The First Customer Service Complaint in Recorded History (1750 B.C.)

Ancient Complaint

The site Fast Com­pa­ny pub­lished an arti­cle recent­ly that describes the “Com­plaint Restraint project,” an ini­tia­tive that aims to cre­ate a “pos­i­tive life by elim­i­nat­ing neg­a­tive state­ments.” It’s an admirable goal. Though most of us have a per­verse love of wal­low­ing in our misery—a human trait ampli­fied a thou­sand­fold by the internet—complaining rarely makes things any bet­ter. As in the Buddha’s para­ble of the “sec­ond arrow,” our grip­ing can make our suf­fer­ings dou­bly painful; as in the para­ble of the “poi­soned arrow,” it can post­pone or sub­sti­tute for the con­struc­tive actions we need to take in order to heal or improve our con­di­tion.

But it would be a mis­take to think that com­plain­ing is some­how a recent phe­nom­e­non, though we may hear more of it every day, all the time, from every quar­ter of the globe. The Bud­dhist arrow sto­ries are, after all, at least a cou­ple thou­sand years old; lamen­ta­tion more or less con­sti­tutes its own genre in Bib­li­cal lit­er­a­ture.

Even old­er still than these reli­gious sources is the first doc­u­ment­ed cus­tomer ser­vice com­plaint, a spe­cif­ic vari­ety of com­plain­ing that we might be for­giv­en for asso­ci­at­ing main­ly with a mod­ern, con­sumerist age—and one of the few kinds of com­plaints that can gen­er­ate pos­i­tive results.

Ancient Complaint 2

Absent a Yelp app, the ancient Baby­lon­ian con­sumer in this case inscribed his com­plaint on a clay tablet—which now resides at the British Muse­um—some­time around 1750 B.C. The irate pur­chas­er here, Nan­ni, writ­ing to some­one named Ea-nasir, received a ship­ment of cop­per ore of an infe­ri­or grade, after some annoy­ing delay and in a dam­aged con­di­tion. In the trans­la­tion below from Assyri­ol­o­gist A. Leo Oppen­heim, Nan­ni vents his spleen.

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.

It does seem that Nan­ni maybe took this poor ser­vice a lit­tle too per­son­al­ly. In any case, let’s hope he received some sat­is­fac­tion for the trou­ble it must have tak­en to inscribe this angry mes­sage.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mark Twain Drafts the Ulti­mate Let­ter of Com­plaint (1905)

Hunter S. Thomp­son Calls Tech Sup­port, Unleash­es a Tirade Full of Fear and Loathing (NSFW)

Get Ancient Advice on Los­ing Weight, Sober­ing Up, Remov­ing a Tat­too & More at Ask The Past

Cook Real Recipes from Ancient Rome: Ostrich Ragoût, Roast Wild Boar, Nut Tarts & More

Google Dig­i­tizes Ancient Copies of the Ten Com­mand­ments and Gen­e­sis

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • Julia Gerson says:

    How do you know that the per­son who inscribed this com­plaint was a cos­tumer? Are ingots used in the man­u­fac­ture of cos­tumes?

  • Vonnie says:

    So are you ask­ing if Nan­ni had a sec­re­tary? Quite pos­si­bly. Writ­ing on clay tablets required skill and patience and peo­ple were hired to do that.

    As for your sec­ond ques­tions, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly yes, but I seri­ous­ly doubt it in this case.

  • Chris says:

    Von­nie: I believe Julie’s com­ment is a joje point­ing out the mis­spelling of “cus­tomer” as “cos­tumer,” mean­ing “one who makes cos­tumes.”

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