The world’s first customer complaint is almost 4,000 years old

“How would you rate your service on a scale of 1-5?”
“How would you rate your service on a scale of 1-5?”
Image: The Trustees of the British Museum
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“How would you rate your service on a scale of 1-5?”
“How would you rate your service on a scale of 1-5?”
Image: The Trustees of the British Museum

What could be the world’s first complaint about shoddy service is on a clay tablet that was first sent about 3,800 years ago in southern Mesopotamia from the city of Ur, which is now Tell el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq.

Held in the British Museum in London as artifact 131236, the Old Babylonian-era tablet is from a man named Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered, and about misdirection and delay of a further shipment. (It was resurfaced on Reddit this week.)

The letters are written in the Akkadian language in cuneiform script, one of the earliest forms of writing, engraved into the tablet, which is 11.6 cm high (4.6 in) and 2.6 cm thick. The amount of effort required to make it gets across the magnitude of Nanni’s grievance.

A Redditor in the same thread provided a link to a translation of the tablet provided by the Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim in his out-of-print 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.

Anyone who’s had to look at those smiley-face customer-service stands (paywall) at the end of a line can probably relate.