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Complaint Tablet To Ea-Nasir – World’s Oldest Complaint Letter

Complaint Tablet To Ea-nasir

The Oldest Recorded Customer Complaint

This clay tablet from ancient Babylon was written in about  1750 BC and is the world’s oldest recorded customer complaint.

The “Complaint Tablet To Ea-Nasir” records in cuneiform a complaint to a merchant named Ea-Nasir from a customer named Nanni. 

Ea-Nasir traveled to the Persian Gulf to buy copper and then sold it in Mesopotamia. One of his customers was Nanni, who sent his servant with the money to buy the copper and complete the transaction.

The copper was sub-standard and not acceptable to Nanni. Nanni formally documented his complaint on a clay tablet in cuneiform writing and sent it to Ea-Nasir.

Inscribed on the tablet is the complaint about a copper delivery of the inferior grade. He also complained that his servant, who handled the transaction, had been treated rudely. 

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.”

The “Complaint Tablet To Ea-Nasir” was found in the ruins of Ur inside an old Babylonian house, which may have been the residence of Ea-Nasir.

Ur

Ur was an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia, which was once a coastal city near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf.

The city dates from about 3800 BC and is recorded in written history as a city-state from the 26th century BC.

Today the ancient coastline has shifted, and the remains of the city are now well inland, on the south bank of the Euphrates, in modern-day Iraq.

The site is marked by the partially restored ruins of the Ziggurat of Ur. It contained the shrine of Nanna, which was excavated in the 1930s. 

Ur is likely the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic).

Ur is mentioned four times in the Torah or Old Testament. There are; however, conflicting opinions identifying Ur Kasdim with other ancient sites.

Ur was the largest city in the world from c. 2030 to 1980 BC. Its population was approximately 65,000. Ur fell around 1940 BC to the Elamites.

Cuneiform

Cuneiform was one of the earliest systems of writing, invented by Sumerians. Its wedge-shaped marks are made using a blunt reed for a stylus on wet clay tablets which are then baked to a solid tablet.

The term cuneiform comes from the Latin word for “wedge.” Cuneiform emerged in Sumer in the late fourth millennium BC as a system of pictograms.

In the third millennium, the pictorial representations became simplified and more abstract as the number of characters in use grew smaller. 

The original Sumerian script was adapted for the writing of the Akkadian language.

Cuneiform writing was gradually replaced by the Phoenician alphabet during the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–612 BC). By the second century AD, the script had become extinct, and all knowledge of how to read it was lost.

Over one million cuneiform tablets have been excavated in modern times, of which only a small fraction have been read. Cuneiform began to be deciphered in the 19th century. 

Complaint Tablet To Ea-Nasir

  • Title:                Complaint Tablet To Ea-Nasir
  • Date:               1750 BC
  • Culture:           Mesopotamian
  • Writing:           Cuneiform
  • Language:       Akkadian
  • Materials:        Clay
  • Dimensions:    11.6 cm (4.6 in) high; 5 cm (2.0 in) wide; 2.6 cms (1.0 in) thick
  • Type:                Ancient Texts
  • Museum:         British Museum

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“It is impossible to suffer without making someone pay for it; every complaint already contains revenge.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

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Photo Credit: 1) Qualiesin / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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