In Athens, Kings could trace their lineage all the way back to the founding member(s). Athenian nobles could trace their family back to one of the four legendary founding families that accompanied Ion (the city's founder) to the original city's spot. The Athenian king traced his family back to the first king, King Erechtheus King Acastus gave his throne to a dictator-for-life. Later, this dictator was elected every 10 years, and then annually. This ruler had almost total control of the government, but he had to comply with the Areopagus, or Advising council of men who got their power from the Gods, and were in power for life. If he did not go along with the council his reign was threatened, and he was endanger of angering the gods. Like in America all citizens could vote. Unlike America, not every one in Athens was a citizen. You could not become a citizen unless you were a native, over thirty, and male. Exceptions were made, and these honorary citizens could vote, and had as much say in the government as American citizens do.
Sparta was both like and unlike Athens. Citizens controlled the rulers through elections, but the government controlled the citizens. All citizens over the age of 30 controlled political life. A council of elders was also in existence, but had little political power. Their power was reserved for domestic / social affairs. All babies were examined by this council, and the weak / sickly / deformed ones were thrown off of a cliff. Of those that were left, the boys entered rigorous military training at the age of 7 or 8. At 20 they joined a mess. Messes were like the American electoral colleges. A mess consisted of 15 men, and got one vote in the assembly of messes. At these assemblies, just one dissenting vote from one mess could delay or stop a law or an election. Like congress, debates were held, so as to get all of the messes to agree on something and ensure that things got done. If a man dropped out of his mess he lost all political rights, and lost his citizenship. Because of the high rate of male deaths in war (Sparta was constantly at war) women could control their husband's estates while they were gone. Other interesting things about Sparta are that homosexuality among men was encouraged, so as to get citizens to be legally responsibility for another citizen (remember, women were not citizens), and women were encouraged to have affairs. This increased the birthrate, a plus in a war-driven society. Women were allowed to train for the army with men, and could train naked with them. Women, when they got married, cut their hair and wore men's clothing to show that they could be as tenacious as the men when defending their homes. In all, women were equal to men in every respect but citizenship.
The Greeks were very patriotic. They could almost be called the first nationalistic race. They, like most Americans would defend their country to the death, and could not stand to have it put-down.
The hub of political activity in each polis was the inner-polis. Called the acropolis in Athens, this mini-city housed most, if not all of the major buildings, like temples and forums. Like Capital Hill in Washington D.C. the acropolis was the place where political campaigns and speeches were given. If a citizen wanted to say something he would go up to the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, and speak his mind. The acropolis was much more than just a political center. In times of danger / disaster / siege, the people could gather in the acropolis for safety. During the two great Athenian plagues the people gathered in the temple to Apollo in order to be healed. They ended up making everyone else gathered in the acropolis sick, and 1/3 of the people in Athens died. So much for a safe sanctuary. Other times is worked wonderfully. When pirates came to attack Athens, everyone gathered in the acropolis, which is located on a hill over-looking the city, and waited out the attackers. The Athenian held the high ground, and fought off the attackers that eventually got tired of waiting and charged up the hill. The city was saved (minus what was looted / demolished of course), and everyone was happy.