The dig was carried out by Stanford and Oxford university students
The power-hungry Roman emperor Caligula may have believed himself to be a living god, according to new findings by archaeologists.
An investigation of remains found in Rome's ancient Forum indicate Caligula incorporated a holy temple into his palace, implying he himself was a deity.
Many historians have raised eyebrows at a claim by ancient Roman historian Suetonius that Caligula had extended his palace to take in one of the city's most important temples.
But Darius Arya, who led a 35-day dig by archaeologists from Oxford and Stanford universities, said their findings showed Suetonius was right and proved Caligula was "really maniacal".
Suetonius described Caligula as a madman who planned to make his horse a state official and made it a capital offence for people to stare at his bald head.
He also said Caligula "extended the Palace as far as the Forum; converted the shrine of Castor and Pollux into its vestibule; and would often stand between these Divine Brethren to be worshipped by all visitants".
"This was so outrageous - an act of such impiety, such hubris - that a lot of historians have had great difficulty in believing it," archaeologist Andrew Wilson, leader of the Oxford University team, told the UK's Guardian newspaper.
The archaeologists said an analysis of the Forum's drainage systems, walls and pavements showed the two shrines had indeed been incorporated into the palace.
"He's saying 'I'm living with the gods, I am a god," said Mr Arya, executive director for the American Institute for Roman Culture.
Caligula was notorious for his megalomaniac behaviour
He said Roman emperors could expect elevation to a god-like status after death but not before.
However, the research has been received with caution by Italian archaeological officials who will now assess the findings.
"It is necessary to verify that these are the original structures," said Adriano La Regina, Rome's archaeology superintendent.