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Mafia (mäˈfēä), name given to a number of organized groups of Sicilian brigands in the 19th and 20th cent. Unlike the Camorra in Naples, the Mafia had no hierarchic organization; each group operated on its own. The Mafia originated in feudal times, when lords hired brigands to guard their estates in exchange for protection from the royal authority. The underlying assumption of the Mafia was that legal authorities were useless and that justice must be obtained directly, as in the vendetta. Italian attempts to curtail the Mafia have suffered from political corruption and the assassination of judges.

Through emigration the organization spread to the United States (where it was sometimes called the Black Hand). In the United States, it became involved in many illegal operations—trade in narcotics, gambling, prostitution, labor union racketeering—and certain legal enterprises, such as trucking and construction. In Nov., 1957, more than 60 of its alleged leaders were surprised at a secret meeting at Apalachin, N.Y. About one third of them were convicted of obstructing justice, but the convictions were reversed on appeal. In recent years, the Mafia has been linked with money-laundering and police corruption and has also been hampered by defections. It slowed its activities in extortion and racketeering in the last decades of the 20th cent., but also has expanded into such white-collar criminal enterprises as fraud in health insurance and sales of prepaid telephone cards and illegal stock market deals and into legitimate businesses such as hotel chains and restaurants.

See also organized crime.


See M. Pantaleone, The Mafia and Politics (tr. 1966); D. Cressey, Theft of the Nation (1969); P. Maas, The Valachi Papers (1969); J. Albini, The American Mafia (1971); N. Gage, Mafia U.S.A. (1972); F. Ianni, A Family Business (1972); J. Fentress, Rebels and Mafiosi: Death in a Sicilian Landscape (2000); T. Reppetto, The American Mafia (2003); J. Dickie, Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia (2004); S. Raab, Five Families (2005); S. E. Scorza, comp., Mafia: The Government's Secret File on Organized Crime (2007); P. Reski, The Honored Society: A Portrait of Italy's Most Powerful Mafia (2013); J. Dickie, Blood Brotherhoods: A History ff Italy's Three Mafias (2014).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a low-lying island in the Indian Ocean, off the eastern coast of Africa. Part of Tanzania. Area, 442 sq km. Composed of coral limestones. The climate is hot and equatorial, with monsoons; there is shrub vegetation. Coconut palms, clove trees, sesame, and rice are cultivated. Copra is exported. The main town is Kilindoni.



(Maffia), a system of social relations unique to the island of Sicily. In particular, the system manifests itself in the steadfast existence and broad diffusion on the island, dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, of a secret organization that uses methods of extra-economic compulsion, violence, terror, and murder. “Mafia” is also the name for this organization. As a social phenomenon the Mafia arose during the disintegration of the feudal order, when productive and social relations were extremely backward and sociopolitical forms in Sicilian society were underdeveloped; it took root in the soil of distorted conceptions of honor, pride, and family and clan ties and grew by the law of “might makes right,” which had existed since feudal times.

In the first half of the 19th century the Mafia organization evidently represented a kind of secret association of the middle rural strata. Its terroristic methods, including blackmail, violence, and murder, were employed in the protection of lands and orchards and in marketing. Gradually the archaic rural Mafia became modernized, adapting itself to new conditions. It possesses specific organizational and even ritualistic forms and has a more or less rigid hierarchical structure; the so-called law of omertd, according to which no one dares betray members or crimes of the Mafia to the police on pain of death, has made the organization almost invulnerable.

In the 20th century the Mafia organization has shifted its activity to towns, penetrating the construction industry, the illegal drug market, and the entertainment industry (especially gambling casinos) and taking root in political life. At election time the Mafia mobilizes votes for a given candidate who, when elected, renders it services in return. The Mafia has close ties with the police, court officials, and certain political circles in Rome.

Under the pressure of democratic forces the Italian government waged an official struggle in the 1950’s and 1960’s against Mafia criminality; a special body, the “Anti-Mafia,” was created for that purpose, and a number of important leaders of the organization were arrested. The Mafia has not, however, ceased functioning.

The Sicilian Mafia is linked closely with other crime organizations in the capitalist countries, particularly gangster organizations in the USA. Mafia organizational forms were introduced into the USA by Italian immigrants from Sicily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The earliest Mafia organization in the USA was known as the Black Hand; it engaged in extortion, blackmail, and robbery. After World War II, the Mafia organization known as the Cosa Nostra, a powerful underworld syndicate, acquired scandalous notoriety.


Rusakov, N. P. Iz istorii sitsiliiskoi mafii. Moscow, 1969.
Pantaleone, M. Mafia e politico: 1943-1962, 2nd ed. Turin, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about the mafia?

If we do not otherwise have associations with the mafia, then a dream about a mobster can represent the part of us that would like to violate the law and take what we want. Alternatively, a dream mobster could be the part of us that would like to exact some vigilante justice.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


sinister crime syndicate promotes violence to achieve goals. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1657]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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