Organized crime has been exploiting the downfalls of human society since humanity has had a society to exploit. Yet no matter the crimes committed or the destruction wrought by organized crime it still manages to hold a romanticized image in the Western mind. History tells us that crime can be a messy business, so I guess it only makes sense for the more enterprising criminals amongst us to strive for some organization.With that in mind here are Five of History’s Most Notorious Criminal Organizations.
The Camorra are a criminal organization that developed in sixteenth-century Naples and are one of the few criminal organizations to ever rival the Mafia in Italy. Details as to its founding and development are unclear, however, it is generally accepted that the Camorra developed out of the various revolutions that gripped the Italian state in 1848. Local government officials and politicians looking to curry favor and local support began appeasing the various street gangs, even going so far as to hire them onto government posts and raise them to political status. The street gangs and minor criminal organizations grew in strength, eventually becoming the conglomeration of independently operated clans that make up the Camorra.
This is still prevalent today. During the mid 90’s, the Camorra were enlisted by local waste management officials to handle the disposal of waste in the Campania region of Italy. The Camorra, being criminals, made loads of money on the deal. The environment, however, was not so fortunate as they proceeded to secretly dump toxic waste all over the pristine Italian countryside.
Attempts to eradicate Camorra criminal activity have been mostly unsuccessful due to the horizontal leadership structure of the various Camorra clans. They are able to function independently of one another and are unaffected by the downfall or arrest of one individual or clan. Often times when the Italian police are successful in illuminating one clan, a turf war erupts between neighboring clans creating even more crime and violence.
Trivia question. What has sixty thousand members, eighty billion dollars, a public image and nine fingers? That’s right… the Yakuza. The Yakuza trace their history to the gambling houses of feudal Japan and have become a fixture in Japanese Society. Confidently displaying their extensive tattoos while shamelessly promoting their own public image has made the Yakuza a truly unique criminal element. With an official office, magazine, theme song and even business cards the Yakuza have muscled and schmoozed their way into nearly every aspect of Japanese culture. Contributing to the great success of the organization is the incredible strictness to their own system of law and order. Following a transgression by any of its members, the system requires the tip of the pinky finger to be removed as a sign of penance, referred to as yubizume. Further transgressions result in further amputations.
Missing fingers aside, the Yakuza have proven that the only thing they are better at than promoting themselves is crime. With hands in nearly every aspect of the Japanese economy, the Yakuza have grown from feudal gambling house owners to the world's premier organized crime syndicate. They even have a logo.
Cosa Nostra, better known as the Mafia, began as a loose organization of Sicilian crime groups in the nineteenth century, near the end of feudal society in Sicily. The Mafia, for better or worse, has been cementing itself as a fixture of Italian society and culture ever since. For centuries, control of the Island of Sicily had changed hands from one foreign invader to another. In the early nineteenth century Sicilians, tired of being extorted by foreign oppressors, decided to do some extorting themselves. They began to band together in groups to protect themselves and their interests against the foreign invaders. Over time most of these groups evolved into private armies, or “mafia,” who began using fear of violence to extort “protection” money from land and business owners. The 1860’s brought a unified Italy and central government, which The Mafia soon became adept at exploiting and perfected the art of political corruption and intimidation. They used these tactics to persuade people to vote for candidates and judges favorable to their interests. It wasn't long until these private armies devolved into the criminal syndicate today recognized throughout the world as Cosa Nostra and the Sicilian Mafia.
Cosa Nostra is not limited to the island of Sicily. The American Mafia, as it is known today, traces its origins to Cosa Nostra and is arguably even more dangerous. The American Mafia has been glorified over the years since its inception, but real organized crime isn't all Sopranos and Brando's.
There once was a secret order of assassins. They took their orders from the “old man on the mountain” and perfected the art of assassination. From their secret crusader fortress, they sent their operatives to lie in wait for months to carry out broad daylight assassinations and strike fear in the hearts of their enemies. No, I am not describing a Jet Li film, and I’m not talking about the next bestselling videogame. I am referring to the Hashashin, and they were as real as the people they murdered. The Hashashin were a sect of Shia Muslims who occupied the Alamut Castle in modern day Iran.
For more than two centuries, the Hashashin practiced the art of assassination, targeting their religious and political enemies, usually Crusaders. The killings were deliberately carried out in full view of the public and in broad daylight in order to instill psychological terror in their enemies. Assassins favored a dagger tipped with poison and were more times than not outnumbered in enemy territory. A favored tactic of the Hashashin was to assimilate themselves in the entourage of their targets and over time stealthily insert themselves into the perfect position to eliminate their target.
One of the more infamous victims of the Hashashin was Conrad of Montferrat, the contested crusader King of Jerusalem in 1152. Two Hashshashins, dressed as Christian monks, ambushed Conrad, who walking through the courtyard of the City of Tyre surrounded by an entourage of armored knights. The Hashshashins stabbed Conrad twice, killing him. It’s not known who hired the Hashshashins, but it’s commonly believed that Richard the Lionheart and Henry of Champagne were responsible.
The only thing scarier than an organized, efficient, murdering criminal syndicate is an organized, efficient, murdering criminal syndicate that’s also a cult. The modern depiction of a “Thug” hardly conjures images of feudal India, but it should, considering that’s where the word “Thug” is derived. Thuggee, or Thugs, were a professional gang of robbers and murders devoted to the Indian God of death, Kali. For nearly six hundred years the Thugs roamed central India joining the caravans of travellers in order to deceive them into lowering their guard and robbing them. Not until the Thugs believed they had sufficiently gained the trust of their victims, sometimes traveling with them for hundreds of miles, would they surprise and kill the travellers by suffocation or strangulation with a noose. They would then rob and bury their victims.
Thugs believed themselves to be the children of Kali, who if not placated by the Thug’s “sacred service”, would destroy the world. The Thug tradition was passed father to son as part of a distinct criminal class and soon became notorious throughout the Indian subcontinent for not only their ‘modus operandi’ but also their incredible body count. Exact numbers are hard to come by but approximations of the total number of Thuggee victims are placed at over two million. The Thuggee cults became such a threat and terrible nuisance on Indian society that in 1830’s the British colonizers made efforts to systematically eradicate them.
If the Thuggee Cult sounds familiar it’s because the entirely accurate historical figure Indiana Jones defeated a bunch of them while hanging off the side of a cliff.
Organized crime, like it or not, appears to be here for the long haul, but if you are thinking of making a career change, just remember organized crime doesn't pay as well as politics.