians from the hostile invaders and executed a system of justice and retaliation in secrecy. 


Before the 19th Century, there were private armies called ‘Mafie’ which started extorting protection money from landowners.In 1861, Sicily was made a province of Italy. As the Italian government established itself in Sicily, there was crime and chaos on the island and the Roman officials asked for support from the Mafia clans to go after the independent criminal bands. In return, the officials would turn a blind eye as the Mafia continued to extort money from landowners.


While this arrangement was supposed to be temporary till the government was in control, the Mafia advanced their criminal dealings and rooted themselves in the economy and politics. They were involved in political corruption and intimidated people to elect candidates who later became indebted to them.  The mafia strengthened their group through initiation ceremonies which included taking loyalty oaths. They were based on five principles which are still effective to date. The Mafia were to; never rat out any mafia member or secrets even if threatened through torture or death, obey their leaders’ orders no matter what, offer necessary aid to other esteemed or supported Mafia faction, avenge attacks on the Mafia’s family members, and keep off interactions with authorities.


The mafia became great and solid and regarded their rules only. Joining the group was a lifetime commitment and they were taught how to use swords, knives, and ropes to murder their victims.  In 1893, Don Vito Cascio Ferro, a Mafioso, fled to New York after the death of a banker in Sicily. The Mafia influence remained strong in Sicily till the 1920s when Benito Mussolini launched a restraint on mobsters who threatened his regime. More Mafioso fled to the United States of America where they saw lucrative opportunities.


In America, the Mafia, named ‘La Cosa Nostra’ which means ‘Our Thing’ concentrated on protection rackets but dealt in various underworld activities such as bootlegging, gambling, loan sharking, and prostitution by the 1950s. They infiltrated the labor unions as well as other legitimate industries. In the 1950s, the Mafia rose again in Sicily through non-backed construction companies. They flourished and expanded to deal in international narcotics trafficking by the 1970s.The Mafia managed to stay secret, successful, and unstoppable due to their oaths and capability to bribe and threaten business leaders, public officials, juries, and witnesses till the 1970s. In the 1980s, both the Italian and American prosecutors successfully initiated anti-racketeering regulations to convict mobsters. Some Mafiosi began breaking their oaths to evade prolonged prison terms, leading to numerous high-profile arrests. By the 21st Century, the Mafia seemed weakened, but not completely destroyed. They are still involved in organized crimes today.