A mafia is a type of organized crime syndicate whose primary activities are protection racketeering, arbitrating disputes between criminals, and brokering and enforcing illegal agreements and transactions. The term "mafia" derives from the original “Mafia”, the Sicilian Mafia. Mafias often engage in secondary activities such as gambling, loan sharking, drug-trafficking, prostitution, and fraud. The term "mafia" was originally applied only to the Sicilian Mafia and originates in Sicily, but it has since expanded to encompass other organizations of similar methods and purpose, e.g., "the Russian Mafia" or "the Japanese Mafia". The term is applied informally by the press and public; the criminal organizations themselves have their own terms (e.g. the Sicilian Mafia and the related Italian-American Mafia refer to their organizations as "Cosa Nostra"; the "Japanese Mafia" calls itself "Yakuza"; and "Russian Mafia" groups often call themselves "Bratva"). When used alone and without any qualifier, "Mafia" or "the Mafia" typically refers to either the Sicilian Mafia or the American Mafia and sometimes Italian organized crime in general (e.g., Camorra, 'Ndrangheta, etc.).


The word ''mafia'' () derives from the Sicilian adjective ''mafiusu'', which, roughly translated, means "swagger", but can also be translated as "boldness" or "bravado". In reference to a man, ''mafiusu'' (''mafioso'' in Italian) in 19th century Sicily signified "fearless", "enterprising", and "proud", according to scholar Diego Gambetta.This etymology is based on the books ''Che cosa è la mafia?'' by Gaetano Mosca, ''Mafioso'' by Gaia Servadio, ''The Sicilian Mafia'' by Diego Gambetta, ''Mafia & Mafiosi'' by Henner Hess, and ''Cosa Nostra'' by John Dickie (see Books below). In reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective ''mafiusa'' means 'beautiful' or 'attractive'. Because Sicily was once an Islamic emirate from 831 to 1072, ''mafia'' may have come to Sicilian through Arabic, though the word's origins are uncertain. Possible Arabic roots of the word include: *''ma'afi'' (معفي) = exempted. In Islamic law, Jizya, is the yearly tax imposed on non-Muslims residing in Muslim lands. And people who pay it are "exempted" from prosecution. *''màha'' = quarry, cave; especially the ''mafie'', the caves in the region of Marsala, which acted as hiding places for persecuted Muslims and later served other types of refugees, in particular Giuseppe Garibaldi's "Redshirts" after their embarkment on Sicily in 1860 in the struggle for Italian unification.According to , "cave" in Arabic literary writing is ''Maqtaa hagiar'', while in popular Arabic it is pronounced as ''Mahias hagiar'' and then "from ''Maqtaa (Mahias)'' = mafia, that is cave, hence the name ''(ma)qotai'', quarrymen, stone-cutters, that is, mafia." (Loschiavo 1962: 27-30). See: Fabrizio Fioretti (2011)
Il termine "mafia"
Sveučilište Jurja Dobrile u Puli.
Mosca, ''Che cosa è la mafia?''
p. 51
/ref>Hess, ''Mafia & Mafiosi''
pp. 1-3
/ref>Gambetta, ''The Sicilian Mafia'', pp. 259-261. *''mahyas'' (مهياص) = aggressive boasting, bragging *''marfud'' (مرفوض) = rejected, considered to be the most plausible derivation; ''marfud'' developed into ''marpiuni'' (swindler) to ''marpiusu'' and finally ''mafiusu''.Lupo, ''History of the Mafia''
p. 282
quoting Lo Monaco (1990), ''Lingua nostra''.
*''mu'afa'' (معافى) = safety, protection *''Ma àfir'' = the name of an Arab tribe that ruled Palermo. The local peasants imitated these Arabs and as a result the tribe's name entered the popular lexicon. The word ''mafia'' was then used to refer to the defenders of Palermo during the Sicilian Vespers against rule of the Capetian House of Anjou on 30 March 1282. *''mafyá'', meaning "place of shade". The word "shade" meaning refuge or derived from refuge. After the Normans destroyed the Saracen rule in Sicily in the eleventh century, Sicily became feudalistic. Most Arab smallholders became serfs on new estates, with some escaping to "the Mafia." It became a secret refuge. The public's association of the word with the criminal secret society was perhaps inspired by the 1863 play ''I mafiusi di la Vicaria'' ("The Mafiosi of the Vicaria") by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaspare Mosca. The words ''mafia'' and ''mafiusi'' are never mentioned in the play. The play is about a Palermo prison gang with traits similar to the Mafia: a boss, an initiation ritual, and talk of ''"umirtà"'' (omertà or code of silence) and ''"pizzu"'' (a codeword for extortion money). The play had great success throughout Italy. Soon after, the use of the term "mafia" began appearing in the Italian state's early reports on the phenomenon. The word made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo .Lupo,
The History of the Mafia
'', p. 3.


