views updated May 18 2018


Following their restoration in 1815, the Neapolitan Bourbons, rulers of Sicily, attempted to abolish feudalism and enclose common holdings, subordinating collective pasture rights to "improved" private cultivation. Their parallel effort to establish seven provincial prefectures suffered from a paucity of roads and financial resources. Poorly managed by governmental authority, the agrarian transformation produced conditions—banditry, rebellion, and political corruption—that nurtured mafia formation.

The land reform was intended to create a class of smallholders, but instead it privileged an emergent group of civile owners whose newly minted titles, marriages with aristocrats, and acquisitions of vast estates (latifundia) reproduced the landlordism of the past. Displaced from promiscuous access to land, peasants rebelled, encouraged by the secret societies of liberal intellectuals and Free-masons plotting insurrection against the Bourbon ancien régime. The rebels spawned bands that kidnapped landlords, rustled livestock, and pirated commodities moving through the countryside. Although it is tempting to distinguish among revolutionary "squadre" aimed at state power, "bands" of rural thieves and kidnappers, and "gangs" of persons escaping arrest, these categories were inherently ambiguous, subject to manipulation by bandits, gangsters, revolutionaries, and repressive authorities alike.

Peasant disturbances were particularly violent in the western provinces, a reflection of the greater presence in these provinces, when compared to eastern Sicily, of latifundist great estates. As the Bourbon reforms abrogated rights of common pasturage, and as Sicily's population grew in the nineteenth century, this forbidding territory became a "brigand corridor"—a highway for abusive grazing, animal theft, and the clandestine movement of stolen beasts to city markets. The lawlessness of the corridor was one reason the mafia would gain a particular foothold in western Sicily. Another factor concerns the significance of Palermo, seat of the viceroyal government, as the fulcrum for both insurrection and repression. Each uprising consolidated relationships between the rural and urban forces of disorder in the western half of the island.

The first official reference to groups that would later be defined as mafias dates to an 1838 report of a Bourbon magistrate who noted that in the western province of Trapani, many local communities supported "types of sect called partiti" that had powerful patrons and deployed common funds to influence judicial proceedings. This phenomenon was not labeled mafia until the early 1860s, when Sicilian dramatists Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaspare Mosca produced a play called I Mafiusi di la Vicaria (1863), in which the word "mafiusi" referred to a group of prisoners in a Palermo jail who defined themselves as "men of respect" and exacted deference from other prisoners. Shortly after, in 1865, the prefect of Palermo Province, Filippo Gualterio, referred to the "so called Maffia" in a government document, defining it as an increasingly audacious criminal association.

Mafia formation continued in the 1860s, now in the context of the landing of Giuseppi Garibaldi (1807–1882), the Bourbons' surrender, and the plebiscite favoring adherence to the constitution of Piedmont. Not only did Sicily receive Piedmont's flag and currency, the Piedmontese also imposed their tax code, anticlerical legislation, and, most controversially, a military draft. Like an occupying power, in 1866 they declared a state of siege in Sicily, rounding up alleged draft dodgers for trial in military courts, placed suspicious persons under surveillance, and suspended freedoms of association and press.

After 1862, 163,000 hectares of ecclesiastical holdings plus 37,000 hectares of royal land were sold at auction to pay off debts incurred by the new nation state. As with the Bourbon reforms, local councils administered the land sales, favoring elite cliques. A parliamentary inquest of 1878 determined that 93 percent of the distributed land went to those "who were already rich," leaving thousands of peasants precariously closer to landlessness than they had been before. The colossal problem of peasant unrest worsened and with it the confusing mix of criminal and revolutionary activity. By the late 1860s, banditry had become endemic to property relations.

The new Italian state did not conduct a "brigand war" in Sicily comparable to its military campaign in southern Italy; even the most audacious bandits continued to enjoy the support of kin and neighbors, landed elites and notables, and the police. To the national government's authorities, all Sicilians seemed impenetrably "barbarian" and "criminal."

In 1876, however, the more democratic forces of the Risorgimento—the "Historic Left"—took power, expanding the presence of southern and Sicilian notables in the national government and altering the dynamics of local governance. As restricted parties of "liberal" elites and "democrats" competed for ministerial positions, parliamentary deputies from Sicily made themselves clients of ministers who dispensed the state's patronage, while local "grand electors" both distributed this patronage and delivered the deputies' votes.

