Virginia, a plebeian, is the virgin daughter of Virginio, a Roman soldier. She and Icilio, a patrician, are in love and wish to marry. However Appio Claudio has declared that patricians and plebs can not marry one another, a fact which makes their marriage impossible. At the same time Appio notices Virginia's beauty, and desiring her, attempts to force himself on her. Iclio intervenes, and while saving Virginia, is killed by Appio. Virginio comes to her aid, reminding Appio of Virginia's protection under Roman law as the daughter of a Roman citizen. Thwarted, Appio plots to get Virginia through legal trickery, claiming that she is not Virginio's daughter but in fact a slave belonging to his associate Marco. The case is brought before a public tribunal and it appears that Appio will have his way. Rather than be forced to be with Appio, Virginia stabs herself to death. Her act of tragic bravery inspires a massive insurrection of pleblians against Appio and the patrician regime.