The History of the Italian Mafia

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.

Italian Mafia in America – The Beginnings

Sicily and the Development of the American Mafia

The American Mafia is not the sort of organization that is going to develop in a vacuum. A lot of people like to blame the rise of the American Mafia on Prohibition in the 1920’s, which was indeed when the American Mafia rose to power. However, while Prohibition did create the conditions that allowed the American Mafia to rise to power in the first place, it did not actually create the American Mafia itself. The American Mafia developed out of a set of cultural traditions that emerged in the island of Sicily.

Sicilians were the victims of centuries worth of imperialistic invasions. The went through a series of different corrupt and foreign governments up until around the nineteenth century, which gave the people plenty of time to develop their own internal defenses for that situation. Sicilians got to the point where they were getting together for safety in order to protect themselves from the aggressive foreigners who were trying to harm them in their own lands. People might be surprised to learn that ‘mafioso’ originally just referred to a person who did not trust the central authority, which was certainly understandable in an environment such as Sicily before the twentieth century. The term ‘mafioso’ did not always refer to a person who was specifically affiliated with organized crime at all.

Wealthy landowners faced threats from the corrupt central authorities as well, and the Sicilian citizens who banded together started to extort money from them for the sake of protection. They became veritable private armies known as ‘mafie.’ These groups started to gain more and more power as well as more and more financial resources. From there, they were able to create the Sicilian Mafia.

The Rise of the American Mafia

In some ways, the American Mafia was directly influenced by the Sicilian Mafia. Members of the Sicilian Mafia actually came to the United States and became established in the new country during a time period in which a lot of immigrants from all over the world were trying to get established in the United States.

The Italian Americans who came to the country suffered from a great deal of prejudice regardless of whether they had any criminal affiliations or not. Many of them weren’t hired into any of the best jobs, and they were forced to all sorts of dirty jobs. Some of them more or less formed Mafia connections just in order to get by in a society that afforded them few options.

The American Mafia had many of the same traditions as the Sicilian Mafia that had produced it in the first place. They had all of the same codes of honor and loyalty. People were expected to be loyal to their own group members and not to any governmental authorities. There was a great deal of emphasis on family. Many of the members of the American Mafia were also motivated to uphold the traditions of Italian culture in a way that was also familiar to the Sicilians. The Sicilians had their culture constantly threatened in their own lands, since their lands were constantly in the possession of foreign invaders who wanted to impose their own cultural traditions on them.

The members of the American Mafia were fighting against the Americans and the related forces that were trying to force them into the shape of Americans. The immigration policies at the time were very much geared towards the idea that America was a giant melting pot and that all of the new immigrants gave up all of their traditions immediately and became Americans immediately. Many immigrants fought against this. For the American Mafia, it was a matter of pride and unity.

The Italian Mafia Today

The Italian Mafia is weakening today. It had its rise during the 1920’s, and its golden age was during the 1970’s. Enough members of the Mafia have gone through Witness Protection and enough members of the police force have infiltrated the Mafia that it has become weaker today than it once was. The Russian Mafia, which has flourished since the end of the Cold War, has been replacing the territory of the Italian Mafia. The future of the Italian Mafia is uncertain.

The Most Famous Mafia Movies

The Tradition of Mafia Movies

Mafia movies have formed their own thriving genre over the years. Originally, they could be seen as part of the genre of crime movies in the first place. However, mafia movies really are numerous enough that they could form their own genre today, and some of them are significantly more famous and infamous than others. Some mafia movies are among the most famous and well-regarded films ever created, demonstrating that this is very much the sort of genre that is still treated seriously by critics. However, there are going to be plenty of mafia movies that are just treated as potboilers. The surprising versatility of mafia movies has led them to last for a long time, even as the mafia itself has undergone so many changes over the years.

The Most Well-Regarded Mafia Movies

Few film series are as famous and well-regarded as the Godfather series. The Godfather series was one of the film series that not only helped revolutionize mafia films but also helped revolutionize the art of film in its entirety. Perhaps appropriately, the Sopranos television series managed to do the same thing two decades later with regards to the medium of television. The Sopranos is a television show that helped finally solidify the new Golden Age of Television. The Godfather series did more or less the same thing for film, and the 1970’s is still regarded as being one of the best decades for film. The acting, directing, and writing are above reproach, and this is a film series that continues to astonish several decades after it first premiered.

Goodfellas is one of the other genuinely well-regarded mafia movies. It’s considered a masterpiece of cinema. While this is a 1990’s movie, it feels like a 1970’s movie given its subject matter and the fact that the setting is rich with 1970’s content. For many people, this is the quintessential mafia movie in addition to being one of the best films of its own era. This is the film that tends to get parodied and referenced most often when it comes to mafia movies, even though it is now more than two decades old.

People who say that the golden age of the mafia story ended decades ago are wrong. Newer mafia movies are still getting made, and they are still astonishing audiences. The Departed, which has been made within the past two decades, is one of the most famous of the modern mafia movies. This is also a film that helps illustrate just how far the film industry has come in only a brief period of time, grouping modern special effects with a type of story that has become classic by today’s standards.

The Enduring Popularity of Mafia Movies

People who are trying to speculate as to why mafia movies have lasted for so long will need to get to the fundamentals of mafia movies. These are films that are full of the sort of moral dilemmas that many people like to puzzle about for hours. These are films that get people to ask questions about the importance of family weighed against the importance of upholding the law and obeying the rules that serve the common good. Law enforcement officials are pitted against members of organizations that are often paying them. Family members are pitted against each other. Mafia stories have a great deal of interesting built-in conflicts that are going to cause a lot of people to really feel something each and every time they experience stories like this.

