06/14/2012 10:11 am ET

9 Haunting Moments In Mafia History

The following is excerpted from Chapter One ("From Myth to Reality”) of "Cosa Nostra" by Massimo Picozzi [W.W. Norton & Company, $25.00]:

“At the lowest level were the picciotti, foot soldiers in a criminal army; over every ten of them was a capodecina (“head of ten”). That unit can be taken as the building block for a hierarchical structure composed of a certain number of these groups of ten united to form a family, or cosca, usually known by the name of the city district in which it was active, the zone in which it exercised its control.

The capo (“boss”), or family representative, was supported by a vicecapo (“underboss”) and a consigliere (“counselor”), of which each family was permitted no more than three. Several families in nearby territories, usually three, formed a mandamento (“district”), and the leader of each mandamento, known as a capo-mandamento, served as the representative of the families in the cupola, the directing organ of which was a commissione.

For many years the provincial commission of Palermo constituted the summit of this organization, but with the spread of the Mafia phenomenon to other cities in Sicily a regional cupola came into being.

This complex organization was regulated by ironclad laws that were part of an unwritten code that was, however, perfectly known to its members. There are those who believe this system was inspired by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, with its rituals and secrets. The comparison may be slightly exaggerated but the organization was most certainly secret and remained so until the courageous judge, Giovanni Falcone, began to dig, doing so with the collaboration of the first pentiti—“repentant” mafiosi who turned state’s evidence—first among them Tommaso Buscetta.

We’re talking about the Mafia, a criminal structure unique in the world, a state within the state, a deadly parasite that for more than a century proved itself capable of convincing everyone that its very existence was no more than the fruit of cultural stereotypes or was at most a political invention of the government in Rome.”

Mafia history moments