We know nothing about Lollius' ancestors, and it is likely that he was a homo novus, a 'new man', the first member of a family to enter the Senate. Because upward mobility in the Roman world depended on patronage, and the leading man in Rome was the emperor Augustus, we must assume that he and Marcus Lollius were close friends before Augustus had eliminated his rivals.
Lollius' first known office is the governorship of Galatia, a new province of the Roman empire in central Anatolia. Introducing Roman government was an important and difficult task, and we can be sure that Lollius must have shown himself a capable man already when he entered his office. Roman careers were more or less standardized (cursus honorum), and he may have been about 31 years old, or a bit older. In any case, he must have been quaestor, aedile or tribune, and praetor before he went to the east.
Galatia was an old kingdom and had been ruled by Deiotarus and his son Amyntas, but after the death of the latter, Augustus wanted his realm to be integrated in the Roman empire. Probably, this was not against the wishes of the Galatian population, but still, Lollius had a difficult job. After all, the Galatian army had been trained as a Roman legion and could be dangerous. Nevertheless, Lollius was successful, and the Galatian legion, now called XXII Deiotariana, became part of the Roman army. Lollius also founded coloniae in Galatia, which were to be showcases of Roman civilization. It all happened without violence, and in 25, Augustus closed the gates of Janus, indicating that there was peace in the Roman world.
Lollius had done a remarkable job, and in 21, he was elected consul. The voters also wanted to chose Augustus as consul, but he declined, and two senators nominated themselves for the remaining consulship: Lucius Plautius Silvanus and Quintus Aemilius Lepidus. There were riots, and Augustus ordered new elections. The two candidates were not to run again. Yet, after a new series of riots, the voters elected Lepidus, and Augustus, angry, sent his friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa to Rome to restore order. This implies that he did not completely trust Lollius, and we know hardly anything about his consulship. However, it is certain that he restored the Bridge of Fabricius, as is shown in the inscription on one of the arches.note[CIL 6.1305, 6.31549.]
Although Augustus did not trust Lollius' qualities as urban administrator, he thought that his friend was a reliable commander. In 19/18, he was governor of Macedonia and defeated a Thracian tribe called Bersi. A fragment of an inscription mentioning his name was found at Philippi, where Marc Antony and Octavian had once defeated the murderers of Julius Caesar.
We find Lollius in 17-16 as governor of Gallia Comata, the northernmost province of the empire. He was responsible for several legions and had to guard the Rhine. However, he was defeated by the Germanic tribe of the Sugambri in the valley of the Meuse, perhaps north of Tongeren and Maastricht. One of Lollius' legions, V Alaudae, even lost its eagle standard. But although the defeat (clades Lolliana) was disgraceful and was often compared with the disaster in the Teutoburg Forest, there was no real danger, and probably, Lollius himself recovered the lost standard.
Yet, his career suffered, because he was never again appointed as commander of an army. But he remained on friendly terms with Augustus, who appointed Lollius as helper (adiutor) of his grandson and intended successor Gaius Caesar. From 1 BCE on, the young man was to visit the eastern provinces and learn something about government. He left Rome on 29 January. (Among the officers that escorted the two men were the historian Velleius Paterculus, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, and Seianus, the future praetorian prefect.)
The inhabitants of the east, however, ignored Gaius; instead, embassies were sent to Lollius. Relations between the two men deteriorated after they had visited Tiberius, a stepson of Augustus who had long been regarded as his successor, but had been passed over to make room for Gaius. He lived as a voluntary exile on the island of Rhodes. Gaius seems to have insulted his uncle, and it seems that Lollius was held responsible for the incident.
The two men continued their tour, but started to quarrel. Gaius accused Lollius of accepting bribes, of extortion, and treachery, and denounced his tutor to the emperor. Lollius is said to have taken poison to avoid punishment, but it is also possible that he died of natural causes. After all, he was probably older than 55.
Lollius was a personal of the poet Horace, who called him a reliable man, and praised the fact that Lollius was above avarice, the usual sin of Roman governors. It is interesting to note that Velleius Paterculus and Pliny the Elder complain about Lollius' greed.
Marcus Lollius' son, also called Marcus Lollius, was the father of Lollia Saturnina and Lollia Paulina. The latter was married to the emperor Caligula in 38 CE, but was sent away within a year. Caligula briefly dated her sister.