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I came across a sentence the meaning of I couldn't even guess:

The Bocchicchio Family was unique in that, once a particularly ferocious branch of the Mafia in Sicily, it had become an instrument of peace in America. Once a group of men who earned their living by a savage determination, they now earned their living in what perhaps could be called a saintly fashion. The Bocchicchios' one asset was a closely knit structure of blood relationships, a family loyalty severe even for a society where family loyalty came before loyalty to a wife.

Have no idea about the final sentence in the paragraph. I would say that they are very tough even to themselves, but that's a lousy guess. And what about "came before loyalty to a wife"?

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  • X came before Y= X was given greater priority|importance than Y
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 22:54
  • It may be easier to understand if we restore some omitted words to the dependent clause, and make clear what the dependent clause describes. It is the "closely knit structure of blood relationship" that is described as: "a family loyalty that was severe even for a society where family loyalty came before loyalty to a wife." Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 23:32

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The Bocchicchios' one asset was a closely knit structure of blood relationships, a family loyalty severe even for a society where family loyalty came before loyalty to a wife.

Here, loyalty is being used to describe a strong feeling of support or allegiance.

This sentence is saying that the Bocchicchio family's greatest asset is the fact that they have an extremely strong sense of support and allegiance to each other (the other members of the family, joined by bloodline).

This is also stating that their loyalty is stronger than that of most other families in their society, a society where family loyalty is stronger than the loyalty between spouses. They are more loyal to their parents, brothers, sisters, etc. than they are to their betrothed and would choose their blood family over their spouse.

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