Interesting Facts

Ea-Nasir: world's oldest written customer complaint

This clay tablet, written in cuneiform, is the oldest known written customer complaint about the delivery of poor quality copper ingots. Originally from ancient Babylon, the tablet dates back to 1750 BCE, and it was written by a customer named Nanni to a merchant named Ea-Nasir. It is currently housed in the British Museum.

Ea-Nasir’s complaint is one of the earliest known written complaints in human history, despite the fact that customer complaints have been around for centuries. This complaint, which dates back to ancient Sumer, reveals the problems that consumers in the distant past faced on a daily basis. The desire for good customer service has always existed, despite the fact that it may seem surprising that people complained even in ancient civilizations. Let’s explore the intriguing world of Ea-Nasir’s complaint and learn what it tells us about ancient consumer culture.

Historical context: Uncovering the ancient Sumerian civilization

In order to fully comprehend Ea-Nasir’s complaint, it is necessary to examine the Sumerian civilization’s historical setting. One of the earliest civilizations ever discovered was Sumer, which was situated in Mesopotamia in what is now southern Iraq. The Sumerians flourished around 4000 BC, creating impressive cities and sophisticated political, legal, and economic systems.

In Sumerian society, trade was essential, and traders traveled great distances to exchange goods and concepts. It’s understandable that customer complaints like Ea-Nasir’s would arise in such a dynamic economy. These complaints shed important light on the difficulties faced by ancient customers and the standards they held merchants to.

Oldest written customer complaint 1
Photo credit: The Trustees of the British Museum

The discovery of Ea-Nasir’s complaint tablet

Archaeologists found Ea-Nasir’s complaint tablet while conducting excavations in the historic city of Ur. This tiny clay slab contains a cuneiform tablet that was created around 1750 BC. The tablet, which was discovered among the wreckage of a business archive, provided insight into the administrative procedures used at the time.

It took a lot of effort to decipher the ancient Mesopotamian writing system known as cuneiform. Years of study went into deciphering the intricate symbols and their meanings. Our understanding of the prehistoric Sumerian language was enhanced by the discovery of Ea-Nasir’s complaint, which also provided a window into the common complaints of customers in that time period.

Understanding the content and structure of the complaint

A fascinating look at the format and content of a customer complaint from ancient times can be found on Ea-Nasir’s complaint tablet. The format of the tablet is brief, with distinct sections and paragraphs addressing different issues.

By examining the format and layout of the tablet, we can see how Ea-Nasir painstakingly described his complaints so that the merchant, Nanni, would fully comprehend his dissatisfaction. The issues covered by the complaint range from the quality of the copper delivered to the disrespectful behavior of Nanni’s servants.

We can better understand the customer’s frustrations and the expectations for customer service in ancient Sumer by dissecting the sections and paragraphs of the complaint. The persuasive language used by Ea-Nasir and his determination to be heard show that consumer expectations of fair treatment and high-quality products are not a recent development.

“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.”

Similarities and differences between ancient and modern customer complaints

Ea-Nasir’s complaint and contemporary customer complaints have a lot in common, despite the vast differences in technology, culture, and societal norms. Quality assurance, on-time delivery, and open business practices continue to be fundamental requirements.

However, there has been a significant evolution in complaint procedures. Customers today have the power of social media, online reviews, and consumer advocacy platforms to amplify their voices, unlike Ea-Nasir who carved his complaints on a stone tablet. The primary issues may not have changed, but the channels for voicing dissatisfaction have.

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