A Customer Service Complaint From 1750 B.C

Feb 26, 2015 3 comments

A letter inscribed in an ancient clay tablet, dating from 1750 BC corresponding to the period of Old Babylon, and currently at the British Museum, could be one of the oldest customer service complaint letter found. The complaint was made by a certain Nanni to Ea-nasir regarding the delivery of the wrong grade of copper ore after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery. The full translation, reportedly from the book Letters from Mesopotamia by Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim, is reproduced below. Nanni appears to be quite angry.


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.


Robert G. Hoyland throws some light about this character Ea-nasir in his book Arabia And The Arabs.

Ea-nasir was a dealer in copper ingots from Magan and was active in business around the turn of the nineteenth century BC. He comes across as a somewhat unscrupulous character, or perhaps he just fell on hard times at one point in his career, for there are a number of angry letters from his backers in Ur while he is away in Dilmun complaining that he has not delivered the promised goods.

You may notice that the dates don’t match. According to the website of the British Museum, the clay tablet is from circa 1750 BC, while Hoyland says Ea-nasir was a 19th century BC dealer. I’m not sure who is more correct. The clay tablet itself was excavated from Ur, in South Iraq, in 1953.

via Reddit


  1. The difference in the two dates (1750 B.C. and 19th century B.C.) is probably the length of time that Nanni was on Hold.

  2. It blows my mind that anyone could read that tablet, this should be shown to all school kids to show them how simple our Alphabetic System is compared to what these people had to understand and learn!


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