If you play Assassins Creed you might think the Mafia has its origins in similar medieval or early modern brotherhoods, who despite their dastardly deeds were true patriots and rebels at heart. That is also the story the Italian mafia organisations tell their own members. But is it true, or does the history of the mafia have more to do with Italian Risorgimento politics, prisons and the disruptions of the nineteenth century? And what does any of this have to do with a burning archive?
I have just posted tonight the 54th episode of my Burning Archive podcast – available at Apple Spotify and other platforms. This episode responds to a question from Isaac and Ella that sprang from the experience of history presented in computer games. If Assassin’s Creed presents an image of assassins as a blood brotherhood, of Italian rogues who kill, if only in summer, but are loveable rogues in the end, is that the true history of the mafia. Thanks to Isaac and Ella for the listener question that began this show.
My research for this episode drew heavily from John Dickie Blood Brotherhoods: A History of Italy’s Three Mafias (2014). It is a farrago of amazing stories, though at times hard to draw a clear narrative line from. But perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of John Dickie’s book is the testimony he draws from nineteenth century documentation of the mafia. He begins his story with Sigismondo Castromediano, Duke of Morciano and Marqis of Cavallino, Italian Patriot, who was imprisoned in the jails of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies for his rebellion in the cause of Garibaldi. After surviving jail he was a broken man but wrote over 36 years Prisons and political galleys – Memories. It is from that unfinished result of trauma that Dickie begins the true tale of the origins of the camorra.
Credits also to Assassin’s Creed, ‘Sounds of Florence’ and Godfather ‘Theme Song’ – brief excerpts played during the show.