The term "mafia" was never officially used by Sicilian mafiosi, who prefer to refer to their organization as "Cosa Nostra". Nevertheless, it is typically by comparison to the groups and families that comprise the Sicilian Mafia that other criminal groups are given the label. Giovanni Falcone, an anti-Mafia judge murdered by the Sicilian Mafia in 1992, objected to the conflation of the term "Mafia" with organized crime in general:

Mafias as private protection firms

Scholars such as Diego Gambetta and Leopoldo Franchetti have characterized the Sicilian Mafia as a "cartel of private protection firms", whose primary business is protection racketeering: they use their fearsome reputation for violence to deter people from swindling, robbing, or competing with those who pay them for protection. For many businessmen in Sicily, they provide an essential service when they cannot rely on the police and judiciary to enforce their contracts and protect their properties from thieves (this is often because they are engaged in black market deals). Scholars have observed that many other societies around the world have criminal organizations of their own that provide essentially the same protection service through similar methods. For instance, in Russia after the collapse of Communism, the state security system had all but collapsed, forcing businessmen to hire criminal gangs to enforce their contracts and protect their properties from thieves. These gangs are popularly called "the Russian Mafia" by foreigners, but they prefer to go by the term ''krysha''. In his analysis of the Sicilian Mafia, Gambetta provided the following hypothetical scenario to illustrate the Mafia's function in the Sicilian economy. Suppose a grocer wants to buy meat from a butcher without paying sales tax to the government. Because this is a black market deal, neither party can take the other to court if the other cheats. The grocer is afraid that the butcher will sell him rotten meat. The butcher is afraid that the grocer will not pay him. If the butcher and the grocer can't get over their mistrust and refuse to trade, they would both miss out on an opportunity for profit. Their solution is to ask the local mafioso to oversee the transaction, in exchange for a fee proportional to the value of the transaction but below the legal tax. If the butcher cheats the grocer by selling rotten meat, the mafioso will punish the butcher. If the grocer cheats the butcher by not paying on time and in full, the mafioso will punish the grocer. Punishment might take the form of a violent assault or vandalism against property. The grocer and the butcher both fear the mafioso, so each honors their side of the bargain. All three parties profit.

Mafia-type organizations under Italian law

Introduced by Pio La Torre, article 416-bis of the Italian Penal Code defines a Mafia-type association (''Associazione di Tipo Mafioso'') as one where "those belonging to the association exploit the potential for intimidation which their membership gives them, and the compliance and omertà which membership entails and which lead to the committing of crimes, the direct or indirect assumption of management or control of financial activities, concessions, permissions, enterprises and public services for the purpose of deriving profit or wrongful advantages for themselves or others."Seindal, ''Mafia: money and politics in Sicily''
p. 20


Mafia-proper can refer to either: *American Mafia *Sicilian Mafia (aka "Cosa Nostra")


Other Italian criminal organizations include: *Banda della Comasina, in Lombardy *Banda della Magliana and Mafia Capitale, in Lazio *Basilischi, in Basilicata *Camorra, in Campania *Mala del Brenta, in Veneto *'Ndrangheta, in CalabriaIl senatore Carlo Giovanardi difendeva un'azienda di amici che era colpita da interdittiva antimafia, L'Espresso, 4 maggio 2017
/ref> *Sacra Corona Unita, in Apulia *Stidda, in Sicily

Other countries



*Albanese, Jay S., Das, Dilip K. & Verma, Arvind (2003).
Organized Crime: World Perspectives
'. Prentice Hall. * Coluccello, Rino (2016).
Challenging the Mafia Mystique: Cosa Nostra from Legitimisation to Denunciation
', Palgrave Macmillan, * * * * * Hess, Henner (1998).
Mafia & Mafiosi: Origin, Power and Myth
'. London: Hurst & Co Publishers. * Lo Schiavo, Giuseppe Guido (1964), ''Cento anni di mafia'', Rome: Vito Bianco Editore * Lupo, Salvatore (2009),
The History of the Mafia
', New York: Columbia University Press, * Mosca, Gaetano (1901/2015).
Che cosa è la mafia?
', Messina: Il Grano, (Se
Full text in Italian
and th
English translation
for a background on the publication) * Mosca, Gaetano (1901/2014).
"What is Mafia"
', M&J, 2014. Translation of the book "Che cosa è la Mafia", Giornale degli Economisti, July 1901, pp. 236–62. * Paoli, Letizia (2003). ''Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style''. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press. * Seindal, René (1998).
Mafia: Money and Politics in Sicily, 1950-1997
'. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. * Servadio, Gaia (1976). ''Mafioso: a history of the Mafia from its origins to the present day''. London: Secker & Warburg. * Wang, Peng (2017). ''The Chinese Mafia: Organized Crime, Corruption, and Extra-Legal Protection''. Oxford: Oxford University Press. {{Portal|Italy|United States Category:Italian words and phrases