The Oldest Complaint Letter in Human History Was Written Around 4000 Years Ago in Mesopotamia
A tablet dating back to the 18th century BCE in Mesopotamia, inscribed by a dissatisfied customer, is considered the oldest known complaint letter in human history. It was created by an irate Babylonian named Nanni, who expressed his grievances about a dishonest merchant named Ea-nasir, as reported by National Geographic.
Nanni's complaint, written approximately 3,770 years ago, has been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the oldest complaint letter in history. The tablet was discovered in Ur about a century ago during an expedition led by the renowned archaeologist Leonard Woolley, who excavated what could have been Ea-nasir's residence. Other commercial documents inscribed in cuneiform on small clay tablets were found there as well. The tablet dated to 1750 BCE is now part of the British Museum's collection and is written in the Akkadian language, which was spoken in Mesopotamia at the time.
In his letter, Nanni criticizes Ea-nasir for promising him "high-quality copper ingots" and failing to deliver as agreed. According to Nanni, the merchant sent subpar copper, treated him and his messenger with contempt, and still took the money, presumably because Nanni owed him a "pitiful mina of silver" (the mina was roughly equivalent to 5 grams). When his messenger tried to contest the copper's quality, Ea-nasir dismissed his complaints, saying, "Take the copper, or if you don't want it, go away!"
In his grievance, Nanni states that he won't accept any low-quality copper from Ea-nasir. Another translation of the tablet indicates that Nanni warned the merchant, "Because you have treated me with contempt, I will trouble you."
"The copper mentioned in the lawsuit was intended for the production of everyday items such as tools, utensils, and tableware, making it a crucial commodity during the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia. Located on the shores of the Persian Gulf, Ur was a powerful Sumerian city-state and a hub of a vast trade network. However, the city lacked a significant supply of metals," explains Professor Lloyd Weeks of the University of New England, who studies metal production and exchange in the ancient Near East.
To afford this expensive material, traders formed partnerships to finance the purchase of copper abroad, each contributing capital in the form of other goods like silver or sesame oil. These private companies would then sell the copper, share the profits, and pay tithes and taxes to the palace, and perhaps even to temples. Nanni's letter mentions the payment of 1080 pounds of copper to the palace, indicating that the Sumerian royal authority indeed imposed such a tax.
"We often talk about globalization as if it were a modern phenomenon. However, archaeologists and economic historians believe that the Bronze Age was the first period they can study the effects of globalization," Professor Lloyd Weeks asserts.
He argues that, at that time, globalization, while not extending across the entire planet, had a significant impact on vast territories in Eurasia. Tablets like these indicate that trade and economic ties resembling modern ones existed in that era.