Trivia

Hard

The Oldest Known Written Complaint Details A Customer’s Dissatisfaction Over?

Tea Leaves
Beer Purity
Copper Ingots
Grain Deliveries
A fragment of a stone relief carved with the 'standard inscription' that records kings' names, titles, and ancestry in Assyrian.
BabelStone/Wikimedia

Answer: Copper Ingots

Today, it’s pretty easy to complain. We can complain on Facebook, leave disgruntled Yelp reviews, and fire off text messages, emails, and other forms of communication with ease. If you like to complain about the state of things, frankly, it’s never been easier to get the word out.

Imagine, if you will, that in order to air your complaint, you had to get a clay tablet, carefully tap out your complaint with a wedge-shaped stylus, wait for the tablet to dry, and then send one of your servants to deliver it. That’s exactly what happened with the oldest known written complaint, composed in cuneiform and dated from 1750 BCE—almost four thousand years ago.

The tablet is a message from a customer named Nanni to a merchant named Ea-nasir. The story, as delivered to us via the contents of the tablet, goes as such. Nanni sent his servant to buy copper ingots from Ea-nasir. Nanni, via his servant, had paid for the copper, but when Ea-nasir’s delivery men brought the copper, not only was it of substandard quality, but his servant had also been mistreated. Nanni also mentioned issues regarding a previous delivery. He refused to accept the substandard copper and admonished Ea-nasir for his poor business practices, insisting that he make things right again and restore Nanni’s faith in his business.

Alas, there are no additional surviving tablets indicating whether or not the issue was resolved or what Ea-nasir had to say about the allegations that his copper and customer service were unsatisfactory.

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