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date: 22 November 2019


  • Helen Perlstein Pollard


Pre-Columbian kingdom and associated culture that flourished in Mexico 1300–1521, in an area corresponding to the modern regions of Michoacán, adjacent Jalisco, Guanajuato and north-western Guerrero.

Tarascan art and culture are mostly known from archaeological evidence, supplemented by ethnohistoric and historic sources (in particular the Relación de Michoacán, 1541) dating from the end of the Late Post-Classic period, 1450–1521, and the early colonial period, which describe Tarascan political and social organization. At the time of Spanish contact a large portion of western Mexico was under the centralized control of the Tarascan state. The political core was in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin, from which more than 75,000 sq. km, between the Lerma River in the north and the Balsas Basin in the south, was dominated by a hereditary dynasty ruling from the capital, Tzintzuntzan. The capital and its hinterland were maintained by a vast, centralized, hierarchically organized tribute system. Political unification of what had earlier been a series of independent city states in central Michoacán was associated with the absorption of local communities and their élites into a common social system with shared ideology, language and allegiances. The forging of a new identity at the core resulted in the emergence of a distinct Tarascan culture, in which the actions of the State and its rulers were viewed as products of cosmic forces. Beyond the culturally integrated heartland of the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin and adjacent sierra, political unification was accomplished by major military campaigns and maintained by a combination of administrative and military institutions. From the late 15th century until Spanish contact an actively fortified border prevented military conquest by ...

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