The new regime also supported initiatives for public welfare and economic growth, including the development of citrus crops, mineral exports, and shipping facilities. At last acknowledging the need for effective police action against brigandage, it brought about a decline in kidnappings. But crimes against property continued: the lucrative new crops invited theft, and animal rustling flourished with the growth of urban markets. Opportunistically, local "mafias" transformed themselves into full-fledged protection rackets.

The racketeers arose, it seems, among an incipient entrepreneurial class of carters, muleteers, merchants, bandits, and herdsmen who, in the rural towns and suburbs of Palermo, joined fratellanze or "brotherhoods," also called cosche (singular, cosca) after the tightly bundled leaves of the artichoke. Claiming to restore order, members of these groups "offered" landowners the service of protection and/or forced them, against the menace of violence, to employ particular clients as estate guards, rentiers, and all-around henchmen. At the same time, they extorted a tribute or pizzo— literally, a "beakful"—from business activities in the cosca's territory. Amid the spreading orchards around Palermo, racketeers also deployed violence to gain monopoly control of produce markets and water for irrigation. In each case, racketeering advanced with the collusive knowledge of public officials and policemen and in the context of an inadequate state investment in policing and criminal justice. Distributing employment opportunities, mafiosi won at least grudging admiration in poor communities, enough so that silencing witnesses to their crimes did not have to depend on fear alone. When arrests and convictions did occur, the cosca functioned as a mutual aid society, using its accumulated funds to support the families of imprisoned members.

Post-1870s police reports index the mafia's growing influence, defining it as a monopolistic network of "politically protected extortion rings" or "groups of criminals who terrorized a local community, living off extortion and other illegal gains, and controlling access to jobs and local markets." In a 500-page report of 1898 to 1900, the police chief (questore) of Palermo, Ermanno Sangiorgi, referred to a "vast association of evildoers, organized in sections, divided into groups, each group regulated by a capo." Mafiosi, by contrast, represented themselves as "men of honor" who solved problems (their own and others') without resort to state-sponsored law.

The Sangiorgi and subsequent reports, amplified by the occasional autobiographical or observer's account, and, in the late twentieth century, by the depositions of justice collaborators in the anti-mafia trials of the 1980s and 1990s, are remarkably consistent regarding several features of the mafia's social organization and culture. Territorial in scope, most cosche bear the name of the rural town or urban neighborhood over which they hold sway. Also referred to as "families," they are to some extent kin-oriented, with membership extending from fathers to sons, uncles to nephews, and through the fictive-kin tie of godparenthood. Yet, becoming a mafioso is also a matter of talent. Sons of members believed to lack "criminal reliability" are passed over in favor of impressive young delinquents from unrelated backgrounds.

Applied to the cosca, the term family is metaphorical—an evocation of the presumed solidarity of kinship. Mutual good will is further induced by idiosyncratic terms of address and linguistically playful nicknames. In a symbolically laden rite of entry, possibly learned from Freemasons in nineteenth-century prisons, the novice holds the burning image of a saint while his sponsor pricks his finger and, mixing the blood and ashes, has him swear an oath of lifelong loyalty and omertà, or silence before the law.

The mafia cosca is a male organization; women are habitually excluded not only from meetings but also from events like banquets and hunting parties where masculine identity is asserted. These events have implications for socializing novices into the practice of violence, and women's absence from them may be fundamental to the bonding that takes place. Nevertheless, the women of mafiosi are themselves from mafia families. A mafia wife basks in the refinements that her husband's money and status can provide and knowingly shelters his assets from the confiscatory power of the state. Her sons will most likely join the company, her daughters marry into it, and she participates in preparing them for these futures.

The mafia cosca is a largely autonomous group, structured internally along lines of age and privilege, with new recruits, the "soldiers," expected to take greater risks and receive lesser rewards. Generally, the senior bosses monopolize the elected leadership positions, but there are notable cases of ambitious upstarts seizing power. Although each cosca stands alone, members share in an island-wide sub-culture fostered by the standardized initiation, ideology of honor and omertà, and secret signs of mutual recognition, not to mention collaboration in specific trafficking ventures. Anticipating the Commission that united mafia groups in and around Palermo in the 1960s through 1980s, leaders of several cosche attempted a common command structure, the Conferenza, at the turn of the twentieth century.

