TIBERIUS, a young man who belongs to a patrician family, falls in love with a vestal virgin by the name of MARTIA. Their parents engaged them since they were little, but in the mean time, her father changed his mind as he accepted the EMPEROR’s call to dedicate MARTIA to the Temple of Vesta were she had the obligation to remain virgin until the age of 30. The punishment for a vestal virgin who lost her chastity was to be buried alive, but on the other hand, they were honored with lots of privileges and advantages. The two lovers forget each other for a while, but later on, they meet again and after they fall in love, they make an oath and swear that they will wait for each other until she is released from the Temple. As PUBLIUS VALERIUS, the EMPEROR’s first advisor, is unsatisfied with the fact that his daughter, TERENTIA, was not chosen to be a vestal, he becomes very grudged against TIBERIUS and MARTIA. The EMPEROR finds out about their love affair and calls TIBERIUS at the palace where he humiliates him in front of his loyalties and orders him to stay away from MARTIA as this iniquity could send them both to death. As TIBERIUS is a very faithful and upright man, he becomes even more determined not to touch her until the due time comes, and in order to gain the EMPEROR’s heart, he enrolls into the army and becomes a great warrior. He wins battle after battle and becomes beloved by the EMPEROR who aggrandizes him as a legionary, than as a centurion. MARTIA begins to hate being a vestal and asks TIBERIUS to kidnap her and run away with her. TIBERIUS definitely rejects this audacious idea and tries to comfort her and promise her that he will wait for her forever if necessary. As PUBLIUS VALERIUS hates to death both TIBERIUS and MARTIA, he strives to find them guilty and, together with SERVILIUS CRASSUS, a senator who was humiliated by the EMPEROR by threatening him with relegation, and who now seeks for his revenge, they conspire against them.
TIBERIUS has a friend, ANTIOCHUS, who is a teacher of Rhetoric and who is trusted by the EMPEROR. ANTIOCHUS mocks TIBERIUS for his platonic ideas about gods, but doesn’t expose his thinking in public as he is afraid not to be displeased by the EMPEROR. As ANTIOCHUS is a dynamic and adventurous person, he also enrolls into the army, but in his first battle, he is very badly wounded, TIBERIUS even saves him from death. ANTIOCHUS returns home to receive medical treatment while TIBERIUS remains on the battle field and entreats ANTIOCHUS to go to the Temple and be bandaged by a vestal so that he may be blessed by their touch and recover faster. ANTIOCHUS finally accepts, he goes to the Temple where he meets MARTIA for the first time and falls in love with her. After he finds out that this is the woman whom TIBERIUS loves, he tries to avoid her, but he feels even more attracted by her. As MARTIA totally dislikes the cloistral life, she also feels attracted by ANTIOCHUS and begins to flirt with him. He stirs her to do things that are against the sacred law for a vestal virgin and, though she is not in love with him, she likes to be out of the ordinary and answers the challenge. One day, when TIBERIUS goes to ANTIOCHUS’ place, he finds some paintings; one of them represents a lake and is signed by MARTIA, the other one is MARTIA’s portray and is signed by ANTIOCHUS. TIBERIUS remains stunned. Yet, the following day, at a feast, he decides to give her a ring, but when he directs towards her, ANTIOCHUS appears suddenly behind her, and puts a flower in her hands. Then they leave together and TIBERIUS feels brokenhearted. He decides to give up to her, though he finds it very difficult to endure. On the same day, a parade of soldiers makes the EMPEROR feel proud of his army and he asks PUBLIUS VALERIUS to think of a satisfying reward for the common soldier, besides money. Driven by a big wrath against MARTIA, PUBLIUS VALERIUS suggests as a reward marriage to a vestal which was a great honor for a Roman citizen. He also suggests a duel between soldiers so that the best may be offered the best. The EMPEROR accepts the duel. PUBLIUS hires a good soldier and pays him to get involved in the duel and choose MARTIA and kill her.
As the EMPEROR introduces TIBERIUS to TERENTIA, she likes him and asks him to sleep with her, as she wants to get rid of her virginity, so that her father should cease to bother her with the Temple matter.
TIBERIUS is on the verge of becoming a general, but some events prevent him from this: in the meantime, POSTUMIA, MARTIA’a best friend, who is also a vestal, is unfairly accused of intimacy and buried alive. For MARTIA this is a great sorrow and she rebels. She goes to ANTIOCHUS’ place and sleeps with him. The EMPEROR grows very angry and feels betrayed by TIBERIUS as he thinks it was him who did it. He reduces him to the rank of a common soldier. He doesn’t order his killing, but doesn’t spare MARTIA. He asks PUBLIUS to bring TERENTIA to the Temple, to replace MARTIA. TIBERIUS wants to kidnap MARTIA and run away with her, but the Temple is very well guarded by soldiers. He fuddles and goes to TERENTIA and sleeps with her, as he wants to know “what it feels to be the hero of one woman”. TERENTIA falls in love with him and writes him to marry her, but TIBERIUS gives her no answer. TERENTIA is brought to the Temple. Meanwhile, the EMPEROR delays MARTIA’ s execution.
The duel takes place and after lots of soldiers lose, there remain two soldiers who fight at high stakes. One of them is the man paid by PUBLIUS, the other has a helmet on his face and nobody knows who he is. This one eventually wins the battle and chooses MARTIA. The EMPEROR asks him to remove his helmet. The soldier does so and everybody is surprised to see TIBERIUS who dares to defend himself in front of the EMPEROR and to refute the untrue accusation. The EMPEROR finds out the truth as PUBLIUS’ slave also confirms it. SERVILIUS CRASSUS is urged by the EMPEROR to say the whole truth and SERVILIUS has no choice. In the meantime, TERENTIA kills herself. PUBLIUS is decapitated. SERVILIUS is banished for three more years.
Finally TIBERIUS takes MARTIA from the Temple and is ready to leave with her wherever she wants. They decide to remain in Rome as this was the EMPEROR’s wish.