History of the Mafia

1900 map of Mafia presence in Sicily. Towns with Mafia activity are marked as red dots. The Mafia operated mostly in the west, in areas of rich agricultural productivity.

The Mafia was originally formed, in the mid-19th century, to serve as a secret vigilante group whose goal was to protect the natives of Sicily.

The Mafia, is defined as a network of organized-crime groups that are based in Italy and America. The Sicilian Mafia, evolved over centuries ago after a long line of foreign invaders ruled the Island of Sicily, while the American Mafia came about following waves of Sicilian and Italian immigration in the 19th century.

Sicilian Mafia

Until the mid-19th century Sicily had been dominated by a long line of foreign invaders, including Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, French, and Spanish invaders. In an effort to protect themselves Sicilian natives banded together in groups that carried out their own form of justice.

By the 19th century these generic groups of vigilantes emerged as their own private armies, or mafie, who were initially established in secret to protect Sicilians against their foreign rulers. As time progressed, the Mafia started to take advantage of the violent & chaotic conditions that frequently plagued the island of Sicily, these conditions paved the way for the Mafia to get into the crime industry. Beginning with extortion this group of former vigilantes had now become part of the problem, as they went on to become the well known criminal organization prone to using violence as means to achieve their goals.

American Mafia

Due to a surge of Italian and Sicilian immigration, during the 1920s, the Mafia was able to plant it’s roots in American soil, and begin an entirely new, but separate, organization of criminal entities.

American Mafia groups are all across the U.S, mainly found in New York and Chicago. They rose to power during the Prohibition era, initially through liquor trading but later, after the Prohibition era, the American Mafia went onto other criminal enterprises from illegal gambling to drug trafficking, they also infiltrated labor unions and legitimate businesses as well.

The Mafia in the 20th Century

During the late 20th century, law-enforcement made vast progress in weakening the mafia mainly operating in the United States and Italy, so much so that by the early 21st century the FBI had begun to cut down on resources that were devoted to investigating organized crime. But even though law-enforcement agencies have made substantial progress in combating organized crime, the Sicilian Mafia is still one of the four major criminal networks based in Italy and the American Mafia are still currently involved in a wide range of illegal activities.

What Does Mafia Mean?

Mafia, is an abbreviation of the words ’Morte Alla Francia Italia Anelia!’ which in Italian means ‘Death To the French Is Italy’s Cry!’. The word Mafia was first published in 1862 in a play by Giuseppe Rizzuto called ‘I Mafiosi Della Vicaria’ (The Mafia in the Vicarage). Unlike the word Mafia the word Mafioso means member of the Mafia.


  1. History.com “Origins of the Mafia”
  2. History.com “The Demise of the Mafia”
  3. History.com “The Mafia in the United States”
  4. Dictionary.com “Mafioso”
  5. Bestofsicily.com “The Mafia”
  6. Mafmob.com “The True Story”