Omnibus! The World’s First Customer Service Complaint

With Ken Jennings and John Roderick: Entry 390.LV1913

This podcast takes a look at the world’s first customer service complaint, a nearly 4,000 years old clay tablet from ancient Sumeria.

In 2000 B.C. the largest city on Earth was Ur in Mesopotamia.

Both seen as the cradle of civilization and the inventor to groundbreaking inventions such as modern agriculture, the wheel and the plow – The city of Ur came in as one of the biggest and most advanced cities of the ancient times.
The city supported between 60,000 – 100,000 people and was buzzling with trade.

In this city, one of Sumeria’s shiftiest businessman kept all his hate mail.

Preserved in clay wet-stones and standing the test of time, the complaints retells 4000 year old stories.

Ken Jennings and John Roderick’s series Omnibus! investigates.

Translation of a Tablet

A translation of one of the tablets from Leo Oppenheimer’s Letters from Mesopotamia is given below:

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.

Omnibus! The World’s First Customer Service Complaint