Ancient 3,700-year old ‘customer service complaint’ inscribed on a Babylonian tablet


Mesopotamia is home to many of the world’s firsts, including the world’s oldest known literature and song. And now we are witness to one of the oldest known specimens of a ‘customer service complaint’ that was furnished almost 3,700-years ago. This artifact in question that rather mirrors our modern-day grievances, is Babylonian in origin (harking back to 1750 BC), and is currently kept in the British Museum. As for the inscription, the passage details quite a grudge-bearing customer complaint from one Nanni to one Ea-nasir, regarding two shipments of copper ore – considered as a very precious resource in the ancient world.

This incredible tablet was originally discovered at the site of Ur – which was one of the Sumerian city-states (presently in southern Iraq) that had already lost its power during 18th century BC, while being under Babylonian rule. And back in 2015, the ancient artifact/Customer Service Complaint was discussed in Reddit, with commenter labarna providing a full translation of the complaint. He reportedly made use of the book Letters from Mesopotamia by Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim.

The translation is 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.

Suffice it to say, Nanni was quite miffed about the transaction!


Image Credits: British Museum/ Imgur.

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