Why is the Camorra so called? Let's reconstruct the origin of the term

by Federico Quagliuolo

The Camorra it has been on the front pages of all of Italy for more than a century; is the terror, the cross and the constant of the history of Naples, from the Unity a Ciccio Cappuccio, arriving at modern news events.
Although it is a name continuously used now also in common jargon, rebuild his origin it's not easy at all, because the origins of the term are often tainted with one immense literary production which, over the centuries, has created many stereotypes of the Camorra, sometimes descendants of noble knights and other times caricatures of tavern criminals.

It must then be specified that no Camorrista identified himself as such: the original organization was called "Beautiful Reformed Society" or "Honored Society“.

The text is an extract from my degree thesis. Any reproduction or copy is absolutely forbidden.

The origin of the term "Camorra"

With a good dose of security we can say that the phenomenon is somehow linked to Spain and to the companies of knights of the time of Don Quixote, who was also linked to gambling which had great success in Naples.

Just Cervantes was the first to create a literature around organized crime, speaking of Confraternity of the Monipodio of Seville in the short story "Rinconete y Cortadillo". It was about a secret criminal organization, with a leader and a regulation very similar to the original Honored Society of two centuries later.

In Naples the term certainly is known since the 18th century, but it was not used at the time with the declension known today.
Let us then reconstruct the most interesting hypotheses.

Monipodio Cervantes Camorra Confraternity
The plaque in Seville commemorating the house where the story of Cervantes was set

Ramon Gamur

Each state has its own legendary founding father. The Camorra also has one and literature has called it “Ramon Gamur”. Nobody knows who he is and it is impossible to understand if it ever existed this character. Some say it comes from Zaragoza, others speak of Seville. The only certainty is that the popular stories, handed down in theatrical works by Edoardo Minichini, they imagine it as a Spanish brigand of the '600 who had a brotherhood of knights called "Gamurra". The Spanish government sent him to the Favignana prison and, once released, he went to Naples to refound his criminal society.

This story, reported by Marc Monnier and Serao, is very unlikely indeed.

Tore & #039; and Criscienzo
Salvatore De Crescenzo, the Camorra who united Italy

Osso Mastrosso and Carcagnosso

No, they are not the three loser brothers of the Banda Bassotti. According to one popular legend very famous, in fact, they were three knights of Toledo who, in 1417, founded the Garduña, a criminal society that ran the entire market of the Spanish town: no one could open a stall without paying the "jar", which was the progenitor of modern lace.
One day a thug raped their sister and the three, furious, decided to look for the rapist for punish him in an exemplary way: the man was tied to a horse and dragged through the whole city, then the corpse was dismembered and burned.
This horror made by the girl's three brothers was the pretext for capture by the Spanish guards, who locked them in the Favignana prison for 29 years, 11 months and 29 days.
The three brothers were not at all repentant. In their opinion they had been unjustly punished and, if they had not taken steps to get justice, the state would surely have left the rapist alive.
They therefore decided to design, during the very long imprisonment, the birth of a new brotherhood who would fight the Spanish state: they wrote a common regulation and, released from prison, Osso went to Sicily and founded the mafia; Mastrosso in Calabria founded the 'Ndrangheta and Carcagnosso in Campania founded the Camorra.

Effectively, the three criminal societies were originally extremely similar.

This legend, although it obviously remains a fantasy tale, presents infinite symbolisms. In a rite of affiliation to the 'Ndrangheta on 12 April 2014, held in Lecco, five people present at the initiation ceremony, Garibaldi, Mazzini and Lamarmora swear by the Freemasons, thus replacing the names of the ancient oath on Osso, Mastrosso and Carcagnosso.

Second Luigi Malafarina, one of the leading scholars of 'Ndrangheta phenomenon in the 1950s and 1960s, Osso Mastrosso and Carcagnosso they have an esoteric value and relate closely to esoteric \ Masonic symbologies:
-Bone represents Jesus Christ
-Mastrosso represents St. Michael the Archangel
-Carcagnosso represents St. Peter, who is in front of the doors of the Temple, which would be the secret society.

