clay tablet
An example of a clay tablet with Akkadian text from Mesopotamia. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

If terrible customer service has ever left you frustrated, take heart and know you’re not alone.

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we ‘seek’ out the oldest complaint letter ever recorded.

Bad service goes back thousands of years, it seems. According to an October 2023 report in the National Geographic, a tablet from the ancient city of Ur (modern-day Iraq), was unearthed about a century ago by the renowned English archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley. The palm-sized clay tablet, which dates back to 1750BC, was carved in Akkadian, the language spoken in Mesopotamia at the time.

When researchers transcribed what was said, they found something incredibly relatable. The tablet contained a letter of complaint, written by a disgruntled trader named Nanni, who fired off a series of grievances against an allegedly unscrupulous merchant named Ea-nasir, for a transaction gone wrong.

In the letter, Nanni blames Ea-nasir for guaranteeing “fine quality copper ingots”, and then not delivering on his promise. Instead, the merchant allegedly sent across low-grade copper, treated Nanni’s messenger with contempt and took his money. Nanni is particularly offended by what Ea-nasir reportedly told Nanni’s messenger when he attempted to dispute the quality of the copper. He was dismissed with the words: “If you want to take them, take them. If you do not want to take them, go away!”

Livid and demanding a refund, Nanni furiously promises he will not go out of his way to deal with the merchant in the future: “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.” In another translation, Nanni even goes as far as to say: “Because you despised me, I shall inflict grief on you!”

The complaint letter captured the realities of an ancient economy – copper was an important commodity in the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia, where it was used to make essential items, like tools, cutlery and vessels. But since Ur, a powerful city-state on the Arabian Gulf, was not rich in metals, traders had to obtain copper from more than 965km away from Dilman (modern-day Bahrain).

The tablet, which is part of the British Museum’s extensive collection, enjoys a Guinness World Record title for the world’s oldest complaint. And Nanni’s compelling letter has inspired an endless string of memes, comics, and wild comparisons to modern-day complaints on the internet.

Do you find Nanni’s complaint relevant? Play today’s Spell It and let us know at