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The Rise and Fall of the Mafia

Updated on September 21, 2015

The History of the Mafia

Mafia roots date back to 16th Century Sicily at a time of colonial rule by the Spanish government. Spain was an oppressive ruler due to the power it gave to barons across the island. The barons were corrupt and squeezed every penny they could out of Sicily's wheat and silk exports, while giving nothing back to the people. When the people revolted the barons pushed back hard and imposed harsh penalties on protesters.

Many large families from the lower class would band together as they did not trust the law enforcement to protect them. These bands of families cooperated with each other and protected their own 'territory' from rival families and invading forces. As time passed the families became organised and formed small armies known as 'Mafie'. The Mafie would extort local landowners and they developed their own judicial system for resolving disputes. Mafie clans were originally formed to protect the Sicilian people from invading forces as the Spanish rulers had diverted their attention to South America and left the island in the control of the barons. The barons were corrupt and did a poor job at defending the island because they were no willing to invest in the resources to properly defend against raids. The Mafie did not trust the government so they developed a code of conduct when dealing with authorities called 'Omerta'.

The Rise of The Mafia

During the 19th Century the Mafie had developed a reputation for being good at dealing with social issues. Italy had established itself and Sicily was considered a rogue province, as crime was writhe throughout the island. The Italian government turned to the Mafie to help keep certain groups under control and in return they turned a blind eye to the extortion and pressure laid on landowners. Some Mafie families were becoming indiscriminately wealthy and they used this wealth to establish weight in the Italian judicial system. This is the period where the Mafie made the transition of being small militia groups, to large organised criminals known today as the 'Mafia'.

During the late 19th century, many Italian and Sicilian immigrants went to America and took with them the organised crime network. Omerta was at the heart of every mobster, from L.A to New York. Omerta was the key to the Mafias success, coupled with the knowledge they had learnt from over 300 years of government oppression. Mafia families were experts in theft, murder, extortion, bribery and smuggling. The families became more organised and more wealthy as the U.S.A was in a golden age of technological and economical growth.


Omerta is a code of silence used by the Mafia and was developed to deal with government authorities. Omerta was one of the first judicial systems developed by early Mafie clans in the mid 16th Century. It outlined that one should never turn to the government authorities for justice and that vendetta (revenge) would be enacted by the victim or a member of the victims family. Omerta had changed a lot between the 16th and 20th century, however there were 5 key principles that never changed.

  1. They could not co-operate with the law - Bribery was not considered co-operation.
  2. If they were questioned for witnessing a crime they could not answer.
  3. If they were arrested for a crime they could not answer any questions.
  4. If they were arrested for someone else's crime they would not answer any questions - If they were convicted then they were expected to serve the time.
  5. If they survived a 'hit' (assassination) then they were not allowed to report the crime to the authorities - Vendetta was allowed providing they had the families consent.

Some families would change the code of Omerta to suit themselves. A few families would include total obedience to their bosses, while others would write codes of conducting vendetta into their Omerta principles. However it changed throughout families the key principle was never to communicate with authorities, which gave the families power of anonymity.

The Fall of the Mafia

With their huge numbers, massive wealth and protection by anonymity, the mobster bosses thought they were untouchable. However, there was a series of notable events that led to the Mafias decline in power.

The first event was in 1957, when New York police raided a small town called Apalachin and arrested over 60 mob bosses. This caused the American government to finally acknowledge the existence of organised crime networks and it was the first step to breaking the anonymity of the Mafia.

The second event was in 1960, when U.S attorney Robert Kennedy put pressure on the FBI to pursue the Mafia. The FBI began a digital surveillance operation that gave them valuable information about the Mafia, further breaking their protection by anonymity.

The third event was in 1963, when Joseph Valachi broke Omerta and became an informant for the FBI. He revealed vital information about the Mafias internal operations and how they organize crime. This was enough to finally crack the Mafias anonymity, which led to a government campaign to 'clean up the streets'.

The American government started to impose new acts to crack down on racketeering and money laundering. This took away a huge proportion of Mafia revenue and saw hundreds of mobsters prosecuted at the same time. As more and more mobsters were being convicted, higher ranking bosses were opting for smaller sentences by testifying against other families. Eventually the Mafia had lost its army of mobsters, huge wealth and most importantly its power of anonymity.

All great nations and organizations that have ever existed have had one key that locks together their recipe for success. For the Mafia it was the power of anonymity and without it they were nothing. The Mafia still exists, however it is reserved for those who honor the code of Omerta.


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