The mafia's intreccio or dense interweaving with national as well as local and regional governments was already in place by that time. The most powerful mafiosi served as grand electors of parliamentary deputies; reciprocally, these political patrons made it easy for racketeers to acquire weapons and fix trials. Older, established capi rarely went to jail, while younger "soldiers" experienced incarceration as no more than a perfunctory interruption of their affairs. Populating the murky moral universe of the mafia and politics were the figures of the mandante, who orders crimes, and the mestatore or scandalmonger, who brings rivals down through accusations of "sponsored criminality." For many scholars of the mafia, the notorious murder of Emanuele Notarbartolo was diagnostic of these ills.

On 1 February 1893, Notarbartolo, an aristocrat allied with the Historic Right, former mayor of Palermo (1873–1876) and director general of the Bank of Sicily (1876–1890), was stabbed to death on a train en route to a town southeast of Palermo. Suspicion fell on two mafiosi from the nearby cosca of Villabate, yet no one thought that responsibility for the crime ended with them. Another bank director and prominent notable, Raffaele Palizzolo, was eventually indicted and convicted as the organizer of the murder, but his conviction was annulled by the appeals court, and he was eventually acquitted after a retrial. All told, the Notarbartolo affair was a script for later developments, from the powerful intreccio between the mafia and politics, to the divided role of the judiciary in prosecuting mafia crimes.

The investigation of the Notarbartolo case also unearthed a geographical fault line that would reappear in subsequent mafia conflicts. The cosche of the orchards to the north and west of Palermo were geographically closer to, and heavily involved in, the city's produce markets and port. Strongly territorial in orientation, their members specialized in guarding crops, commercial mediation, and the control and distribution of water; extortion was their premier crime. Supporting politicians electorally, they received protection from them, but they organized their own intercosca relations more or less independently of this political shield.

In contrast, the cosche to Palermo's south and east were less coherent. Much of this zone was also given over to orchards and gardens, but these were interspersed with large towns of the sort that characterize the latifundist interior. Moreover, the entire zone was a gateway to the interior—the main pathway over which rustlers drove stolen livestock for clandestine butchering and sale in Palermo. Significantly, robbery, kidnapping, and animal theft were the premier crimes of this zone. Elastic relationships between local mafias articulated well with these offenses, as did the lesser concern of mafiosi with strictly territorial activity. At another level, political figures like Palizzolo enabled a certain degree of integration among cosche. In the early twentieth century, these divergent tendencies deepened as the coastal and orchard mafias gained advantage from their greater commercial interaction with relatives in the United States. Constituting an economic and ecological substrate of mafia formation, the factionalism would resurface after World War II in the "mafia wars" related to urban construction and narcotics trafficking.

Understanding the mafia is rendered difficult not only by the ambiguities inherent in its relationships with society and state but also because of the contradictory discourses that surround it. For, at the same time as police reports began to depict a secret, conspiratorial association sworn to omertà, they were countered by theories of a mafia-friendly Sicilian character, diffuse and age-old. Positing Sicilian culture as the locus of the mafia took two different forms, however. One was explicitly racist—all Sicilians are delinquenti at heart. The other amounted to a defensive attempt to render the mafia benign and romantic—"not a criminal association but the sum of Sicily's values" that outsiders can never understand. Folding the mafia into a generalized cultural "atmosphere," blurring its definition by assimilating it to Sicilians' presumed exaggeration of individual force or efficacy, constitutes a kind of Sicilianismo that for many years obstructed any concerted mafia historiography. It is one of the most significant achievements of the late twentieth century antimafia process that there are now Sicilian historians working on the reconstruction of this much misunderstood institution.

To a large extent, the new research both uses and validates police reports such as that of Sangiorgi while at the same time faulting police and prosecutorial models for hyper-coherence. Representing the cosca and the coordinating bodies as super-secret, clearly bounded, and conspiratorial, these models underplay the systematic practice of single mafiosi to cultivate friends, and friends of friends, in wider social and political fields. This reality, and the mafia's intreccio with politics, tells us that the prototypical nucleus of Sicilian organized crime, and the key to its economy and system of power, is not the overly conjured cosca, Conferenza, or Commission, but shifting coalitions of select capi and corrupt elites.

See alsoCrime; Sicily.


Blok, Anton. The Mafia of a Sicilian Village, 1860–1860: A Study of Violent Peasant Entrepreneurs. New York, 1974.

Lupo, Salvatore. Storia della mafia; dalle origini ai giorni nostri. Rome, 1993.

Pezzino, Paolo. Mafia: industria della violenza. Scritti e documenti inediti sulla mafia dalle origini ai giorni nostri. Florence, 1995.

