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This 3,800-year-old clay tablet is the world's oldest customer complaint

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

clay tablet from the ancient Sumerian city-state of Ur in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) is the oldest known case of a written customer complaint.

In the detailed message, a man named Nanni griped to a merchant about being delivered the wrong grade of copper ore.

“How have you treated me for that copper?” Nanni wrote on the nearly 3,800-year-old tablet. “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.” (The entire message is translated below).

The tablet is dated  1750 B.C. (Photo: britishmuseum.org)

Nanni engraved his complaint in the Akkadian language, which is one of the oldest forms of writing. Quartz notes that the “amount of effort required to make [the engraving] gets across the magnitude of Nanni’s grievance.” Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland, speaking on the Final Round, saw a modern parallel.

“You get to live one life and right now we’ll probably be alive for 80 years,” Udland says in the video above. “But the only thing that might survive from that would be you complaining about your 311 call that goes unresolved. …  In 100 years, the New York City 311 line or whatever is going to say, ‘Oh, I remember when this woman called to complain about the fire hydrant on Amsterdam.'” 

Ancient Mesopotamia. (Photo: Textbook)

Historian A. Leo Oppenheim provided a translation of the ancient tablet in his 1967 book “Letters From Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia”:

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.

As for whether or not Nanni’s complaint was dealt with, that remains unknown.

“I want to know if Nanni went to the grave being like, ‘All I wanted was the right copper ore and, instead, I died not getting it,'” Udland wondered.

I hope Nanni got what he wanted,” Jen Rogers replied. “I really do.

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READ MORE: The top 10 things consumers complained about in 2017