This Is The Oldest Customer Complaint In History (And It's Great)

The tablet with the written complaint from Nanni to Ea-nasir. British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

There’s a lot to say about the human race and how we've changed over thousands of years, but there’s one thing that we have always been throughout history: committed to complaining. The oldest complaint known to history is to be found in a cuneiform tablet from ancient Mesopotamia.

The archaeological piece, which dates back to roughly 1750 BCE was found in the ancient city of Ur, famous for its impressive Ziggurat, located now in modern day Iraq. The tablet is a message of complaint from a man named Nanni to a supplier known as Ea-nasir. In fact, there are multiple complaints in the letter. Ea-nasir apparently delivered the wrong grade of copper after his Persian gulf voyage to collect the metal. He’s also responsible for the misdirection and delays in a further delivery. And to top it all off, he was rude to the servants Nanni sent to collect the delivery. Sound familiar?

“What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt?" Nanni demands, thanks to a translation of the letter from distinguished Assyriologist Leo Oppenheim’s Letters from Mesopotamia. "I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory.”

(He's not done yet.)

“Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt!”

The table is part of the permanent collection of the British Museum but it is not on display. The language on the tablet is Akkadian, the earliest known Semitic language (languages that originate from the Middle East, including Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic) and its written in cuneiform script, which was used to write the unrelated Sumerian language. The tablet is not very big, measuring 11.6 by 5 centimeters (4.6 by 2 inches). But what it might be lacking in size it makes it up in fervor. Nanni is really not having it.

“How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full,” he demands.  

After all this though, we suspect that Nanni had no other option than to shop with Ea-nasir as he concluded the letter with this: “Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.”

Well, we don't know about you, but that's going to be our go-to retort to customer services from now on. 

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