Riall, Lucy. Sicily and the Unification of Italy: Liberal Policy and Local Power, 1859–1866. Oxford, U.K., 1998.

Jane Schneider,

Peter Schneider


views updated May 23 2018



The origins of the Mafia remain mysterious. No two accounts agree. Some trace its existence back to medieval mafie or guerrilla bands. The De Mauro–Paravia dictionary says that it "arose in western Sicily in the nineteenth century." Most accounts explain the Mafia by citing the southern Italian great estate or latifondo. Absentee landlords hired an agent, the gabellotto, to manage their property. The agents used a paid armed force, called variously campieri or caporali, to discipline the landless peasants. This system operated across much of the Italian south, but caporali were hired guns, not mafiosi. Besides, the Mafia seems to have emerged only in western Sicily and only spread to the rest of the island after the Second World War. Why there? Again nobody really knows.


The unification of Italy in 1861 brought organized government to the Italian south, and northern Italians discovered a new world. Giuseppe Rizzotto's "I Mafiusi della Vicaria," performed in 1863, turned the Mafia into a romantic conspiratorial organization complete with initiation rites. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest official use of the word in English comes from the same decade. The Times of London reported on 11 October 1866 that "the Maffia, a secret society, is said to include among its members many persons of an elevated class." Others denied that it was an organization at all. The scholar Pasquale Villari wrote in 1878 that the Mafia had "no established hierarchy, no set rules, no regular revenue. The Maffia has no written statutes; it is not a secret society, and hardly an association. It is formed by spontaneous generation" (p. 54). In the 1980s the so-called pentiti (repentant Mafia bosses who "talked" to the police and thus violated the notorious code of silence, omertà) described elaborate rites, annual meetings, and hierarchies. As in everything to do with the Mafia, there is no certainty here either. Villari could have been right in the nineteenth century and the Mafia then changed in the twentieth. Nobody knows.


By the middle of the nineteenth century observers had identified not just one system of organized crime but several. In Naples there was the Camorra, an urban version of the Mafia. Various branches of the Camorra continue to operate in Naples in the early twenty-first century. They dominate the building trades, control drugs and smuggling, and fight bloody battles for control of the city. A third version of the Mafia called the 'Ndrangheta operates in Calabria. The word is said to come from the Greek and to mean "honored society." All three criminal societies, the Mafia, Camorra, and 'Ndrangheta, maintain that their activities bring them "honor." Indeed, a traditional term for a mafioso is precisely that he is "a man of honor" (uomo d'onore).

The Mafia and 'Ndrangheta, unlike the Camorra, began in the countryside. The typical Mafia boss in the province of Palermo until the Second World War was the macellaio, who owned the local butcher shop, organized voting fraud, rustled cattle, and kept order. They acted as "middle men" and doffed their caps to the gentiluomo in his white suit who sat in cafés in the small towns. They supported the church, collected debts, and settled disputes. Pino Arlacchi, the leading Italian sociologist of the Mafia, sees this comportamento mafioso (Mafia behavior) as the distinctive characteristic of the phenomenon. The Mafia was not an organization but a way to behave: farsi rispettare (to make oneself respected), to acquire honor by fatti provi (proven facts or deeds), and, above all, to show courage by acts of violence. Killing a respected enemy gained the killer a huge quantum of honor. Because violence eliminated so many young men, the "family" or cosca extended itself by coparenthood (comparaggio) to young males not directly related by blood to the family. The capo mafia adopted them and became their padrino or godfather. All family members bound themselves by the oath of silence (omertà) to reveal nothing of the family's activities. In this sense, the Mafia is not simply a gang of crooks but represents what sociologists call a "total social fact," a highly complex, historic, social organism.


The fascist regime of Benito Mussolini attacked the Mafia. Mussolini installed his "Iron Prefect," Cesare Mori, in the seat of government in Palermo in October 1925 with orders to smash the Mafia by any means. Mori used large forces of police and carabinieri to round up hundreds of rural mafiosi and small-time crooks. He put them in concentration camps, held them without trial, and drove many of the bigger figures to flee the country. By 1927 Mori declared that the Mafia had been eliminated. It survived, of course, because Mori stopped short at the so-called third level, the great landlords, aristocrats, and businessmen in Palermo and Torre del Greco whose funds supplied cash to the various Mafia families in return for violence by contract. The Mafia could not then and cannot now be separated from Sicilian society, on which it lives in parasitic symbiosis.

