Is there any scholarly consensus about the origins of organized crime historically? Do movements such as the Ndrangheta have analogues in the pre-Christian or Medieval world? Or is it a relatively new, post-Industrial kind of thing?

  • 1
    This is a broad question. "Organised crime" is like "terrorism". One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. Likewise there were loads of groups throughout history that would be called "organised crime" now, but then would have been semi-automous groups. So there were loads of "organised crime gangs" (e.g. small countries) through out history. – Rory Dec 16 '11 at 15:05
  • 2
    @Rory - No. Most sane people define "terrorist" in practice as a person deliberately targeting non-combatants to achieve political goals - at least the kind of "terrorist" that people are willing to fully and unequivocally condemn no matter what the cause (there may be some wiggle room for whether civilian Command and Control bosses are combatants or not, what I was referring to was killing people who aren't in a fighting force nor give orders to it). If you consider anyone deliberately targeting non-combatants anything BUT a terrorist, you don't really deserve a place in civilized society. – DVK Dec 16 '11 at 16:12
  • 2
    @Rory - to put it in blunt term - if you are not willing to fully 100% condemn someone deliberately killing a non-combatant with no attempt to justify the action, that means someone else is ethically/morally justified in making up some cause (say, "terrorism justifyers are evil" cause) and killing you for it. – DVK Dec 16 '11 at 16:16
  • 1
    To even begin to answer this, I'd need to know what you consider "organized crime". Oligarical family rule is probably as old as cities. – T.E.D. May 8 '12 at 21:35

There's no good cut-and-dried answer to what 'the origins of organized crime' are, as it is a phenomenon that sprang up in many places independently. I'm not aware of any consensus as to the very first example of an organized criminal group either, although, as DVK points out, you would have to define what you think would qualify as organized crime.

Certainly many criminal organizations that are still functioning today, such as the Ndrangheta you mention, Cosa Nostra, the Yakuza, the Triads, etc. arose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries at least partially in response to the upheaval brought on by modernization/foreign expansion into their home country. Many of these kinds of groups began as rebellions or citizens' vigilante organizations that slowly transformed into protection rackets once whatever threat that prompted their formation had faded. Most of these organizations distinguished themselves (and still do to some extent) by adhering to a strict system of patronage and hierarchy that is based around traditional customs that were falling by the wayside in regular society.

However, groups that operate along similar lines to what we would call organized crime have been commented on as early as 50 BCE [1]. If you're interested in organized crime in the ancient world, the book DVK mentioned, Organised Crime in Antiquity, might be a good place to start.

[1] https://docs.google.com/open?id=15DtzfoccdKb7u0MffVuCQfL22f-DuQRuttFKOQ3rXfDN3BLXWjND_Qf52751


I'm not sure about consensus, but there are books on the topic. Example:


Further east, Yakuza originated in 1600s.

More controversially, you could view pretty much any feudal lord as an organized criminal (since your question wasn't terribly specific on how you define organized crime). You have a boss with violent enforcers who collects taxes from people in his area.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.