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- "You must never betray the secrets of this society, observing the ancient tradition of omertà. The penalty for violating this law is death."
- ―Michael Corleone[src]
Omertà is a popular attitude and code of honor, common in areas of southern Italy, such as Sicily, Calabria, and Campania, where criminal organizations like the Mafia, 'Ndrangheta, and Camorra are strong. A common definition is the "code of silence".
Omertà implies “the categorical prohibition of cooperation with state authorities or reliance on its services, even when one has been victim of a crime.” Even if somebody is convicted for a crime he has not committed, he is supposed to serve the sentence without giving the police any information about the real criminal, even if that criminal has nothing to do with the Mafia himself. Within Mafia culture, breaking omertà is punishable by death.
The code was adopted by Sicilians long before the emergence of Cosa Nostra (some observers date it to the 16th century as a way of opposing Spanish rule). It is also deeply rooted in rural Crete, Greece.
Literally, the word means "manliness"--the implication being that it is not manly to go to legally established authorities to settle disputes.
A more popular and more simplified definition of the code of omertà is: "Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward. Whoever cannot take care of himself without police protection is both. It is as cowardly to betray an offender to justice, even though his offences be against yourself, as it is not to avenge an injury by violence. It is dastardly and contemptible in a wounded man to betray the name of his assailant, because if he recovers, he must naturally expect to take vengeance himself."