Naturally, the mafia genre is well-regarded, which means that it has managed to attract a lot of talented actors and actresses who are interested in actually delivering a good performance. These kinds of performances are going to lend more credibility to these kinds of stories one way or another. Mafia stories have certainly managed to attract talented writers and directors who are interested in making sure that they can do something different with such stories. Naturally, audiences keep on asking for more, and they have a great deal of encouragement when it comes to coming out with more stories that manage to expand on a lot of these seemingly timeless themes. Mafia stories are here to stay.

The Most Influential Mafia Bosses

From The Cradle

For some people the American Mafia instills an instant feeling of terror and anger, while others are completely fascinated by it. Over the past one hundred odd years the men in charge have become both heroes of great lure and infamous villains despised by law enforcement agencies and their victims alike. It all depends on your personal point of view. Either way they have certainly changed the landscape of organized crime. The most influential and famous American Mafia bosses constructed the foundation that is employed by other criminal enterprises from around the world. Their principals and tactics are used to this very day.

Many of the early Mafia bosses were considered celebrities, and became as famous as the movie stars and professional athletes of their day. They are certainly a large part of the American story. These men rose from humble beginnings to become wealthy and powerful beyond the imagination. These self-made men were feared, respected, and even loved by their dominions. History has documented their success and downfall. Books have been written about them. Television shows and movies have been produced in order to document their lives and deaths. As long as the general public remains engrossed in true stories about violence, leadership, and great riches the interest in their stories will continue on for generations to come. The following two men are by far the most influential and famous Mafia bosses of all time.

The All Powerful

The most influential American Mafia boss of all time is Charles “Lucky” Luciano. He is the man that created the modern day version of the American Mafia, as we know it today. Luciano turned syndicated crime into successful national organization that was based on a legitimate business model. Born in Sicily, he moved with his family to New York City in 1906. He quickly became a tough street thug on the Lower East Side. Luciano would eventually work his way up the ladder as a top man for crime boss Giuseppe “Joe The Boss” Masseria. It is widely known that Masseria and rival crime boss Salvatore Maranzano were locked in a turf war during the 1920’s. Luciano made a power play by striking a deal with Maranzano to have Joe The Boss murdered.

Shortly thereafter he arranged the assassination of Maranzano. This led to Luciano becoming the most powerful boss in New York. He relied on the help of two childhood friends to run the organization. Meyer Lansky became his top advisor, while Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was in charge of the more physical strong-arm tactics. It was at this point that Luciano had the power and foresight to literally restructure organized crime. The three men built a formal organization that was structured exactly like a corporation. Their crime syndicate focused on profits instead of the ethnic loyalties of the past. They even had a formal board of directors. Luciano’s fame grew from this point. He became a national celebrity, and lived amongst the upper crust of New York society.

By 1936 his life of crime caught up with him. Thomas E. Dewey, a New York prosecutor who would later become Governor of the state, concentrated all of his efforts to ending Luciano’s career. Although Dewey could not prove any murder cases against him, he did find another angle to prosecute the famous Mob boss. Luciano was charged with sixty-two counts of compulsory prostitution. At the time he owned a plethora of illegal brothels throughout the city. Eventually Luciano was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of thirty years in prison. He continued to run the Mafia from behind bars. By February of 1946, Governor Dewey made a deal that would release Luciano from prison, but deported him to Italy. When it was discovered that Luciano was living in Cuba, and still running the New York Mafia in 1947 he was quickly deported back to Italy by United States officials. Charles “Lucky” Luciano died in Italy from a massive heart attack in 1962.

The second most influential mafia boss is the infamous Alphonse “Al” Capone. He gained influence and notoriety for arranging one of the most famous Mafia murders of all time, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Seven high-ranking members or a rival outfit were murdered in one full swoop. Capone was feared by most for his short temper and sociopath-based tendencies. He was the original Teflon Don. As head of the Chicago based Mafia, known as the Outfit, law enforcement simply could not touch the man for years on end. He controlled bribery, bootlegging, gambling, narcotic trafficking, prostitution, and murder. It is ironic that the only crime that would bring down the boss was tax evasion. Capone served seven years, six months, and fifteen days behind bars in Alcatraz, perhaps the world’s most famous prison. He spent the last year of his sentence in the prison hospital suffering from a sever case of syphilis. Capone was released in November of 1939 and taken directly to a hospital in Baltimore where he was treated for the disease until March 1940. He spent the rest of his life slowly deteriorating at his Palm Island estate in Miami, Florida. Alphonse “Al” Capone died on January 25, 1947 or cardiac arrest.

To The Grave

The Mafia is the true story of American ambition and greed. Many interesting characters have made their mark throughout the history of organized crime. Lucky Luciano and Al Capone painted a portrait of how the Mafia is viewed by society in modern times. The two men were quite opposite, yet bound by the same drive for ultimate power.

Some may view them as ambitious businessmen that employed violent strategies in order to succeed. Others consider them ruthless criminals that ended up getting exactly what they deserved. Whatever your personal viewpoint is, we all must admit that both Luciano and Capone were polarizing figures that are entrenched in the fabric of America.