Soil- and plant-associated environments harbor numerous bacteria that produce antibiotic metabolites with specific or broad-spectrum activities against coexisting microorganisms. The function and ecological importance of antibiotics have long been assumed to yield a survival advantage to the producing bacteria in the highly competitive but resource-limited soil environments through direct suppression. Although specific antibiotics may enhance producer persistence when challenged by competitors or predators in soil habitats, at subinhibitory concentrations antibiotics exhibit a diversity of other roles in the life history of the producing bacteria. Many processes modulated by antibiotics may be inherently critical to the producing bacterium, such as the acquisition of substrates or initiation of developmental changes that will ensure survival under stressful conditions. Antibiotics may also have roles in more complex interactions, including in virulence on host plants or in shaping the outcomes of multitrophic interactions. The innate functions of antibiotics to producing bacteria in their native ecosystem are just beginning to emerge, but current knowledge already reveals a breadth of activities well beyond the historical perspective of antibiotics as weaponry in microbial conflicts.