At the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico (1519-1521 CE), two empires dominated the political and cultural landscape of Mesoamerica: the Aztec Empire and the relatively unknown Tarascan State. The Tarascans were the archenemies of the Aztecs, carving an empire of their own in the contemporary Mexican states of Michoacán, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Querétaro, Colima, and Jalisco. At the center of the Tarascan State was the splendid capital city of Tzintzuntzan–“the place of the hummingbirds”–located alongside Lake Pátzcuaro. From this religious and administrative center, the Tarascan cazonci or “king” ruled a multiethnic empire of 72,500 square kilometers (45,000 square miles), matching the Aztecs in might and power.
In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia speaks to Dr. Claudia Espejel Carbajal — professor of History at El Colegio de Michoacán (COLMICH) — an expert on Tarascan ethnohistory and archaeology.