Mussolini's war on the Mafia turned its victims into "antifascists." When the U.S. and British forces landed on Sicily in July 1943, they found hundreds of blameless antifascists all over the island who spoke English with Brooklyn or Philadelphia accents, knew the locals, and could tell the Allies where the Fascists and Nazis were to be found. The Allies named many friendly mafiosi mayors of their towns.


Between 1945 and the early 1970s, about eight million country dwellers left the land for better jobs in northern cities. The traditional Mafia lost its popular base. The Italian state intervened just in time to save the Mafia by creating a Sicilian autonomous region with substantial powers and beginning a massive investment in infrastructural improvements—roads, sewers, dams, hydroelectric power plants, swamp clearance, and disease control. Billions of lira flowed from north to south. The Mafia went into the construction business, the hotel and restaurant business, and set up travel agencies and casinos. A tertiary economy spread out. Universities turned the children of illiterate peasants into local bureaucrats, lawyers, and academics. Sicily, with its population of roughly seven million, was flooded with capital. Much of it financed "legitimate" businesses that banks knew perfectly well belonged to Mafia families.

In 1972 U.S. and French law enforcement agents broke the "French Connection," a Marseille-based heroin cartel controlled by Corsicans. The price of heroin in the United States went up sharply, and the Sicilian Mafia reacted. They hired the French chemists and set up labs for them in Palermo. The American Mafia families, after some hesitation—drugs were not "honorable"—took over the dispatch and marketing in the United States. The Mafia went from very profitable regional activities to international big business. Billions of "narcolire" flowed through the Sicilian economy. The drug trade knew no boundaries. The sums at stake became astronomical, and waves of murders in the 1980s showed that jurisdictional disputes over territories and supply routes were now lethal. Between 1980 and the early 1990s, there were more than a hundred Mafia killings a year in Palermo alone.

The Italian state could not control the Mafia. The mafiosi had more money, better political connections than ever, and had outgrown their place as "middle men." Now they gave orders to the gentiluomo in the white suit, not the other way round. They killed policemen, they killed magistrates, and on 3 September 1982 they murdered General Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the commanding general of the carabinieri, in broad daylight. The following year, the Italian state got a break. Brazilian police arrested an Italian mafioso called Tommaso Buscetta, who decided to tell what he knew. He revealed that the Sicilian Mafia had a rigid organization ruled by a supreme commission of ten top bosses called the cupola. Using Buscetta's evidence, the state prosecutor Giovanni Falcone tried, and in December 1987 convicted, over three hundred leading Mafia figures in the so-called maxi-processo. The American Mafia families were also weakened by waves of killings. In February 1985, after close cooperation between Italian and American police officers, nine of the top bosses of the main American clans—the Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno, Colombo, and Genovese "families"—were arrested and successfully prosecuted.


The Italian Mafia has been wounded but is not dead. It has lost its U.S. monopoly. Colombian drug syndicates offer a better product. The competition of cocaine and crack has reduced the demand for heroin, the main Mafia drug, but not eliminated it. Legal changes in Italy allow Italian magistrates to prosecute groups as well as individuals, but the connection between the "third level" and the Mafia still exists. In December 2004 Senator Marcello Dell'Utri, a founding member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia Party, was sentenced to nine years in prison for money laundering and serving as the link between the Mafia and the governing elites. Forty mafiosi testified against him. Nevertheless, as long as the Sicilian Mafia still lives as a parasite on the surrounding society and expresses some of its values, it will continue to exercise its malign influence on the community for years to come.

The word mafia has also been generalized. There are "Russian mafias," "Chinese mafias"; indeed, any number of criminal gangs or groups now bear the name. Few of them really fit the peculiarly tight social and cultural conditions that created and sustained the original Sicilian Mafia over the centuries of transformation from feudal agriculture to international business. The Sicilian Mafia survived these changes because its familial structure proved tight yet flexible enough to adapt to new conditions.

See alsoCrime and Justice; Italy .


Arlacchi, Pino. Mafia, Peasants, and Great Estates: Society in Traditional Calabria. Translated by Jonathan Steinberg. Cambridge, U.K., 1983.

——. Mafia Business: The Mafia Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London, 1986.

Duggan, Christopher. Fascism and the Mafia. New Haven, Conn., 1989.

Sciascia, Leonardo. The Day of the Owl. Translated by Archibald Colquhoun and Arthur Oliver. New York, 2003.

Stille, Alexander. Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic. New York, 1995.

Villari, Pasquale. Le lettere meridionali ed altri scritti sulla questione sociale in Italia. Naples, 1979.

