The Oldest Known Customer Complaint Letter Shows How Little People Have Changed

The more things change the more they stay the same. If you think customer service complaints are a new thing, a 4000-year-old stone tablet tucked away in the British Museum will change your mind. It’s the oldest customer complaint letter and it dates back to 1750 BC in ancient Mesopotamia.

The letter reveals an unhappy merchant named Nanni who was upset by a sketchy trader named Ea-nasir who supplied him inferior copper coins. The dissatisfied customer does what many people still do, he wrote a complaint letter but on a stone tablet.

The clay tablet is written in cuneiform script and reads:
Translation from Leo Oppenheim’s book, ‘Letters from Mesopotamia.’

“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!”

Nanni, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Nanni’s Complaint tablet to Ea-Nasir, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“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 cognisance [heed] 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.”

It turns out Nanni’s complaint fell on deaf ears and Nanni’s messengers did not bring back a refund or better copper ingots.

Complaints directed at Ea-nasir weren’t a one time thing either. Archaeologists have discovered many other such “letters” within Ea-Nasir’s home. It appears that the “merchant” sometimes failed to deliver products or would ship them to the wrong address. He also seemed to switch business ventures when faced with hardships.

The reason why could be that Ea-nasir was involved in contraband and smuggling. Other stone tablets from the time discuss the various trade deals in the region and some go into detail about the smuggling operations and contraband that was traded at the time.

The curators at the British Museum reveals more of the purpose and contents of these ancient cuneiform letters in the video below.

So retail scams on top of customer complaints? It’s just like some of the negative online shopping experiences today!

No wonder Nanni’s complaint letter to Ea-nasir regularly circulates social media and has spawned countless memes. The man’s shopping experience parallels much of what continues in the present day.

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