The Oldest Known Customer Complaint Letter From 1750 B.C.

August 21, 2023

A clay tablet dating back to 1750 BC appears to be the oldest written complaint in human history.

The tablet, known as the "Complaint Tablet to Ea-nasir," provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily grievances of an ancient civilization and the challenges faced by a dissatisfied customer.

oldest written complaint
Complaint tablet to Ea-nasir at the British Museum (1750 BC)

The tablet, written in cuneiform script, was discovered during excavations in the ancient city of Ur, located in what is now southern Iraq.

It is addressed to a merchant named Ea-nasir, who appears to have been involved in the trade of copper and other commodities.

The tablet reads:

"Tell Ea-Nasir: Nanni sends the following message:

When you came, you said to me: 'I will give fine quality copper ingots.'

You left, but you did not do what you promised me.

You put ingots which were not good before my messenger 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 me with such contempt?

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 to me in full.

Take notice that I will not accept any copper from you that is not of fine quality.

I shall select and take the ingots individually in my yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt."

Funny enough, this was not an isolated incident involving Ea-nasir.

Archaeologists discovered over a dozen similar "letters" within Ea-nasir's residence. It became evident that Ea-nasir had gained a reputation for failing to deliver products that had been paid for or for mistakenly sending them to the wrong recipients. Moreover, whenever his business ventures faced challenges, he would promptly initiate a new enterprise.

"You have to be very mad to sit down with a tablet and chisel," one commenter wrote.

"This guy had to call for a scribe, wait till the scribe got his clay and his stylus together, dictate the letter, ready the oven, bake the tablet, and find a messenger to deliver the tablet. Quite a lot of effort. Must have been furious," another commenter joked.

"And you thought a negative online review was tough to get rid of," another wrote.

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