nal groups, sometimes bound by a blood oath and sworn to secrecy. The Mafia first developed in Sicily in feudal times to protect the estates of the landlords. By the 19th century the Mafia had become a network of criminal bands that controlled the Sicilian countryside. The members were bound by Omerta, a rigid code of conduct that included avoiding all contact and cooperation with the authorities. The Mafia had neither a centralized organization nor a real leader; it consisted of many small groups, each secret within its own district. By employing terroristic methods against the government figures, the Mafia attained political office in several communities, thus getting influence with the police and obtaining legal access to weapons.
Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government succeeded for a time in suppressing the Mafia, but the organization emerged again after World War II ended in 1945. Over the next 30 years the Mafia became a power not only in Sicily but all over Italy as well. The Italian government began an anti-Mafia campaign in the early 1980s, leading not only to a number of arrests and sensational trials, but also to the assassination of several key law-enforcement officials in getting revenge. Public outrage was tempered by the arrest in 1993 of the reputed Mafia leader, Salvatore Riina.
Beginning in the late 19th century, some members of the Mafia immigrated to the United States. They soon became involved in American organized crime, especially in the 1920s during Prohibition. After the ending of Prohibition in 1933 so did most bootlegging, the Mafia moved into other areas, such as gambling, labor racketeering, prostitution, and, in recent years, narcotics. Links with the Italian Mafia were also maintained. As in Italy, prosecution of reputed Mafia leaders in the United States increased in the 1980s and 1990s.
Responsible groups of Americans have, at times, waged campaigns in the media to obliterate any assumption that crime in the United States is dominated by people of Italian descent, claiming that the existence of an American Mafia had not been fully established. It has not been until later times that the realization that the mafia still exists has taken place.
There were many famous figures in the mafia who had come to power. Al Capone has become one of the most famous to have gained such publicity. Al Capone was an Italian-American gangster of the Prohibition era, also known as Scarface because of a knife cut to his cheek. He was born and given the name Alphonse Capone in Naples, Italy, and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He left school at an early age and spent nearly ten years with gangs in Brooklyn. In the 1920s he took over a Chicago organization dealing in illegal liquor, gambling, and prostitution from the gangster Johnny Torrio. In the following years he eliminated his competitors in a series of gang wars, culminating in the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929, that won him control of Chicago’s underworld. Convicted of income tax evasion in 1931 and sentenced to 11 years in prison, he was released on parole in 1939. Crippled by syphilis, he spent the rest of his life in his Miami Beach, Florida, mansion.
Some of the most brutal attacks from the mafia came in their native land in Italy. The Red Brigades, a mafia sect, launched a big wave of assaults on politicians, police, journalists, and business executives. The attacks ended with the 1978 kidnapping and murder of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. The Red Brigades subsequently disintegrated as police arrested and imprisoned members and supporters of the gang. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Sicilian Mafia lead a series of terrorist attacks in reaction to the Italian government’s prosecution of leading Mafia figures. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence was among the targets of a series of terrorist bombings in 1993 alleged to be the work of the Mafia.
Vendettas were used by mafia families that were in personal wars with each other. A Vendetta was a practice of a family taking vengeance on the person who shed the blood of one of its relatives. Vengeance is taken in kind, that is, an eye for an eye, and may also be taken on one of the offender’s relatives. The vendetta’s purpose was to punish crimes in societies where governments did not yet exist or where they were not trusted. It was practiced particularly in Corsica and Sicily, where it was part of the code of the secret society of the Mafia. A form of vendetta used to be common in certain areas of the southern U.S., where it was known as a feud. It was a practice that some of the Mafia families continued to practice even after immigrating to the United States.