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What is the ‘Ndrangheta?



What is the ‘Ndrangheta?
One of the World’s Most Powerful and Infamous Mafias

There are very few Italian enterprises that can boast revenues of roughly 60 billion dollars. That is the size of the illegal business of today’s largest mafia organization: the Italian ‘Ndrangheta. But how did they become the leading illegal organization worldwide?

The Beginnings

In a region as rich in olives and wine production as Calabria, located in Southern Italy, it was only a matter of time until criminal groups emerged. According to diverse historical accounts, the ‘Ndrangheta is believed to be born as early as 1861. That year, the prefect of Reggio Calabria noticed the presence of organized criminals called camorristi, a term used since there was no formal name for the phenomenon in Calabria.

At that time, these criminal groups were also referred to by judges and the police as “secret societies”. These organizations, formed as family clans, have operated from their very beginning with a strict code of conduct, also called omertà, the code of silence. The code was also simple to apply as family members would ever testify against each other, making the ‘Ndrangheta a closed organization.

The etymology of the word comes from the Greek term andragathía, meaning "heroism" and manly "virtue". In many areas of Calabria, the verb 'ndranghitiari, from the Greek verb andragathízesthai, means "to engage in a defiant and valiant attitude". The first time the term ‘Ndrangheta was officialy used was in September 1995 by Calabrian writer Corrado Alvaro in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

In recent years, the organization has gained global notoriety because of the violent wars between its families. Disagreements over how to distribute the spoils led to the First ‘Ndrangheta war, in which 233 were killed. The Second ‘Ndrangheta war raged from 1985 to 1991. This fierce six-year war between the Condello-Imerti-Serraino-Rosmini clans and the De Stefano-Tegano-Libri-Latella clans led to more than 600 deaths in the region.


The main activities of the ‘Ndrangheta range from extortion, contraband, international cocaine and weapons smuggling to money laundering and involvement in large public work construction projects. The mafia are also alleged to own a series of legal investments in real estate and commerce, in Italy and abroad, used to launder their illegal profits.

According to Eurispes (the European Institute of Political, Economic and Social Studies), in Italy, the business volume of the ‘Ndrangheta was estimated at almost 44 billion euro in 2007, approximately 2.9% of Italy's GDP. Drug trafficking is the most profitable activity, accounting for 62% of its total income.

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