Valentin Lavrentievich Yanin (Russian: Валентин Лаврентьевич Янин, born 6 February 1929 in Vyatka) is a leading Russian historian who has authored 700 books and articles. He has also edited a number of important journals and primary sources, including works on medieval Russian law, sphragistics and epigraphy, archaeology and history. His expertise is medieval Rus' especially Novgorod the Great, where he has headed archaeological digs beginning in 1962.
His maternal grandparents were arrested in 1937 and died in a prison camp in 1938. His father was apparently on a list to be executed but escaped this fate and moved with his family to Moscow. Yanin finished his secondary education in 1946, graduating with a Gold Medal; he matriculated at Moscow State University in 1951.
In 1954, he defended his Kandidat thesis on the monetary systems of pre-Mongol Rus. This was published as The Monetary and Weight System of Medieval Russia ("Денежно-весовые системы русского средневековья") and has become a classic. His doctoral thesis on the posadniks of Novgorod followed in 1962 and significantly changed our understanding of the constitution of the Novgorod Republic. The book demonstrated that the office of posadnik, while subject to election every year, was often held by one man for several consecutive years, sometimes more than a decade, and then passed on to his sons or other members of his clan. It shattered the earlier image of Novgorod as a more democratic republic and showed it to be ruled by a boyar aristocracy (not unlike other medieval republics).
Yanin's monograph about the seals of Ancient Rus (2 volumes, 1970) summed up half a century of Soviet sphragistics research. After that, Yanin turned his attention to the birch bark documents of Novgorod, on which he is considered the greatest living authority (alongside Andrey Zaliznyak).
Honours and Positions
In 1964, Yanin became professor in the department of archaeology in the Faculty of History at Moscow State University.
Since 1978, Yanin has held the chair in archaeology at the Moscow University.
He is a member of the President's Committee for the Defence of the Material Culture of the Russian Federation and a member of the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.
His other awards include:
- Order of Merit for the Fatherland 4th class
- Order of Lenin
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour
- Order of Friendship of Peoples
- Medal "Veteran of Labour"
- USSR State Prize (1970)
- Lenin Prize (1984)
- Demidov Prize (1993)
- State Prize of the Russian Federation (1996)
- Triumph Prize (2002)
- Solzhenitsyn Prize (2010).
He is an honorary citizen of Novgorod the Great and an honorary member of the Novgorodian Society of Lovers of Antiquities.
- V. L. Yanin, Novgorodskie Posadniki (Moscow: Moscow State University, 1962; reprinted Moscow: Iazyki slavianskoi kul'tury, 2003).
- See Yanin's biography at MGU: http://www.hist.msu.ru/Departments/Arch/Staff/Yanin.htm