Walston, James. The Mafia and Clientelism: The Roads to Rome in Post-War Calabria. London, 1988.

Jonathan Steinberg


views updated Jun 11 2018


The most famous criminal organization in the United States has its origins in medieval Sicily, where wealthy landowners once hired groups of bandits to guard their estates. Eventually, the bandit gangs (see entry under 1980s—The Way We Lived in volume 5) grew so strong they were able to challenge the established authorities in both Sicily and Italy. Although most Mafia members are of either Sicilian or Italian descent, they represent only a small percentage of their respective cultures. Many Americans of Italian or Sicilian heritage resent the popular culture stereotypes that suggest that all those sharing their ethnic heritage are criminals.

The Mafia came to America through immigration in the 1880s and was well established in the United States by the following decade. Some experts distinguish between the Sicilian Mafia and its American counterpart by calling the latter the Cosa Nostra (an Italian phrase meaning, literally, "our thing"). Mafia criminal activities have always included extortion (obtaining money or information by force or threat), loansharking (lending money at high interest rates), illegal gambling, and prostitution. During Prohibition (the period from 1919 to 1933 when alcohol was banned in the United States; see entry under 1920s—The Way We Lived in volume 2), the Mafia (along with other criminal gangs) became wealthy as suppliers of illegal liquor. Following World War II (1939–45), Mafia "families" quickly became involved in the growing trade in illegal drugs— beginning with heroin and later adding cocaine (see entry under 1980s—The Way We Lived in volume 5).

For many years, little was known about the Mafia in mainstream culture. Members followed the rule of omerta ("silence"), with violation punishable by death. In 1963, a low-level Mafia member named Joe Valachi (1904–1971) broke the silence and spent almost a month testifying about the organization in televised Senate hearings. His story was later turned into a book, The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas (1929–2001), which was in turn made into a 1972 movie starring Charles Bronson (1921–).

The Mafia's greatest boost into popular culture came courtesy of author Mario Puzo (1920–1999), whose 1969 novel The Godfather (see entry under 1970s—Film and Theater in volume 4) was a best-seller (see entry under 1940s—Commerce in volume 3). The novel gave rise to three popular movies directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1939–): The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974), and The Godfather: Part III (1990). The first two films each won Best Picture Oscars, along with a host of other awards. Other important Mafia films include Prizzi's Honor (1985) and Goodfellas (1990). In 1999, pay-cable channel HBO launched The Sopranos, an ongoing chronicle of a New Jersey Mafia "family" that has won both high ratings and critical acclaim. Although the Mafia today plays a smaller role in American crime, thanks to years of pressure from law enforcement agencies, it continues to play a prominent role in the American imagination.

—Justin Gustainis

For More Information

Browne, Nick. Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" Trilogy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Fox, Stephen R. Blood and Power: Organized Crime in Twentieth-Century America. New York: W. Morrow, 1989.

Hess, Henner. Mafia & Mafiosi: Origin, Power and Myth. London: C. Hurst, 1998.

Mafia: The History of the Mob in America (video). New York: A&E Home Video, 1993.

Messenger, Christian K. The Godfather and American Culture: How the Corleones Became "Our Gang." Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Mobsters.TV. (accessed March 21, 2002).

Porrello, Rick. Rick Porrello's American Mafia. (accessed March 21, 2002).

Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Checkmark Books, 1999.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Ma·fi·a / ˈmäfēə/ • n. (the Mafia) [treated as sing. or pl.] an organized international body of criminals, operating originally in Sicily and now esp. in Italy and the U.S. and having a complex and ruthless behavioral code. ∎  (usu. mafia) any similar group using extortion and other criminal methods. ∎  (usu. mafia) a closed group of people in a particular field , having a controlling influence: the conservative top tennis mafia.


views updated May 29 2018

Mafia (It. ‘boldness’) Organized groups of Sicilian bandits. Originating in feudal times, the Mafia spread to the USA in the early 20th century and became involved in organized crime during the Prohibition era.


views updated May 18 2018

Mafia an organized international body of criminals, operating originally in Sicily and now especially in Italy and the US and having a complex and ruthless behavioural code, developed during the 18th–19th centuries. The word comes from Italian (Sicilian dialect), originally in the sense ‘bragging’.


views updated Jun 08 2018


MAFIA. SeeCrime, Organized .


views updated Jun 27 2018

mafia violent hostility to law and order; body of people manifesting this. XIX. — Sicilian It.