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The 3,800-year-old Customer Complaint

 The first written records in human history came from the Sumerian civilization of ancient Mesopotamia, which encompasses parts of modern-day Syria, Iran and Iraq. They used to write in cuneiform, which is a system of writing that uses wedge-shaped marks etched into clay tablets. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, a Sumerian man was also responsible for the writing the world’s first customer service complaint!

The complaint was sent about 3,800 years ago by a man named Nanni to a merchant named Ea-Nasir. Nanni lived in the ancient city of Ur, and wasn’t very happy about being delivered the wrong grade of copper ore, nor was he happy about another misdirected and delayed shipment.

Ea-Nasir was a member of the Alik Tilmun, a guild of merchants based in Dilmun, and archeologists found out that he was actually a prominent copper trader. It turns out that he wasn’t a very good businessman, because it’s a known fact that many of his customers sent him angry complaints.

One of these customers was a man named Aributaram, who sent a note to Ea-Nasir to complain about the copper he hadn’t received. A rough translation of the tablet reads: “Why have you not given me the copper? If you do not give it, I will recall your pledges. Good copper, give again and again. Send me a man.

Nanni’s complaint, however, was far harsher than Aributaram’s. His tablet was translated all the way back in 1967 by the famous Assyriologist, A. Leo Oppenheim. It reads as follows:

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.

It looks like customer service complaints were just as frequent and as harsh in the ancient world as they are today!


BONUS - These are the most mysterious ancient tablets ever discovered: 


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