So, I always love this story when it comes to my attention. There’s this guy in ancient Mesopotamia who’s name we know…and it’s not for good reasons, either.
The World’s Oldest…Complaint Letter
In the early 20th century, Sir Leonard Wooley was excavating in the city of Ur, which is in modern Iraq.
He found a merchants’ house that contained an office, and still in that office (for whatever reason) were a bunch of letters.
The letters dated from the 18th century BC, and were chiseled in cuneiform on small clay tablets, making them a lot more permanent than your Tweet whining about company X.
The letters were all addressed to one Ea-Nasir, presumably the merchant who owned the house. He was a copper merchant.
And apparently at some point in his life he stopped being a good copper merchant.
The “best” of these tablets was sent by a man named Nanni, and he was so angry he covered both sides of the tablet.
This link includes the full translation. Gems include “You put ingots which were not good before my messenger.” and “I shall exercise against you my right of rejection.”
I’m guessing that second line refers to what we would now call breach of contract.
And Nanni Wasn’t Alone
Several other complaint letters were found in Ea-Nasir’s office. One of them came from somebody who appears to have been a business partner.
It seems that our “friend” Ea-Nasir, was pretty good at failing to deliver copper or delivering inferior ingots.
One customer, Ili-idannam wrote “the work that you have done is so good. One year ago, I paid silver in a foreign country; you shall hold back only bad copper.”
Based off of analysis of the house, Ea-Nasir appears to be died in poverty…and never cleaned out his office.
Which means we have this random merchant from ancient Ur who is now known today for being a lousy businessman.
And there’s something almost comforting about that. It shows us that humans don’t, ya know, change.
People have been selling dodgy goods, not as described, for centuries. And while that’s not a good thing, there’s something about it that speaks of stability.
Poor Ea-Nasir, though.
(I do wonder what happened, because some of the letters indicate he was a good merchant at one point. Did he lose his wife and turn to drink? There’s material for a historical in there…but I’m not doing the research!)