The research is based on the case of Messina, in which historically the Mafia played quite a minor role, at least until after the Second World War. After all, the long dominance of the agricultural economy, which characterised the history of Sicily during the nineteenth and first half of the following century saw the Mafia play a role conditioned by the interests of the owners of large agricultural estates. The Mafia’s function was to control the farm labourers’ markets, gaining gabelle (rents) from the exploitation of the workforce. In Messina, though, the countryside was characterised rather by the diffusion of small or medium-sized properties, and the prevalence of high-quality arboriculture. This created a more modern model of labour organisation than that of the large estates. The town of Messina itself grew up as a result of the shipping business connected with the port, and there for a long time the most popular illegal activity was usury, even among the wealthiest classes. The destruction caused by the earthquake of 1908 and the negative impact this had on the economy shifted this practice of loansharking from the town’s commercial sector to lower middle-class society, where it became an endemic evil and allowed a privileged few criminals to prosper.