Osso, Mastrosso and Carcagnosso
Osso, Mastrosso and Carcagnosso


There are those who think that the word "camorra"Is the daughter of a dress. The "gamurraIt was in fact one very narrow jacket used in Spain in the 15th century. She was also well known in Tuscany and still are there today dialects regions where the term "camora” “camurra" or "gamura”To indicate a jacket. In Italian the jacket is called "basque“.
Vincenzo De Ritis, in his Neapolitan lexicographic and historical vocabulary of 1845, inserts the term "CAMORRA"To indicate one kind of precious fabric. In Camorra jargon, games and advantage players are called, gathered to deceive players who are too simple ".

Also Basile speaks of it Lo cunto de li cunti: in the story "The three fairies"Of day 10, the phrase"they showed her camorre de teletta de lo spagnuolo".

This origin, however, justifies the presence of the term "Camorra" in dialects of territories that Neapolitan crime has never known, it is difficult for him to identify the origin of the criminal organization, as De Ritis later explains by distinguishing the use of the terms.

Man in Camorra gamurra
A man in “gamurra”, 17th century

Games of chance and the Morra

The most likely reconstruction links the name of the organization to the morra game, which was the most famous gambling game in Naples. The variant known today is "the Chinese morra“, Which you play with rock paper and scissors. In the original morra you had to guess the number that would come out of the "bet", adding up the fingers of the participants.

The game often it ended in fights and violence and it was carried out in places called "Houses of the Morra ". The "Head of the Morra"It was instead who controlled the regularity of the games and it demanded a percentage of the winnings.

There is a document from 1735 that speaks of the opening of eight casinos, including one called "Camorra in front of the palace". For the first time the term Camorra is mentioned in a legislative act.

Bartolommeo Capasso imagine that the Camorra are the descendants of the "companions", which were the gangs of criminals of the 1600s. The "good" of Manzoni, to be clearer. They loved gambling and gathered in gambling houses, often with the military. Not by chance the game of zecchinetta arrived in Naples precisely because of the frequentation of the German military in the taverns of the Port.

In fact it is certain that no member of the Honored Society defined himself as a "Camorra", so probably the exact opposite happened: it was literature and bourgeois jargon that defined the criminals as “Camorra”, because of the bad attendance of casinos.

Game of the Morra
Commoners playing at La Morra

Literary reconstructions

There are many other theses, incredibly suggestive, linked to the birth of the name. Eg Angelico Prati, linguist, in 1934 he imagined a birth of the term Camorra from the union of the "cata", that would "gigantic" And "mmorra“, Which indicates the herd. It would therefore be one gigantic band, an irresistible pack.
Massimo Pittau, another linguist, instead thought of Gomorrah. And in this case the work of Saviano it does not have anything to do with it. The word "gamorra”Was used in past centuries to indicate all kinds of moral depravity. But it is very difficult for the criminal organization to have such a refined literary origin.

Francesco Montuori instead imagines a birth linked to the term "camerarius“, The clerk at tax collection at the time of Aragon. The “Equitalia” of the past was often composed of leftovers from jail, who often had no qualms in torturing citizens to extort money. Hence, the distortion of "Camorrario"(In dialect cerretanoCamorrone“) Went to identify all the bullies against the Camorra.

Sardinian bandit
A Sardinian bandit

The last thesis links the phenomenon of the Camorra to Sardinia

In Sardinia, in the seventeenth century, they were present numerous criminal gangs characterized by codes of honor and from obligations of secrecy similar to the Spanish knightly brotherhoods.

These gangs of criminals, collaborating with the Pisan merchants of the thirteenth century, kept under wraps I control the entire Cagliari market. Then, aiming for more important ports in the Mediterranean, they moved to Naples with the arrival of the Aragonese. From there, the criminal fraternities found the perfect city environment to thrive. It is probable that Neapolitan crime also had historical influences on the part of the Sardinian organization.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Readings and purchase links:
Francesco Barbagallo, History of the Camorra
Isaia Sales, La Camorra, Le Camorre
Gigi Di Fiore, The Camorra and its stories
Vittorio Paliotti, The Camorra
Marc Monnier, The Camorra
Ernesto Serao, The origins of the Camorra, Bideri, 1911
Francesco Montuori, Lexicon and Camorra, Fridericiana, 2008
Arturo Labriola, The mysteries of Naples and the legend of the Camorra
Marcella Marmo, Francesco Barbagallo, Camorra and organized crime in Campania

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