This 4750-Year-Old Tablet is the Oldest Customer Complaint in History

"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..."

One of the characteristics of the human race that have remained unchanged throughout history is that we really love complaining. I mean really, we do, and evidence of our long ‘love’ for complaining is a cuneiform tablet from ancient Mesopotamia.

The complaint’ letter’ dated back to around 1750 BCE and was recovered by archaeologists from Ur, an ancient Mesopotamian (modern-day Iraq) city well-known for its impressive Ziggurat temple.

Complaint letter from Nanni to Ea-Nasir circa 1750 BC, in the British Museum. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The complaint letter from Nanni to Ea-Nasir circa 1750 BC, in the British Museum. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The cuneiform tablet is a letter from a man called Nanni, to a supplied identified as Ea-Nasir.

The complaint, written thousands of years ago by Nanni isn’t one: In fact, according to experts, the cuneiform tablet has a number of complaints squeezed into one clay tablet where the buyer tells the supplier he is not to be messed with

According to the ancient tablet, the supplier, Ea-Nasir, delivered the wrong grade of copper.

But as the cuneiform tablet describes, the supplier was apparently also responsible for misdirection and delays in another delivery. But that’s not all. Ea-Nasir was extremely rude to the servants Nanni sent to collect the delivery.

The translation of the cuneiform tablet can be found in distinguished Assyriologist Leo Oppenheim’s Letters from Mesopotamia.

What the tablet reads

Translated from Akkadian, it reads:

Tell Ea-nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me as follows : “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? 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. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

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.

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.

The ancient tablet is part of the British Museum’s collection but is not on display.

The language on the tablet is Akkadian and was written in a cuneiform script.

The complaint letter is relatively small, measuring only 11.6 by 5 centimeters


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Ivan Petricevic

Hi, my name is Ivan and I am the founder of Curiosmos, Ancient Code and Pyramidomania. I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.
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