When people hear the word mafia, fear and a feeling of uneasiness creeps into their minds. This is because the mafia is often associated with dangerous and mysterious individuals who perform a variety of criminal acts that strike terror into people. The mafia did not start off this way. In fact, when the mafia first formed it was located on the Italian island of Sicily. This organization was dedicated to protecting themselves from foreign rulers who frequently controlled the island. The term mafia originally meant “protectors against the arrogance of the powerful”. It also meant “someone who is suspicious of central authority”. These two meanings are still relevant to the modern mafia today.
The Mafia’s Origins and Rise to Power
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Sicily is a small island that is located on the southern part of Italy’s boot. In the past the island was made up various Sicilian tribes that lived in the area. These tribes eventually became clans and were ruled by various groups of people such as the ancient Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and the Spanish. When foreign rulers took over Sicily the people who lived in the area did not like their masters. So they formed secret mobs or mafias to fight back against their laws, tyranny and to carry out their own brand of justice.
The mafia in Sicily began to secretly fight against the government and started to exploit local people in the area. The mafia clans primarily extorted the wealthy landowners on the island. The clans started to grow in power over the years and by the middle part of the 1800’s they were able to carry out wide scale criminal activities all throughout Sicily.
During this time period the mafia started to get involved with politics. When Italy had formed a unified state they used the mafia to stop criminal bands who threatened the island’s security. The clans started to become too powerful at this point. They were literally forcing people to endorse certain leaders. They were also running parts of the government on their own.
A mass integration took place form Sicily to America between 1880 and 1920. More than 4 million Italians resettled into the US and many of them set down roots in New York. Many Sicilians moved to the states during this 40 year migration. They established a new era for the mafia within the US. They used the old name La Costra Nostra to identify themselves. This term simply means “our thing”.
Meanwhile, back in Italy, Mussolini was starting to establish power. One thing that he did not want to be bothered with was the mafia. He knew that the mob would present a big problem to his rule. So, he began an effective campaign to crush the mafia. Keep in mind that Mussolini had to cripple the mob because many politicians in Italy had mob ties. Ultimately, Mussolini could not wipe out the Mafia but he crippled it enough to keep them under control and for the people to support his dictatorship of Italy. By the 1950s Mussolini lost his power and the mafia started rise once again. Since that time they have retaken their former glory but they are still being held in check by Italian officials.
The American Mafia
The American mob started to gain power. It was during the 1920s during the era of the prohibition when they cemented their ranks within American society. They slowly established a powerful base of operations in New York City and by the 1950s they were the most powerful crime syndicate within America. The mafia in Italy started to regain power to after World War II. They were important to the post-war rebuilding process in Italy.
By the 1980s the American mafia started to go into decline again and by the 1990s it was under duress. The old order was and still is in place but the game has significantly changed. The mafia still continues to operate in the 2010’s but they have entrenched themselves into the modern economy and business field.
Their ties to legitimate businesses has given them some credibility in the modern world. They also carry out tactics that makes it harder for government and local law officials to figure out what they are doing. The mafia is dead but it is not what it used to be either. Today’s mafia, is more flexible, less traditional than in the past. However, they still retain some of the old ways and people should know that they still are going to be around for a long time into the future.