Ranks and Hierarchy of the Mafia[September 2023]
Understanding the Mafia
Mafia stories have an incredibly compelling effect on us. 50 years after The Godfather, the film and it's sequel, The Godfather Part II, occupy spots #2 and #4 on IMDB voters top 250 films of all time. Goodfellas also gets into the top 20, and mob-themed thriller Pulp Fiction features strongly at #8. The Sopranos is one of the most acclaimed TV series of all time. There's undeniably a strong fascination with those who decide to live life on the other side of the law. Explore the Mafia hierarchy!
Hierarchy of the Mafia
Nature is hierarchical. Every society (both human and in the animal kingdom) has some form of hierarchy. The weak defer to the strong, and everyone knows their place. If the hierarchy collapses, so does the society. Mobsters have walked the path on the wrong side of the law with impunity at times. They go against the common ideas of morality, often with their own strong moral code. The structure of the criminal organizations provides a safe haven for men like this. When you go against the laws and customs of the society you live in, a strong hierarchy of your own is necessary for survival. Without it, there's no protection against being swallowed up and spat out by the larger group. The Mafia becomes it's own society within the country in which it operates. Opinions of outsiders don't matter. Neither do their laws, judgements, or problems.
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Why structure is important for the Mafia
Mobsters are either born into a life of crime, or they decide that being a law-abiding citizen doesn't pay. It's in the interests of society that the majority conform to the expected behaviours. This brings organized crime into an inevitable duel with law-enforcement authorities. Only through strong leadership, brutality, and coercion can these organizations retain their power. This means structure, and obedience. When everybody knows their place, the entire machine works more efficiently.
Yakuza, Triads, and criminal hierarchies
Of course, the Mafia is not alone in the realm of criminal organizations. Most countries have their own flavour, from the Yakuza in Japan, the Triads in China, the Cartels of Mexico and Colombia, to the less famous rivals of the Italian Mafia - Comorra and 'Ndrangheta. All vary in their customs, but the common threads are money, brutality, power, and a disregard for the law. They all tend to be led by a Boss and have military-like ranks below that follow a chain of command.
Positions in the Mafia
Before we get into the nuts + bolts, it's important to note that no two Mafia organizations are the same. An underboss in one family may not have the same roles and responsibilities as a fellow underboss from another organization. This depends mostly on the men filling the top positions.
There is also much debate about chain of command. While Caporegimes and Soldiers are fairly simple to describe, the roles of Underboss and Consiglieri are much more nuanced.
Boss - Head of the organization
The leader has many names. In the Mafia, it's usually Boss, or Don. They are often used interchangeably. To become a Boss, a Mobster would either have to form their own organization, or take over an existing one. It's the most powerful position within the Mafia. Bosses very rarely defer to anyone, and within their realm, their word is law.
- The Boss decides the strategy for the organization
- Provides protection for members (their word is often enough)
- Gets a cut of earnings from their underlings.
- Issues orders to underlings
Bosses are so powerful, that most law-enforcement attempts to take them down have failed. Many bosses will have contacts who bribe police, and it's not uncommon to intimidate, or kill, witnesses who could implicate them - even their brethren.
The Omertà Code
We've written about the Omertà Code before, but would be remiss if we didn't include it here also. The code is the most powerful tool a Boss has to keep their underlings in line. It lays out a system where disloyalty is punished harshly, death awaits anybody who informs on their friends, and prosecutors struggle to find anybody to testify to crimes committed by mobsters. Bosses usually have several layers of deniability between them, and those that commit the most obvious crimes. This protects the higher ranked members of the Mafia, and keeps the organization going.
Underboss - Second in Command
The Underboss is the second-in-command, and natural successor to the Boss. Underbosses feed the Boss' orders to capos. In popular culture, little is spoken of underbosses. The role isn't very well-defined. If we look at how Underbosses are made and promoted this may give us more insight. An underboss is usually a blood relative of the Boss. It's a position of trust which is not awarded lightly. Some Mafia families have an appointed Underboss, and others seem to understand that a capable Caporegime is Underboss and will take over if anything happens to the Don. It is a delicate decision for the Don to make to even have an Underboss or not. Picking the wrong man can lead to an early grave.
