The origins of the Camorra are not entirely clear. It may date back to the 17th century as a direct Italian descendant of a Spanish secret society, the Garduña, founded in 1417. Officials of the Kingdom of Naples may have introduced the organization to the area, or it may have grown gradually out of small criminal gangs operating in Neapolitan society near the end of the 18th century. However, recent historical research in Spain suggests that the Garduña never really existed and was based on a fictional 19th century book.
The Camorra was never a coherent whole nor a centralised organization. Instead, it has always been a loose confederation of different, independent groups or families. Each group was bound around kinship ties and controlled economic activities which took place in its particular territory. Each family clan took care of its own business, protected its territory, and sometimes tried to expand at another group’s expense. Although not centralized, there was some minimal coordination, to avoid mutual interference. The families competed to maintain a system of checks and balances between equal powers.