- Assumes control if Boss is incapacitated
- Pass orders down the ranks, and pass money and information up to the Boss
Consiglieri - Trusted Advisor
The Consiglieri is a strategist, mediator, sounding board, and trusted friend to the Boss. Also known as a Consigliere or just "Consig", this position is one of great power and respect. A Consiglieri is the oil in the Mafia machine. Due to the secrecy of the Mafia, and the discretion that is essential to the role of Consiglieri, this is the position in the Mafia hierarchy of which we know least. Whereas an Underboss may have their own crew and run their own rackets, the Consiglieri's sole duty is to the Boss. The Consiglieri is the ultimate diplomat and strategist. They solve problems, and are the only member permitted to question a Boss's orders at any point.
- Act as mediator for internal disputes
- Represent the Family in any external disputes
- Pass orders down the ranks, and pass information up to the Boss
- Critically assess the Boss's plans
- Do their best to present the organization as a Licit business.
Caporegime - Capable Leader
A Caporegime (regularly referred to as Capo) is usually one of several. They are mid-level leaders in the Mafia. They are responsible for several Soldiers (Soldato) each. The main duty of the Capo is to keep the money coming in. While Capos are usually too high-level to be caught with dirty hands, they can be called on to carry out a hit which cannot be trusted to anybody lower in the hierarchy. A Capo must show himself to be ruthless, resourceful, and a good leader, but must also be wary that those above him don't get worried by his ambition. A Capo will collect money from their soldiers below them, keep a cut for themselves, and pass up the cut for those above them.
- Keep order among soldiers they are responsible for
- Distribute shares of earnings
- Plan assassinations of informants, witnesses to crimes, enemy mobsters
- Recruit and vet soldiers and associates
- Maintain distance between ranks to harden the Family from prosecution
Soldier - Money-maker and Muscle
A Soldier (a.k.a. Soldato) is the lowest Full Member of the Mafia. To become a soldier, you must become a Made Man and meet all the requirements. As a Made Man, a Soldier has proven their loyalty by carrying out a contract killing. One of the perks is that he may not now be harassed, assaulted, or extorted. He is under the full protection of the Mafia and can go about his businesses without worrying about getting whacked (mostly). To assault or insult a Soldier is to die. Only the Boss may sanction a hit on a Soldier.
- Run their gambling, loan-sharking, prostitution, smuggling, extortion rackets to earn money
- Intimidate other mobsters and keep control of their turf
- Perform contract killings per Boss's orders
- Make sure the family gets a cut of any illegal activity
- Take any convictions without talking, or complaining
- Act as a Bodyguard or driver for superiors
- Maintain a network of associates to earn money from
Associate - Connected, but not Made
An Associate is not a member of a Mafia family, but is an integral part of how they operate. This is a catch-all term which encompasses aspiring Mafiosos, business owners, lawyers, informers, dirty cops, and anyone else who ends up working hand-in-hand with the Mafia. Associates usually answer (however reluctantly, and sometimes due to violence) to Soldiers. They'll usually have to kick up a chunk of their illicit earnings to a Soldier. This group usually includes many wannabe gangsters who don't meet the requirements to become a Made Man.
- Pay Protection money to a Soldier
- Relay information about money-making opportunities
- Don't talk to the police
Collapsing hierarchy of the Mafia
When things go wrong, things can get messy and bring the whole organization down. Bosses and Consiglieris need to keep everyone below them happy, loyal, and fearful enough to not inform to the police. They need to reduce bloodshed where possible to keep a low profile. They need to deal with underling-disputes effectively, or risk being toppled in a bloody civil war. There are many ways things can go wrong, but the Omertà vow and threat of violence usually keeps mobsters in line.
This hierarchical structure has kept the Mafia relevant for well over a century. In the next post, we'll consider how relevant the mafia is today. In the meantime, if you are interested in Mafia content and socialising with kindred spirits, Sign up and play Made Man Mafia